Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – The Church celebrates tomorrow, 24 November, the Solemnity of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988, beatified in four groups: 64 in 1900 by Leo XIII, 8 in 1906 and 20 in 1909 by St. Pius X, 25 in 1951 Pius XII.
The date of November 24, so full of significance for the Vietnamese Church, was chosen for the opening ceremony for the Jubilee Year to be held in So Kien, a city located at 70 km from Hanoi, where the first Cathedral of the Vicariate Apostolic of Tonkin was consecrated. The local Church celebrates 350 years since the foundatio of the first two Apostolic Vicariates of Tonkin and Cochinchina (1659-2009) and at the same time, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the hierarchy in Vietnam (1960-2010).
There is no historical certainty about when Christianity was introduced in the country. It can be argued that the regular and systematic evangelization was begun in 1627 by Jesuit Fr. Alessandro de Rodhes. With the help of a brother in three years, he was able to baptize some 3,000 people. In 1631, other Jesuits were able to secretly enter the kingdom and, with the help of some missionaries of other religious orders, in less than thirty years convert 200,000 to the faith.
The Apostolic Vicariates of Tonkin and Cochinchina were erected on September 9, 1659, taking territory from the Diocese of Macao. The first Vicar Apostolic of Tonkin (Vietnam) was Bishop Francis Pallu, and the first Vicar Apostolic of Cochinchina was Archbishop Pietro de La Motte Lambert.
The 1659 is remembered as the year in which the dicastery of Propaganda Fide released a basic document for missionary activity ad gentes: the “Instruction” addressed to the first Apostolic Vicars in the Far East. It also became a kind of manual for missionaries and for institutions devoted to the mission ad gentes.
To ensure missionaries for the area, the two Vicars Apostolic worked to establish the Seminary for Foreign Missions in Paris. Many future martyrs studied there. Several were even canonized. Among them we remember the Saints Augustine Schoeffler (1822-1851) and Louis Bonnard (1824-1852), both priests of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.
"In this Jubilee Year, as the People of God, we want to remember the grace that God has given us over many centuries. We want to thank him and thank the missionary martyrs who gave their lives for the birth and growth of our Church," Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, told Fides in explaining the meaning behind the Holy Year. (see Fides 21/11/2009) (PA) (Agenzia Fides 23/11/2009)