ROCK HILL—An estimated 500 people recently took time out from their busy lives to honor men and women who died for the faith hundreds of years ago.
The annual Vietnamese Martyrs Celebration was held Nov. 15 at St. Anne Church in Rock Hill. The event also drew people from Columbia, Greenville, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, all cities with significant Vietnamese communities.
Father Paul Nguyen, parochial vicar at St. Anne, presided at the Mass, which was concelebrated by Oratorian Father Fabio Refosco, the church pastor, and Franciscan Father David Phan, vicar for Vietnamese Catholics.
Families walked together in a procession behind displays of relics of the martyrs, which were housed in monstrances. Afterward, they attended Mass and then dined on traditional foods at a reception.
In his homily, Father Nguyen asked the people to consider how far they would be willing to go to defend their beliefs and share their faith.
“I told them that these martyrs were our ancestors in the faith, and they shed their blood to be witnesses to the love Christ had for the Vietnamese people,” he said. “We are the descendants of these people, and we need to ask what we have done to witness the love of Christ for our own families and others in the United States. We don’t have to shed our blood, but at least we can give up our time and energy to share Christ with the rest of the community.”
The men and women honored at the celebration are known as the Martyrs of Tonkin or Annam, and Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions. They were canonized in 1988 by Pope St. John Paul II.
The 117 martyrs were just a few of thousands of Catholics who faced persecution and death in Vietnam, especially during the 19th century. During that era, ruling dynasties in the country attempted to completely wipe out the Church’s presence. By some estimates, 300,000 Catholics may have been put to death.
Father Nguyen said the celebration is important because it honors the martyrs, and gives Vietnamese Catholics from different cities a chance to meet each other and celebrate their culture.
The community also meets in the spring to celebrate Our Lady of La Vang, a Marian vision which appeared in 1798 to persecuted Catholics in Vietnam.
An estimated 1,500 Vietnamese Catholics live in South Carolina, with more moving to the diocese each year. Father Phan said gatherings like this offer an important chance for the people to remember their history and pass down traditions to future generations.
“Our faith is imbedded in our culture, and this is a chance for our children to learn about both,” he said. “They learn what makes our culture unique.”
St. Anne is one of several parishes with a large number of Vietnamese members. There is also a community that worships together in the Upstate at Our Lady of La Vang Mission, which currently meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville.