On November 24 Catholics celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew Dung– Lac and 117 other Vietnamese martyrs killed in the 18th century in a cruel persecution of Christians. They are remembered as martyrs who gave their lives for their faith; their martyrdom also caused many non-Christians in their native land to inquire what made them so brave to endure such suffering and death. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity,” the early Christian writer Tertullian said.
Since their time, many others in Vietnam have bravely given witness to their faith in wars and long years of persecution. Christianity is now strongly rooted in that part of the world.
The joy of the martyr has always puzzled those who do not share their faith. How can someone be joyful in the midst of great torture and pain. Here’s a letter of Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, one of the Vietnamese martyrs:
“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 torments, that usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone – Christ is with me.
I am not alone–Christ is with me.”
“Christ is with me. I am not alone–Christ is with me.” That’s the faith that enables Christians to enter the mystery of the passion of Jesus and know the joy of his resurrection. It’s a faith that explains the strength of the Church in Vietnam.