It has become one of the most important dates on the local Vietnamese calendar. On Saturday, Nov. 23, for the first time, Christ Cathedral played host to a procession and Mass in tribute of Vietnamese martyrs.
Thousands of congregants gathered at the cathedral and campus grounds to celebrate the feast day, technically on Nov. 24, honoring the 117 faith leaders and unknown companions killed in Vietnam and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
It is estimated that countless Catholics in Vietnam were persecuted and as many as 300,000 killed beginning in the late 18th century and lasting more than 60 years. These include Saint Andrew Dũng-Lạc, a patron saint of the Diocese of Orange, and 21 missionaries from France and Spain, slain in Vietnam.
Since the group was canonized, Vietnamese Catholics have held annual ceremonies to commemorate the martyrs. In past years, Orange County Vietnamese Catholics, under the auspices of the Vietnamese Catholic Center, have packed the 6,000-seat Bren Center at the University of California, Irvine, and prior to that at Santa Ana Stadium.
This year, the Bishop of Orange, Most Reverend Kevin Vann, invited Vietnamese congregants to come to Christ Cathedral Campus. The Diocese of Orange is home to the largest Vietnamese Catholic diaspora in the country.
The event began with a festive two-hour procession with members the diocese’s 16 parishes with large Vietnamese contingents. Carrying banners from churches and statues, including Our Lady of La Vang, the procession wound around the outer edge of the cathedral. Participants with tickets were allowed inside and filled the church to capacity.
The celebration featured two drum corps, speakers, liturgical dancers and a re-enactment, “The Sacrifice of Our Martyrs,” depicting the persecution of early Catholics in Vietnam.
After the celebration, Bishop Vann and Auxiliary Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen, celebrated a bilingual Mass. During his homily, Bishop Nguyen said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church in Vietnam. Today we celebrate the feast of our ancestors. We thank God for their strong faith. At the same time, we ask them to intercede for us that we are able to pass on the tradition, the legacy they have left for us.”
Bishop Nguyen continued to note the lesson of all martyrs since St. Stephen has been one of forgiveness. After the Mass, Bishop Nguyen laid hands on parishioners who queued up, while Bishop Vann posed for photographs.
“What a great celebration,” said Father Vincent Pham, director of the Vietnamese Center. “It was a blessing for Bishop Vann to have it in this pretty cathedral. It was a wonderful, fabulous celebration.”
Because of the popularity of the event, admission into the cathedral was ticketed. Outdoor tented seating for 1,500 was provided and the celebration and Mass were broadcast on wide screens.
“I am privileged to join Orange County’s Vietnamese community in honoring the sacrifice and courage of these many holy martyrs. They gave themselves readily in defense of their beliefs and faith,” Bishop Nguyen, who serves as the only Vietnamese Catholic bishop in the United States, said in a statement.
Because of the overflow attendance, Father Vincent Pham said plans are underway to stage the event outdoors on the campus grounds next year.