11/24/2015, 00.00
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Church marks the anniversary of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs

by Paul N. Hung
Today is the anniversary of Saint Anrê (Andrew) Trần An Dũng Lạc and his 116 fellow martyrs, killed in the 19th century. Saint John Paul II canonised them in 1988. For Vicar in Ho Chi Minh City, they are an example to follow. “Through love, we can eliminate violence.” A group of Catholics visit the shrine built on the site where Saint Mátthêu (Matthew) Lê Văn Gẫm was beheaded in 1847 for carrying bishops and priests on his ship.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Vietnam’s Catholic Church is marking today the sacrifice of the 117 martyrs canonised by Saint John Paul II on 19 June 1988.

In his homily during the memorial Mass, Fr Dominique Đinh Ngọc Lễ, priest vicar of the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, encouraged the faithful to follow the example of the holy martyrs in their lives and in the relationship with their neighbours.

"We have to accept each other,” he said. “We have to embrace others’ weaknesses and failures. As Catholic parents, sons and daughters, and families, we must be open to others in order to live in harmony and love, by setting an example to the communities around us. Through love, we can eliminate violence."

Since the first missionaries landed in Vietnam at the beginning of the 16th century, the church endured centuries of repression and persecution. Many priests, religious and lay people died to defend the faith during that time. Thirty-seven of the 117 Vietnamese martyred saints (Anrê Trần An Dũng Lạc and 116 others) were priests.

As part of the observance, a group of Catholics visited the site where Saint Mátthêu Lê Văn Gẫm’s was killed. The structure is located at number 47b of Nguyen Trai Street, District 1 Ho Chi Minh City. Squeezed between two shop houses stands a small shrine with a Latin inscription that reads, “Here, because of his faith in Christ, the Venerable Mátthêu Lê Văn Gẫm was beheaded on 11 May 1847".

Before his death on the king’s orders, Saint Mátthêu Gẫm was a lay Catholic and a merchant sailor. At the time, on behalf of the Church he took by sea seminarians and priests in their travels abroad.

In 1846, he sailed to Singapore to welcome a bishop, a priest and three seminarians from the local Church, which had just been founded.

After his arrest, he was tortured. Speaking to the soldiers who held him, Saint Mátthêu Gẫm said, "If you kill me, I shall accept it because I have been a Catholic since I was a child. I shall never abandon my faith."

Another memorial Mass was held in Thai Binh. Thirty of the 117 martyrs came from that diocese. During his address, the local bishop, Mgr Pierre Nguyễn Văn Đệ, called on the faithful to thank God for giving them the Vietnamese martyrs.

After repeating the name and place of origin of each saint, he noted that it is because of their love and sacrifice that the Vietnamese Church and the diocese of Thai Binh are now rich and renewed.

“The blood [of martyrs] is the seed of Christians,” Mgr Nguyễn said, citing Tertullian.

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