Yesterday was the celebration of the Feast of Saints Andrew Dũng-Lạc and his Companions, Martyrs. I have a particular interest personally in Vietnam. My Dad was a Regular Army officer and served in Vietnam for the first 2 years of my life. He came back with a great sympathy for the plight of the South Vietnamese. When the first Vietnamese boat people began arriving on Australian shores, our family looked with concern at their plight.
No one can be sure how many people took the decision to flee, nor are there any definitive casualty figures. However, the number who attempted to flee has been put as high as 1.5 million. Estimates for deaths vary from 50,000 to 200,000 (Australian Immigration Ministry). The primary cause of death was drowning though many refugees were attacked by pirates and murdered or sold into slavery and prostitution. Some countries in the region, such as Malaya, turned the boat people away even if they did manage to land. Boats carrying the refugees were deliberately sunk offshore by those in them to stop the authorities towing them back out to sea. Many of these refugees ended up settling in the United States and Europe. The United States accepted 823,000 refugees; Britain accepted 19,000; France accepted 96,000; Australia and Canada accepted 137,000 each. Source
The Catholic Church in Australia owes a great deal to the Vietnamese Catholics, whose faith has for many hundreds of years been tried sorely with many countless martyrs. Not only are the number of Vietnamese martyrs staggering (130, 000-300,000), but the methods of torture and cruelty relating to their deaths are quite possibly the worst of any group in the history of Christendom. Vietnamese Catholics are also a vibrant, living witness in our secular country to the power of faith. Despite being a very small percentage of the overall population who say they are Catholic according to our census, they are a much larger percentage of those who actually practice their faith.
St Andrew Dung-Lac and 117 others were all canonised (declared saints) together by Pope St John Paul II. These martyrs are just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of those who were martyred, but whose witness goes well beyond their short lives.
I just could not let this day pass without sharing the amazing words of one of these martyrs from prison. The following is a letter of Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, with a beautiful beginning reflecting his connection with the original St Paul:
“I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises. The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind – shackles, iron chains, manacles – are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for ever.
In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone – Christ is with me.
Our Master bears the whole weight of the cross, leaving me only the tiniest, last bit. He is not a mere onlooker in my struggle, but a contestant and the victor and champion in the whole battle. Therefore upon his head is placed the crown of victory, and his members also share in his glory.”
I have often wondered how many of those who are tortured and killed for their faith actually feel when they are in the midst of their suffering. Thanks to these words above there really is nothing to fear, even a living hell itself. Jesus is real, and he is living through their faith in Him, and enduring the cross on their behalf.
The following comments relate to the practice at the time of rounding up entire villages and having each person walk on a cross and deride it to prove to the authorities that they were not Catholic. Those who refused knew their fate was torture and death, yet so many chose to do this out of their love for Our Lord.
“How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the cherubim and seraphim? Behold, the pagans have trodden your cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you, prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love.
O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations; grant that I may not grow weak along the way, and so allow your enemies to hold their heads up in pride.
From 1625 to 1886 over 50 decrees were issued launching persecutions against Christians, each more cruel than the one before. Source
Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me, for his mercy is for ever. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant and from this day all generations will call me blessed, for his mercy is for ever.
O praise the Lord, all you nations, acclaim him, all you peoples, for God chose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, God chose what is low and despised to confound the noble. Through my mouth he has confused the philosophers who are disciples of the wise of this world, for his mercy is for ever.
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 “ta dao” (Sinister religion) and families and villages
which subscribed to Christianity were obliterated. Source
I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor toward the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart.
Beloved brothers, for your part so run that you may attain the crown, put on the breastplate of faith and take up the weapons of Christ for the right hand and for the left, as my patron Saint Paul has taught us. It is better for you to enter life with one eye or crippled than, with all your members intact, to be cast away.
Come to my aid with your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight according to the law, and indeed to fight the good fight and to fight until the end and so finish the race. We may not again see each other in this life, but we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in singing his praises and exult for ever in the joy of our triumph. Amen. Source
So, the next time I am feeling sorry for myself or facing a “first world problem”, I hope to remember to pray to St Andrew Dung-Lac & the many others with him, for perspective and courage to face the unknown with joy and hope.
St Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, pray for us!