Martyrs of Vietnam

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Died 1745–1862.

These comprise a group of 117 martyrs in the three Vietnamese kingdoms of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China. They include both Europeans and Asians. There were 8 bishops, 50 priests, and 59 laymen, among whom were catechists and tertiaries. They were beatified in 1900, 1906, 1909, and 1951, and canonized in 1988.

During the first 200 years of Christianity in these parts it is believed that about 100,000 were martyred. Of most of these all historical record has been lost. The earliest martyrs of whom there is substantial documentation are the Spanish Dominicans Francisco Gil and Alonzo Lenziana: of these the first during nine years in prison directed a fruitful apostolate, while the latter, a fugitive for thirteen years, ministered faithfully but furtively to the native Christians. In 1773 two more Dominicans were beheaded, Hyacinth Casteneda, a Spaniard who had evangelized in the Philippines and China for several years before being deported to Vietnam, where he was imprisoned for three years. There he was joined by Vincent Liem, the first Indo-Chinese Dominican to be martyred, who had ministered to his countrymen for fourteen years before he was executed. In 1798 the first Vietnamese diocesan priests, John Dat and Emmanuel Nguyen, also suffered martyrdom.

During the first twenty years of the 19th century Christianity made steady progress, but this was dramatically interrupted by the persecutions under the Annamite kings Minh-Mang (1820–41) and Tu Duc (1847–83). From 1832 Minh excluded all foreign missionaries and ordered Vietnamese Christians to renounce Christianity by trampling on the crucifix: meanwhile churches were to be destroyed and teaching Christianity forbidden. Very many suffered death or extreme hardship. Once again Spanish Dominican bishops, Ignatius Delgado and Dominic Henarez, each of whom had worked for 50 years there, were arrested. The former died of hunger, thirst, and exposure in a cage before he could be beheaded (he was aged seventy-six), while Dominic and his Annamite catechist, Francis Chien, were both executed. Other Vietnamese priests who were martyred included Peter Tuan, Bernard Due, and Joseph Nien; a doctor Joseph Cahn and a tailor Thomas De suffered the same fate. Some of the victims seem to have been induced by drugs to make temporary retractations: others endured fearsome tortures, including cutting off the limbs joint by joint. A group of French missionaries, including Joseph Marchand and Charles Cornay, also suffered: the former, who was captured at Saigon, died (like Bartholomew) while the flesh was torn from his body with red-hot tongs; the latter who was set up by weapons being buried in the plot of land he cultivated, was imprisoned in a series of cages: being young and endowed with a fine voice, was obliged to sing to his captors. Eventually on 20 September 1837 the sentence of the supreme tribunal ‘that he is to be hewn in pieces and that his head, after being exposed for three days, is to be thrown into the river’ was accomplished.

Persecutions were revived in 1847 when Christians were suspected of complicity in rebellion, while French and Spanish efforts to protect their nationals caused a xenophobic and anti-Christian ferocity. Once more foreign missionaries and native clergy and laity suffered death for Christianity. The most famous include Theophane Vénard of the Paris Mission, Augustus Schoffler (from Lorraine), and John Louis Bonnard, who wrote a fine letter of farewell to his family before being executed on 1 May 1852. Also should be mentioned Stephen Cuénot, a bishop who had established three vicariates during twenty-five years' episcopate, was hidden by a pagan during persecution until he had to emerge for water, and died of dysentery just before the edict for his execution arrived.


Subjects: Christianity.

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