Almost 500 gather in Rock Hill to honor Vietnamese martyrs

ROCK HILL—At a time of year when the focus is on giving thanks, nearly 500 Vietnamese Catholics gathered at St. Anne Church on Nov. 18 to offer praise, prayer, and a debt of gratitude to their ancestors.

Every year, parishioners from communities statewide come together to honor those slain during the “Great Massacre,” a time of intense persecution of the Catholic Church in Vietnam. An estimated 300,000 Catholics lost their lives during this six-decades reign of terror from the late 1790s until the 1860s.

“We are able to live our faith because of what (the martyrs) did,” said Franciscan Father David Phan, who celebrated the Nov. 18 Mass. 

“It is important that we always remember that,” he continued.

The celebration began with a traditional procession before Mass. Participants from Vietnamese ministries statewide, clad in native attire, circled the St. Anne parking lot to the sound of Vietnamese music before entering the church. Father Phan entered displaying a relic from one of the martyrs.

The Mass was celebrated entirely in Vietnamese, and was followed by a reception and a meal featuring traditional cuisine.

The annual celebration is held to coincide with the actual feast day on Nov. 24. It honors the men and women now known as the Martyrs of Tonkin or Annam, and Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions. 

In June 1988, they were canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in remembrance of the thousands of Vietnamese who suffered during a time in which ruling dynasties sought to wipe out Vietnam’s Catholic population. 

Vietnam has 54 different ethnic groups. The Kinh, the ethnic Vietnamese, make up the largest group. It is home to an estimated 7 million Catholics, with about one million more Vietnamese Catholics worldwide.

Father Phan, who serves as parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Greenville, and is coordinator of Vietnamese ministries for the diocese, emphasized that honoring the martyrs who gave their lives for the faith cannot be limited to a single day.

“We come together (on Nov. 18) to praise and honor those who struggled for the faith,” Father Phan said. “But we must also honor them by living our faith every day, living a moral life, and by teaching our children the history of our descendants.”

The annual celebration rotates among several parishes in the diocese with large Vietnamese populations. Past events have been held in the Columbia and Greenville areas. 

The diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries estimates that there are about 2,000 Vietnamese Catholics registered in parishes statewide.

By Chip Lupo/Special to the Miscellany