“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans” (Mt 10:17-18)
Today’s readings celebrate the martyrdom of Fr. Andrew-Dung-Lac and Companions. The title of the memorial is a bit misleading – its title follows the tradition of the General Roman Calendar. But in other places and times the name of the celebration is known as a feast dedicated to the Vietnamese Martyrs, the Martyrs of Annam, the Martyrs of Tonkin and Cochinchina, or the Martyrs of Indochina.
What is being remembered today is perhaps the most deadly of all Catholic persecutions. During a period from 1745-1862, the Vatican estimates that 300,000 to 400,000 of the faithful were martyred.The final 30 years were particularly brutal. There are 117 names that are known, and alphabetically Andrew Dung-Lac begins the list.
The letters and example of Fr. Théophane Vénard (Paris Foreign Mission Society) inspired the young Saint Thérèse of Lisieux to volunteer for the Carmelite nunnery at Hanoi, though she ultimately contracted tuberculosis and could not go.
The tortures these individuals underwent are considered by the Vatican to be among the worst in the history of Christian martyrdom. The torturers hacked off limbs joint by joint, tore flesh with red hot tongs, and used drugs to enslave the minds of the victims. Christians at the time were branded on the face with the words “tả đạo” meaning “sinister religion”. Families and villages which professed Christianity were obliterated. “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. (Wisdom 3:1).
When I read of the faithful and heroic people such as these, I often recall the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “It is a great shame for us, the servants of God, that the Saints have accomplished great things and we only want to receive glory and honor by recounting them.” (Admonition 6)