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Catholic Heroes… St. Vicente Liem De La Paz

November 21, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Vietnam received its first missionaries of the Catholic Church in the 1500s. These missionaries were predominantly Portuguese in the 16th century, with French Jesuits and the Dominicans coming in the 17th century.
Throughout the following centuries the priests and missionaries suffered excruciating tortures and martyrdom. When the Communists captured northern Vietnam, Catholics fled to the south and the country was partitioned. When the south was also captured, many fled the country, and those who remained were persecuted. Today Catholic religious orders are flourishing, more Catholic schools and institutions are opening, and the number of professed Catholics is increasing.
The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church, as we have heard so many times. The first martyr of Vietnamese descent was Vicente Liem de la Paz, a man who achieved many “firsts” as a Vietnamese Catholic. He was the first Vietnamese accepted into St. John Lateran in the Philippines and he was the first Vietnamese martyr. He died in 1773 when the government authorities sought to eradicate the Christians from their soil.
Liem was born in Tra Lu village, Phu Nhai, in the Nam Dinh Province, Tonkin (present-day northern Vietnam). Nam Dinh was located on the northern coast of Vietnam near the Chinese border. Anton and his wife, Monica Thieu Dao, baptized Liem on the day of his birth in 1732. Presumably, he was sickly at birth, necessitating his speedy initiation into the Catholic Church.
The couple was devout and gave the child the name Vicente at his birth. They initiated his education, though little is known of it until he was 12 years old. In 1744, Vicente entered the Luc Thuy seminary. He put his gifts of intellect and piety to great use excelling in both areas at the seminary. Fr. Espinosa Huy, a Dominican priest, encouraged Vicente to go to the Philippines so that he could further his studies at St. John Lateran in Manila.
Originally the College of St. John Lateran at the University of St. Thomas did not allow students of Chinese origin to study there. However, King Philip V of Spain opened it to both Chinese and Tonkinese students in 1738. Thus, in 1754, Vicente applied to the college since China had no Christian educational institutions for Catholic seminarians. Along with Vicente, four other Tonkinese were admitted to the college: José de Santo Tomas, Juan de Santo Domingo, Pedro Martir, and Pedro San Jacinto.
Vicente first took the trivium or elementary education and then he took the quadrivium or secondary education courses. He finished a degree of lector in humanities at St. John Lateran. In September, 1753 he then entered the Dominican order, making his profession of vows a year later.
Vicente stayed in the Philippines for four more years, studying theology at St. Thomas. While there, on January 28, 1755, he received the tonsure and minor orders at the Church of Santa Ana in Manila taking the name de la Paz — of Peace. Three years later he was ordained a priest of the Dominican Order, but he could not yet hear Confessions — that came in September after he passed the exam on Confessions.
Later that year, on October 3, 1758, Fr. Liem left to return to Vietnam but he did not arrive there until January 20, 1759.
After his return, Fr. Vicente served his people faithfully for 14 years. First he taught at the local seminary of Trung Linh, where he would later be buried. Then he served at many parishes: Quat Lam, Luc Thuy, Trung Le, Trung Lao, and Lai On — all in the province of Nam Dinh.
During those fourteen years that he served as a priest, he did so universally and fearlessly to all people. Even during the persecution under Lord Trinh Sam from 1767 to 1782, he would go to surrounding villages to preach the truth, to console the sorrowful, and to edify those suffering or experiencing difficulties.
In 1773 he went to Luong Dong to preach a mission in the parish. On the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the secular authorities arrested him and sent him to Tran Van Hien in Xich Bich. Mr. Tran had him kidnapped, hoping to extort a ransom for the beloved priest.
Tran held Fr. Vicente for twelve days before he admitted defeat. Sadly he sent the priest to another government officer in Pho Hien. While in prison there, Fr. Vicente met Fr. Jacinto Castaneda, another Dominican priest. They became great friends and supported one another in the upcoming ordeals.
On October 29, 1773, a yoke was placed on the priests and they were forced to march through the streets. When they were sent to Thanh Long, they took part in a debate involving four religions: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Catholicism.
This historic debate, organized by an officer of Lord Trinh Sam, lasted three days. It became known as The Council of Four Religions and was recorded in a book of the same name — Hoi Dong Tu Giao in Vietnamese.
According to the records of the proceedings:
“During the debate, the Catholic representatives applied the Apologetic methodology and also used the classic references from Chinese literature to explain their theory so clearly that they earned the officers’ admiration.”
Nevertheless, both Fr. Vicente and Fr. Jacinto Castaneda were sentenced to death by decapitation. As the priests were led to their execution, the guards stopped in front of the palace of the king to hear their condemnation — they were priests of a banned religion.
An officer spoke, seeking amnesty for Fr. Vicente, stating that no Vietnamese had yet been condemned to death for being Catholic. However, Fr. Vicente did not want to lose the crown of martyrdom and actually argued that he should be executed. He told the king if he did not execute him, neither could he execute Fr. Castaneda.
The priests were killed on November 7, 1773 in Kien Nam. The Catholics who witnessed the execution carried the bodies away and buried them at Trung Linh in Xuan Truong, Nam Dinh.
The Vicar Apostolic Bishop Ignacio Delgado initiated the process for their beatification — along with some other Dominican martyrs. Pope St. Pius X beatified Fr. Vicente Liem de la Paz on May 20, 1906 at the Vatican. Pope St. John Paul II canonized him on June 19, 1988 also at the Vatican. His feast is celebrated on November 24.
Fr. Vicente is the patron saint of St. John Lateran College in Manila.
Dear Fr. Vicente, as you look down upon the Asian continent, intercede for those people who long to practice their faith freely and without retribution. Grant that we who live in a country where we can freely worship, may continue to walk in faithfulness and stand up for the Truth as convincingly and fearlessly as you did. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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