BARLING — The Vietnamese community at Sacred Heart of Mary Church gathered on Thanksgiving morning to celebrate the memory of the Vietnamese martyrs.
The first Catholic missionary came to Vietnam in 1533, but shortly after an imperial edict forbade the practice of Christianity. The edict was lifted when Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1615, and Catholicism flourished. In 1645, the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions was established to train priests to minister to the growing Catholic population.
At the close of the 18th century, civil wars and political rivalries raged in Vietnam, and between 1798 and 1862 there was a “Great Massacre” of Catholics by the emperors, according to Catholic Online. Catholics were ordered to trample crosses and renounce their faith. They were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Churches and convents were razed, and Catholics lost their lands and possessions. The persecutions ended with the Peace of 1862, as Saigon and other regions surrendered to France.
St. John Paul II canonized the Vietnamese martyrs June 19, 1988, including the 117 named martyrs and thousands whose names were unknown. He declared their feast day would be Nov. 24.
“Each year we choose a different saint as the subject of our pageant,” Sister Maria Nguyen, OP, said. “This year we chose St. Ane Lê Th? Thành, a mother of six children, who was captured after sheltering a priest in her home. She was tortured in prison, and when her children came to visit they cried when they saw her bloodstained clothes. She told them to see the blood stains as roses blooming from her suffering.”
The procession from the church to the parish hall was led by the Eucharistic Youth Group.
“The youth carry the relics of the saints to the hall, accompanied by three older men in traditional garb,” Sister Maria said. “We venerate the saints with incense and drums, bowing down.”
Sister Maria and another sister wrote the script and worked with the youth group and the community to bring St. Ane’s story to life. A video screen in the background displayed scenes of Vietnamese homes and countryside as the youth group, dressed in traditional costumes, performed scenes from the saint’s life. A dance troupe opened and closed the performance.
After the cast took its curtain call, the students transformed the stage into an altar and Father Peter Le, associate pastor at Sacred Heart of Mary Church, celebrated Thanksgiving Day Mass. The Vietnamese chapter of the Knights of Columbus served a turkey dinner after Mass as a fundraiser for its charities.
Six Dominican sisters live in a convent near Sacred Heart of Mary Church and play an important role in parish life.
“Our sisters operate a daycare center in the building next to the convent,” Sister Maria said. “Two of our sisters are retired, but the rest of us work in the community and youth ministry. I go up to St. Mary in Siloam Springs and St. Vincent de Paul in Rogers two Sundays a month to work with the Vietnamese communities there.”
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