11/30/2015, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Land of 444 martyrs, Bà Ria gets a new bishop, local Catholics rejoice

by Thanh Thuy
​Pope Francis named Emmanuel Nguyễn Sơn Hồng as the new bishop on Friday. Trained in Paris dogmatic theology, the priest becomes auxiliary bishop in the southern Vietnamese diocese whose history goes back 300 years. In 1862, Vietnamese imperial troops burnt down local prisons when the French attacked.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – To the delight of Vietnamese Catholics, Pope Francis appointed Mgr Emmanuel Nguyễn Sơn Hồng as the new auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Bà Ria whose 300-year history includes 444 Catholic Martyrs, killed in 1862.

Born on 2 January 1952 in Bien Hoa, Đồng Nai province, close to Ho Chi Minh City, Fr. Sơn entered the latter’s minor seminary in 1961, where he remained for ten years. During this time, he studied at the Pontifical Institute of St Pius X in Đà Lạt. He was ordained priest on 31 December 1980, and sent to Bình Sơn where he served as pastor from 1981 to 1991. After that, he moved to Phước Lễ parish, where he stayed until 2001.

Fr Sơn studied dogmatic theology at the Institut catholique in Paris from 2001 to 2006. After Bà Ria became a diocese in its own right in 2005, Fr Sơn was given a local parish. In 2006 he was appointed the rector of the diocese’ St Thomas minor seminary. In 2011, he became Bà Ria’s vicar general.

Formally established in 2005, the diocese’s history began three centuries ago with the efforts of Jesuit missionaries of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, the Pontifical Society for Pontifical Missions and the Franciscan Congregation.

At present, it has 254,000 members (about a fifth of the population), divided into 84 parishes. Diocesan priests number 107, plus 350 members of religious congregations, 515 religious and 72 seminarians.

The Diocese of Bà Ria is famous in the Vietnamese Catholic Church for one of the bloodiest acts of martyrdom in the country’s history.

According to Church’s official history, "On 7 January 1862, the French army came to the city of Bà Ria from Vung Tau. Before withdrawing, the troops of the Nguyen Dynasty set fire to the [city’s four] prisons, burning all the Catholics held in them alive. All 444 detainees were killed, 288 men and 156 women and children. Rev JB Errard was killed and buried in a mass grave with 300 of his parishioners in what is now the Tomb of Martyrs Church."

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