Friday 26 April 2024

Martyrs of Vietnam Saints Andrew DungLac, Jean Theophane Venard and Their Companions - Bob Bloomfield - CTS Books

Martyrs of Vietnam
Saints Andrew DungLac, Jean Theophane Venard and Their Companions
Bob Bloomfield
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9780851839684
CTS Booklet B647

Martyrs of Vietnam Saints Andrew DungLac, Jean Theophane Venard and Their Companions - Bob Bloomfield - CTS Books

Several years ago I discovered the books and booklets of the Catholic Truth Society, I have since found them to be a treasure trove. They are excellent for growing in the faith, learning our history, and finding out about saints and Martyrs. Most of the booklets I have read today have a B in the booklet number indicating that it is part of the biography series. I stumbled across the name of this volume when doing research for Martyrs of Korea by Richard Rutt. I discovered this list of books about Martyrs from the Catholic Truth Society:

Martyrs of Nagasaki - Lucian Hunt 
Martyrs of Uganda - Joanna Bogle   
Martyrs of Vietnam - Bob Bloomfield  
Martyrs of Korea - Richard Rutt
The Southwark Martyrs – M. Clifton

There is also a separate series called 20th Century Martyrs that includes:


But have had a hard time tracking them down. I am thankful I was finally found a copy of this volume at a reasonable price. The description on the back of the booklet is:

“The twenty-fourth of November is dedicated in the Calendar of the Universal Church to St Andrew Dung Lac and companions. Who they are and what they did is little known by English speakers, so Bob Bloomfield has searched the sources and here presents his results.”

The chapters in this small volume are:

Death or Denial?
St Andrew Dung Lac
     Under Arrest
     Corporal Torture
St Jean-Theophane Venard
     Mandarin Power
     Day of Execution
     Therese's Admiration
     Man's Inhumanity to Man
     Still Unsettled
Selected Bibliography
List of Martyrs from Vietnam Canonized 19 June 1988

The list of martyrs is broken into the following sections:

Missions Etrangeres (Paris)
Vietnamese Priests
Vietnamese laity

The list contains the name and date of Martyrdom. The volume begins with this quote:

“The age of martyrs, as of miracles, never ceases. Martyrdom is a perpetual note upon the mystical body, which has the stigmata of Jesus ever fresh upon it.”
Cardinal Wiseman (1802- 1865)

This was a very moving and powerful volume. It is not an easy read. Some of the descriptions of the tortures and methods of execution that were used are hard to read about. But it is also inspiring to read about the deep faith and devotion of these fellow Catholics. And how they lived and died for their faith. I highlighted numerous passages while reading this volume, some of them are:

“On 19 June 1988 Pope John Paul II canonised 117 people, collectively known as the martyrs of Vietnam. They were of different nationalities and had died at different times. There were 96 Vietnamese, 10 French and 11 Spanish. All had been condemned by Vietnamese tribunals for having declared their Christian faith. They were a small part of that great band of 130,000 martyrs who were tortured and murdered in Vietnam during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They are remembered throughout the Catholic Church each year on 24 November.”

“Not for the squeamish is the catalogue of tortures systematically employed by the captors of the martyrs. Of all the 117 saints, 75 were decapitated, 22 were garotted, six were burned alive, nine were tortured and died in prison, and five were slowly dismembered and cut to little pieces. Before merciful death brought final relief the saints were subjected to hideous indignities, horrific tortures, ingenious and obscene to the point of disbelief.”

“Later, we shall see in more detail how two of the 117 martyrs conducted themselves throughout their torments. They are Andrew Dung Lac, a native-born Vietnamese Catholic priest, and Jean-Theophane Venard, a French priest sent to Vietnam by the Foreign Missionaries organisation in Paris.”

“The trouble with missionaries is that they are not afraid of death. Nor are they afraid of torture. If you kill one, another comes along to take his or her place in the field. You cannot scare off a missionary who believes that martyrdom is a vocation,
culminating in death as the supreme victory.”

“This is not, however, a treatise concerning itself with the detail of economic and political matters; but a report on what happened to a very large number of Christians in Vietnam, then called Tonkin, in the 1800s. It makes painful reading. The more recent tragedies in that suffering country are not for discussion here; but the scars from all that agony are still plainly visible to anyone who cares to look.”

“Not everyone approves of missionaries. There were, and are, those who feel that if a priest or nun or lay Catholic working m an overseas mission is killed or tortured they should not have been there in the first place.”

“In spite of all the difficulties Father Andrew remained calm and dignified. He was very tidy in his appearance, neat and modest. He was soft spoken and set a good example in his respect for his fellow man. He gave a lead in his stringent approach to fasting - on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week without fail, all the year round. He regarded the sacrament of confession as vitally important and he exhorted his parishioners to take full advantage of its benefits.”

“In spite of these exhortations Father Andrew refused to be moved. He referred to the Acts of the Apostles and said. 'Dear brothers and sisters, look at St Peter who was twice saved from execution, thanks to his church's prayers. Then on the third arrest St Peter decided to pray for God's will to happen. The same thing seems to be happening to me now. You have prayed for me and used all means to bail me out from prison twice. I am now arrested and persecuted for the third time in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I think this is our Lord's will for me to share with him the passion and the cross.'”

