Families filled the halls of St. George with anticipation to worship God and an eagerness to pay respect to the Vietnamese Martyrs. In honor of their heritage, Vietnamese women mostly dressed in their traditional gowns called “áo dài”.
The celebration began with a liturgical dance, which consisted of 16 dancers dressed in red áo dài. Each held two candles and moved in synchronicity to the front of the altar, performing beautifully to the rhythm of the Vietnamese Martyrs’ song.
After the liturgical dance, the elders brought in incense, while playing drums and gongs. Behind the processional cross led by altar servers, men dressed in black suits carried a shrine with images of the Vietnamese Martyrs. Following them were 14 Vietnamese priests, three deacons and Monsignor Gerard Lopez, S.T.L., Vicar General of the Diocese, as principal celebrant. Before the Mass began, the Vietnamese priests who represented the seven Vietnamese communities in the Diocese placed incense on the Vietnamese Martyrs’ shrine to show respect.
Msgr. Lopez began the Mass by telling the faithful, on behalf of Bishop Gerald Barnes, Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego and all the Vietnamese priests, that he was there to pray and celebrate the Vietnamese Martyrs’ mass with all the Vietnamese families in the Diocese of San Bernardino.
The homily was given by Father Anthony Bui Dai from St. Francis of Assisi, La Quinta in both Vietnamese and English. He spoke about the 117 Vietnamese Martyrs, our brothers and sisters who went before us, who sacrificed their lives in the name of God and their faith. Their belief and desire to spread the Word of God caused them physical suffering and ultimately, their lives. Father Anthony encouraged the faithful to make sacrifices in order to deal with everyday problems - sacrifices for family and sacrifices for the sake of the community.
At the end of the Mass, John Dang, president of the Vietnamese community, expressed his gratitude to Msgr. Lopez, priests and deacons for celebrating this special Mass with the faithful. He also expressed thanks to religious sisters, seminarians and guests who were present and offered prayers for the Vietnamese community. In addition, Dang gave special thanks to Father Khan Ngo, representative for all the Vietnamese priests in the Diocese for his guidance and leadership, as well as all Vietnamese communities that collaborated to bring this celebration to fruition.
The faithful later shared in a fellowship dinner and enjoyed numerous shows reflecting the history of the Vietnamese Martyrs, which were put together by the youth within the Vietnamese communities in the Diocese.
The Vatican estimates the number of Vietnamese Martyrs at between 130,000 and 300,000. Pope St. John Paul II decided to Canonize those whose names are known and unknown, giving them a single Feast Day of Nov. 24. The Vietnamese Martyrs fall into several groupings, those of the Dominican and Jesuit missionary era of the 17th century; those killed in the politically inspired persecutions of the 19th century; and those martyrs during the Communist purges of the 20th century. A representative sample of only 117 martyrs –including 96 Vietnamese, 11 Spanish Dominicans, and 10 French members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society were beatified on four separated occasions: 64 by Pope Leo XIII on May 27, 1900, eight by Pope Pius X on May 20, 1906, 20 by Pope Pius X on May 2, 1909, 25 by Pope Pius XII on April 29, 1951. All these 117 Vietnamese Martyrs were canonized on June 19, 1988. A young Vietnamese Martyr, Andrew Phú Yên, was beatified in March, 2000 by Pope St. John Paul II.
Van Hoang is a guest writer and photographer for the Inland Catholic Byte.