ASIA/VIETNAM - The diocesan phase of the cause of beatification opens for two missionary bishops

Saturday, 20 January 2024 martyrs   bishops   missionaries   missionary institutes  

Hanoi (Agenzia Fides) - The testimony of the two bishops François Pallu (MEP) (1626-1684) and Pierre Lambert de La Motte (MEP) (1624 - 1679), the first missionaries sent to the Far East, is precious for Vietnamese Catholics today and the entire universal Church: with this certainty, the Vietnamese Church has committed itself to the beatification process of the two missionaries who were co-founders of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) and both considered among the founders of the Church in Vietnam, defined by historians as "those who pioneered the evangelization and growth of the Church in East Asia".
At a meeting of the Vietnamese Bishops' Conference in October 2019, the Bishops decided to examine the possible beatification of several personalities present in the history of the Vietnamese Church. This desire is now taking shape: the diocesan investigation into the case of Bishop François Pallu was held on October 29, 2023 in Hanoi (North Vietnam) in the presence of the Bishops of Vietnam and the Apostolic Delegate representing the Holy See, as well as Father Vincent Sénéchal, the Superior General of the Society for Foreign Missions in Paris. On January 13, 2024, the Vietnamese faithful in the Diocese of Phan Thiet took part in the solemn Mass for the official opening of the beatification process of Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte. François Pallu, born in Tours in 1626, was appointed canon of Saint-Martin at a young age, distinguishing himself for mercy and charity. Upon his arrival in Paris, he is said to have met Alexandre de Rhodes, a Jesuit who was then working as a missionary in Tonking and Cochin-China (today's Vietnam). He was in Europe at the time to ask the Pope to appoint bishops in his mission area. In 1658, the Sacred Congregation "de Propaganda Fide" proposed the appointment of François Pallu and Lambert de La Motte as Vicars Apostolic for the missions in China and neighboring countries. Pope Alexander VII approved this election and on November 17, 1658, François Pallu was ordained bishop in Rome in St. Peter's Basilica. On September 9, 1659, he was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Tonking and administrator of the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Hou Kouang, Sichuan, Guangxi in China and Laos. In the same year he elected and appointed a third Vicar Apostolic, Ignace Cotolendi. Before arriving in Asia, Pallu and Lambert de la Motte founded the Society of Foreign Missions to Paris to spread Catholicism and train local clergy in Cambodia, Siam, Vietnam and China. "Bishop François Pallu was very concerned about the mission entrusted to him. He tried several times in vain to get to Tonking," said Joseph Vu Van Thien, now Archbishop of Hanoi, recalling the journey that Pallu made on January 2, 1662, leaving France by ship with seven priests and two lay people. Two years later they arrived in Ayutthaya, Siam (now Thailand), but four of them died during the journey. However, Pallu was unable to set foot in the territory of the Vicariate of Tonking due to severe persecution, although he led it from 1659 to 1680. He concentrated his mission in Ayutthaya, where he trained candidates for the priesthood from China, Siam and Vietnam to lead local churches.
Msgr. Joseph Do Manh Hung, Secretary General of the Vietnamese Bishops' Conference, recalled another important aspect: Bishop Pallu and Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte established a seminary for the training of priests in Ayutthaya in 1664. Since Bishop Pallu was unable to travel to Tonking, he entrusted the leadership of his vicariate to Bishop Lambert de la Motte and appointed Father François Deydier vicar general. On April 15, 1680, Bishop Pallu was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Fukien, in the Chinese province of Fujian. With his health rapidly deteriorating, he rushed to visit the believers in the area and reorganize the local church. He died on October 29, 1684 at the age of 58. According to Bishop Hung, the bishop worked to establish ties between the Holy See and Vietnam throughout his tenure. “Thanks to him, the local church is still united today,” he assures. In 1684, sensing that his end was approaching, he wrote to the directors of the Seminary for Foreign Missions, giving them advice for the good functioning of the Congregation, recommending in particular the union between the missionaries and between them and the Vicars Apostolic. This impulse of charity was structurally embedded in the foreign mission society and became its characteristic virtue: "All its members must be united by the bonds of charity so perfect that they are one heart and one soul" (General Norms). Bishop Pallu died on October 29, 1684 in Moyang (Fujian). He was buried near the village, in a place known to Christians as the "Holy Mountain". In August 1912, with the permission of the Seminary of Foreign Missions and the Vicar Apostolic of Fujian, his ashes were transferred to the Nazareth retirement home in Hong Kong and were returned to Paris on March 4, 1954. The seminary built by Bishop François Pallu and Bishop Lambert de la Motte in Ayutthaya in 1664, which was called the "Seminary of the Holy Angels" and later the General College, attracted 33 seminarians from 1670 onwards, and another 50 entered the minor seminary. Later it was moved to Chanthaburi (now Eastern Thailand), then to Hondat (Cambodia) and Pondicherry (India). It was finally moved to Penang (Malaysia) in 1809. In 1979, the MEP missionaries handed over management of the seminary to the local church. Due to the decline in student numbers, it was relocated to Mariophile, Tanjung Bungah (Malaysia) in 1984. Since its founding more than 360 years ago, the General College has trained more than a thousand priests. It is also known as the "College of Martyrs": to date, 47 seminarians trained there have suffered martyrdom, including five saints and one blessed. "Today it is the founder's turn to embark on the path to beatification," writes Eglises d'Asie, the information organ of the Society for Foreign Missions of Paris. With the solemn opening of the diocesan phase of the beatification process, which took place on January 13 in the diocese of Phan Thiet (in the south of Vietnam, near Ho Chi Minh City) in the presence of 20,000 people, the Vietnamese Church commemorates alongside Bishop Pallu also to the figure of Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte. Pierre Lambert de la Motte (1624-1679), co-founder of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP), was a French missionary in the 17th century and the first bishop of Dang Trong. “He too,” said the Vietnamese bishops today, “sowed the Gospel and bore fruit in communities that kept the faith alive despite the many difficulties they experienced over the centuries.” "We wish that this missionary be declared a saint so that we can follow his example of evangelization and call on him to give us inspiration and passion for the proclamation of the Gospel," emphasized the President of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang, from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Although Bishop de la Motte died in Ayutthaya (modern-day Thailand), the beatification process is taking place in Vietnam following a letter by which the Archbishop of Bangkok, with the consent of the Holy See, transferred canonical jurisdiction over the beatification process to the Diocese of Phan Thiet has. In his homily at the opening ceremony, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Hue said: "In a life of only 55 years, including 19 years as a bishop, although he was only able to visit Vietnam three times, Bishop de la Motte made significant contributions to the Church in Vietnam According to Archbishop Linh, the first Vicar Apostolic of Cochin-China (whose vicariate included southern Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and part of China) laid the foundation of the church there: "The Catholic Church in Vietnam would not have grown and developed as it is today (27 dioceses with more than 50 bishops, 4,000 priests and 10,000 religious) without Lambert's contribution". In fact, Bishop Lambert de la Motte settled in neighboring Siam (today's Thailand), where, with the support of the local king, he founded the church “St. Joseph” in Ayutthaya and the related seminary, which was to become a point of reference for missionaries from many Asian countries. During a trip between September 1675 and June 1676, he secretly entered Vietnam and ordained the country's first native priests. He is also credited with founding the first women's congregation in Asia, the "Lovers of the Cross of the Son of God", which was organized as a society of apostolic life under diocesan law and dedicated to contemplative prayer and active apostolate, such as teaching catechism and visiting the sick and poor.
Lambert was ordained a priest in 1655. Because of his interest in the mission in Asia, the Congregation "de Propaganda Fide" elected him with Pallu as one of the first Vicars Apostolic between 1655 and 1657. He was given the Apostolic Vicariate of Cochin-China as well as the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and assigned to the island of Hainan in China. On June 11, 1660 he was consecrated bishop in Paris. From Marseilles he embarked towards the East in 1660, accompanied by two missionaries, Jacques de Bourges and François Deydier. In 1662, after a two-year journey, he reached Juthia, the capital of Siam, where he temporarily settled as the mission in Cochin- China was then under persecution. After studying the situation of the missions and observing the lack of zeal of the missionaries, who were mainly dedicated to trade, he reported it to the Holy See, thereby exposing himself to the hostility and harassment of the Portuguese civilians and religious. With the arrival of Bishop Pallu in 1664, he wrote the "Instructiones ad munera apostolica" or "Monita", in which he gave the missionaries advice on piety, prudence and conduct, as well as valuable advice for the organization of parishes and the training and leadership of the local priests. The Holy See highly valued this work and had it printed for the first time in 1669, and subsequently made numerous reprints. Bishop Lambert de La Motte wanted a community of priests, men and women religious dedicated to diverse practices of piety and penance. On January 13, 1665, he received jurisdiction over Cambodia, and after receiving a plot of land in Cochin-China from the King of Siam, Phra-Naraï, he built there a modest residence, a small chapel, which he dedicated to St. Joseph , and a building that would serve as a seminary and accommodate the young men who had to come there from China, Tonking and Cochin-China to prepare for the priesthood.
In 1668 he ordained the first two native priests in Siam. In 1670 he held a synod in Dinh Hien, Nam Dinhper province, during which he divided the mission into church districts and placed priests and catechists at the head of the districts. In the same year, 1670, he founded the "Lovers of the Cross", a congregation that still includes 30 communities in Vietnam with over 9,000 women. In 1671, Bishop Lambert went to Cochin China and stayed in the province of Quang Ngai, where he also founded the Institute of the Lovers of the Cross, as he would do in Tonkin and Siam. In February 1672 he traveled to Siam, in a very difficult situation for him due to the hostility of the Portuguese merchants and religious who refused him any obedience. After receiving the Holy See's official confirmation as Vicar Apostolic, he continued his pastoral and missionary work. In 1676 he returned to Cochin China. According to the missionaries, his stay is one of the happiest periods in the history of Catholicism in this country: "Never have we seen so many non-Christians baptized, so many sinners converted and so many believers sanctified through the reception of the sacraments in so few days", they said. The chronicle tells of two miraculous events: the bishop is credited with the miracle of bringing a ten-month-old girl who had already died back to life and freeing a possessed woman. He returned to Siam in 1679, fell ill and died on June 15, 1679. Since news of his death had not yet reached Rome, he was appointed general administrator of the missions in Siam, Cochin-China and Tonking in 1680. His confreres of the Society for Foreign Missions and local priests remember him "for his determination, his calm, his piety, his skill and his faith, which always disarmed his enemies". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 20/1/2024)