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St. Andrew Dung Lac

November 12, 2013 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

At the docks of Kuala Terengganu, a village on the east coast of Malaysia, we waited to board the fishing boat. The craft bobbed up and down with each incoming wave. Timing was essential to land properly on the deck. Once aboard, we relaxed for the three-hour trip out to Pulau Bidong, an island in the South China Sea off the coast of West Malaysia, just 400 miles southwest of Vietnam. This island was uninhabited a few years previously, but with the flood of Vietnamese boat people escaping from the Communist regime in Vietnam after its fall in 1975, it now held over 40,000 refugees.
The members of the U.S. refugee office from Kuala Lumpur typically stayed four nights on the island, interviewing refugees for resettlement in the United States. During a break, I walked through the few remaining trees in the stifling heat up to the place people called Temple Hill. This was a makeshift hut with no walls, built out of saplings and covered with palm fronds. It was located on a bluff high above the sea. This “building” served as the worship place for all the various religions, such as Buddhists, Taoists, and even Catholics. There was a refugee who was a Catholic priest. The refugees who were Catholics would hold their Masses in this primitive setting.
After 1975, the Vietnamese Communist government persecuted not only those who fought in the army of South Vietnam but also those who professed the Catholic faith. Among the persecuted Catholics of Vietnam was Francis Xavier Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan who spent many years in prison, most of them in isolation. From his cell, he wrote letters to his flock on keeping hope — later published under the title Road of Hope.
After his release, he journeyed to the Vatican, explaining that the Holy Eucharist sustained him during his years of incarceration. The cardinal’s deep and abiding faith was the fruit of the earlier Vietnamese martyrs of the Church, some of whom were his blood relatives.
On November 24, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Andrew Dung Lac and his 116 companions who were put to death in the persecutions of the 19th century.
In 1795, Dung An Tran was born to a peasant family in Bac Ninh, a village northeast of Hanoi. When he was 12, the family moved to Hanoi so the father could find some work to provide for the family. In this thriving city, Dung An met a Catholic catechist who befriended him and provided him with food and shelter. He also taught him the basics of Catholic doctrine for three years. Around 1810 Dung An went to Vinh Tri, where he was baptized, taking the name of Andrew Dung Lac.
Following his Baptism, Andrew continued to study, taking up the study of both Chinese and Latin so that he, too, could teach the faith in the country. Because of his love for the true faith, he was chosen to study theology for another few years. On March 15, 1823, Andrew was ordained to the priesthood.
While serving as a priest in Ke Dam, his example of living simply, fasting frequently, and preaching tirelessly led to the conversion of many people. Twelve years after his Ordination he was imprisoned by the regime of Emperor Minh Mang. The emperor treated Catholics so brutally that he was called the Asian Nero in remembrance of the Roman emperor at whose hands so many Christians were martyred.
After St. Andrew was imprisoned, bribes changed hands and he was released. To avoid further trouble from authorities, he changed his name and moved to another province and continued his priestly duties.
Four years later, in 1839, he was arrested once again, along with Peter Thi, a priest who was hearing his Confession at the time. Although the Catholic community again raised funds to purchase their freedom, they were arrested shortly thereafter and again thrown into prison.
They were freed, but once more they were arrested, the third and final time. This time they were both tortured most barbarically. Finally, on December 21, 1839, they were both beheaded.
For over 30 more years, the persecution of the Christians continued with over 100,000 deaths. From 1825 until 1862 the Christians experienced one of the most brutal periods of persecutions in the history of Vietnam. Of the 117 martyrs, 96 were Vietnamese: 39 priests and 59 lay persons who were catechists and members of third orders. The 21 foreign missionaries who were martyred consisted of 11 Spanish Dominicans (six bishops and five priests), and 10 French (two bishops and eight priests).
The executioners used a variety of methods to dispose of their prisoners such as suffocation, beheading, torturing, drugs, and keeping them in cages too small for them to move. Christians were marked on their faces with “ta dao,” meaning false religion. Husbands were separated from their wives and children from their parents. Entire villages of Christians were destroyed. One mother of six was convicted and killed for carrying letters to and from prisoners.
These 117 companions were beatified in four groups. The first group was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on May 27, 1900. Pope Pius X beatified the second and third groups. The second consisted of the Dominicans, beatified on May 20, 1906, with the third group beatified on May 2, 1909. The fourth group was beatified on April 29, 1951 by Pope Pius XII.
Pope John Paul II canonized all the groups on June 19, 1988. Although travel from Vietnam for their canonizations was forbidden by the Communist Regime, over 8,000 Vietnamese in exile came to the Vatican for these canonizations.
More than any other religion, Catholicism is the universal religion where you can travel virtually anywhere in the world and find a Mass to attend. The devotion and the fidelity of the Catholic Church in Asia are to be admired. The missionaries who went to the far distant lands to spread this faith have left a lasting legacy, traveling to such remote areas as the jungles on the island of Borneo, the remote villages of Southeast Asia, and throughout the Malay Archipelago.
Dear St. Andrew Dung Lac and companions, pray for us. You suffered deprivation, hunger, pain, and illness for the love of God. Help us to love Jesus, to love our enemies, to possess a faith so strong that we shall not weaken — by God’s grace — when challenged, but love perseveringly to the end of our lives. 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. She is celebrating her 20th anniversary with the organization.)

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