Then there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations, perplexed when they hear the roaring of the sea and its waves. People will faint with fear at the mere thought of what is to come upon the world, for the forces of the universe will be shaken. Then, at that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
So, when you see things begin to happen, stand erect and lift up your heads, for your deliverance is drawing near.”
The Vietnamese are proud to refer to their country as “the land of the 100,000 martyrs.” And, believe it or not, this claim is not a pious exaggeration, as today’s celebration reminds us. For today we are remembering a martyred priest, Andrew Dung-Lac and 114 other martyrs, mostly Vietnamese (but with a few French and Spanish missionaries) who were martyred between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on different occasions between 1900 and 1951. Now all have been canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Vietnamese Catholics were either killed or subjected to great hardships. The last of the martyrs of the group we are celebrating today were 17 laypersons, one of them a nine-year-old, executed in 1862.
But in Vietnam persecution of the Catholics continued into the 20th century. In 1954, when Vietnam was partitioned, persecution forced 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. Now the entire country is under Communist rule. But the Church is nevertheless vibrantly alive and vigorous.