“On the day of execution the condemned priests were dressed in long, black cassocks as if preparing for the celebration of Mass. They prayed all the way to the place where they were to meet their deaths. Father Thi, 76-years old, had become weak and ill and had to be carried by a soldier. Rather pointlessly they were offered food and water. Father Thi could not manage to consume anything; but Father
Andrew accepted some small pieces of sugar cane.”

“Well, one day, when Theophane was about eight and a voracious reader he saw in a magazine titled Annals of the Propagation of the Faith a report of the death of the missionary Father Jean –Charles Cornay, who had been beheaded in Tonkin (Vietnam) on 20 September 1837. Apparently his body had been dismembered as well. Theophane was so moved by this story that he told his family, ‘And I too, I want to go to Tonkin. And I too, I want to be a martyr.'”

“Eventually, in February l 854, Father Theophane Venard received his orders to proceed to his ultimate destination, the western di strict of Tonkin. He knew this was a dangerous area for priests, 'where persecution is most alive'. He knew there was a price on the head of every missionary and when one was found he could end up beaten, tortured and dead.”

“One of the mandarins dealing with the case was unhappy about the situation. He realised that this prisoner was someone special. Theophane, who was still allowed to write and to receive letters, told his family about this mandarin. He said, 'This man, like Pilate, protested loudly against taking innocent blood and declared that this sin and the odium of it  would fall on the heads of the captors.' This same mandarin claimed that he kept the prisoners only because he did not dare to let them go for fear of the reaction of his colleagues.”

“If there is any such thing as a popular prisoner it was Theophane. His dark good looks, his cheerful manner, his courage, were all greatly admired by guards, officials and the populace at large. Someone said, 'He doesn't look afraid. It's as if he was going to a feast.' Another said, 'He is so young to die.' He was thirty-two years of age.”

“The news of Theophane's death did not reach France until the end of December 1861. The Bishop of Poitiers held a Feast in his honour which was not a sad occasion; but a celebration of Theophane's martyrdom. But the fervour of the
Bishop's sermon had the congregation in tears.”

“Apart from the ill-treatment of individuals there were occasional mass murders in nineteenth century Vietnam. In 1885 there was a fearful attack covering the whole of Vietnam. In the Tonkin mission 163 churches were burned, 4,799 Catholics were killed and 1, 182 died of 'hunger and misery'.”

“What is interesting is that although the Vietnamese authorities relied so strongly on torture to get their own way, they never tortured Theophane Venard. Him, they tried to persuade with words. Words too, from the highest in the land. But apart from being caged and chained Father Venard stayed in one piece until the sword blows fell. What did his captors see in him?”

“According to the latest information received there are today ten dioceses in the North and fifteen in the South, with a total of some six million Catholics in Vietnam. This is despite the fact that there have been continuing attempts to suppress Christianity.”

I hope those quotes give you a feel for this volume. It was a very powerful read and one I was immensely happy to have finally tracked down. It was inspiring to read of these stories about these martyrs and their witness. At the end of the volume after the bibliography is this statement:

“Lady Herbert of Lea, who translated the first biography of Theophane Venard (see above), helped to found the Catholic Truth Society, with funds and accommodation for meetings. The first meeting of the CTS was held at her home in Belgravia on Guy Fawkes Day, 5 November 1884. The second Bishop of Salford, Herbert Vaughan, took the chair. He was later to become Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.”

This little snippet about the founding of the Catholic Truth Society was an interesting titbit in this volume. This was an excellent little read. It is a small volume so it gives a quick and concise overview. It does leave the reader wanting more, about these saints and the time they lived in. It is well written and easily accessible. It would be a great introduction for any Catholic. Another great and valuable read from the CTS, one I can easily recommend if you can lay your hands on it.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Martyrs of Vietnam Saints Andrew DungLac, Jean Theophane Venard and Their Companions - Bob Bloomfield - CTS Books List of Martyrs 1

Martyrs of Vietnam Saints Andrew DungLac, Jean Theophane Venard and Their Companions - Bob Bloomfield - CTS Books List of Martyrs 2

Martyrs of Vietnam Saints Andrew DungLac, Jean Theophane Venard and Their Companions - Bob Bloomfield - CTS Books List of Martyrs 3

Books in the 20th Century Martyrs Series:
Sophie Scholl and the White Rose: Resistance to the Nazis - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Johann Gruber & Jacques Bunel Victims of the Nazis - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Maximilian Kolbe, F. Jagerstatter, K. Leisner, R. Mayer: Victims of the Nazis - Franz Jagerstatter
Edith Stein, Marcel Callo, Titus Brandsma: Victims of the Nazis – Matthew Monk
Saint Maria Goretti: Teenage Martyr for Chastity - Glynn MacNiven-Johnston
The Atlas Martyrs – Jean Olwen Maynard

Jerzy Popieluszko Victim of Communism - Grazyna Sikorski
Isidore Bankanja - Jean Maynard

Gianna Molla - Jean Olwen Maynard

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