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Catholic Voice
   December 17, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Refugees brought faith from Vietnam to Oakland


Archbishop Alex J. Brunett

I greet you in the name of Christ the King whose feast we celebrate today, but also I greet you in the name of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs whose feast day we also celebrate this morning which is the reason for my being here with you.

In today's Scripture we have a number of images and ideas of kingship. What comes to mind when you hear that someone is a king? Kings and queens are not that common today, and those which do exist hardly fit the bill when it comes to a useful image for Christ the King — they generally are figureheads with little or no real power. What about Christ as king? Who appointed him king? Who are his troops? What wars did he fight? And what arms did he use?

To call Christ the King is to repeat what St. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians. "He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Father. Through him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creatures. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created."

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Scripture, his becoming one of us to make our humanity complete. He lived among us. He taught us how to live our lives in order to please God. He gave us a new image of God as Father and taught us how to call on him for our daily needs. When asked about the greatest commandment, he told us to love God will all our heart, soul and being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus Christ taught us how to forgive and to serve one another with compassion. He suffered and died on the cross for the love of us, the whole human family.

He was raised from the dead and revealed for us the hope that is ours in this life and in the eternal with God. He modeled for us what it means to be fully alive in God. He taught us how to be good stewards of this life. He gave us a priceless gift of himself and showed us how we can become members of his kingdom.

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By our baptism, we deliberately choose to bring ourselves under God's reign. For many of us, our parents made the decision to have us baptized and we can thank them for that decision. By passing on their faith in God, we too, have come to believe. Through our choosing we have accepted Christ as our King. He has been appointed by taking upon himself our humanity and by his fidelity to the Father's will. God chose us and he also left it to us to submit ourselves to his reign. Our submission is a daily exercise that is supported by our faith, by our daily reflection on Scripture and personal prayers, by our frequent participation at the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, by serving others in justice, and by helping the poor and needy among us.

We are God's troops. By our commitment to follow Christ as our King, we contribute to the betterment of the kingdom when, in Christ's name we heal the sick, mend broken relationships, feed the hungry, clothe the poor and love the unwanted children of God. There is so much to be done, requiring all of our help and assistance.

What are we fighting for? We are fighting for the love and peace of God to be a reality for every human person who lives today and those who come after us in the next generations. Since Christ Our King taught us how to be good stewards of human life and all its resources, we have the responsibility to take care of that life so that each person can have the quality of life which by God's will is deserved. Christ has come to serve and not to be served.

In the light of these realities, what has made the 117 Vietnamese martyrs whose feast we also celebrate today to be saints? What led them to die a death of martyrdom? Their motive was nothing short of willingness to submit their lives to the reign of Jesus Christ and to follow him faithfully no matter what the cost.

According to documented history, Catholic Christianity began in Vietnam in 1533. At that time, the country was ruled by King Trang Ton of the Le Dynasty. This king issued a decree of prohibition against the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ. The decree mentioned specifically a missionary named Ignatius, a Westerner arriving in the country aboard a commercial ship in order to preach at Ninh Cuong and Quan Anh Villages, presently the province An Nam Dinh in Northern Vietnam.

Over the centuries that followed, lay persons, vowed religious and priests were martyred for their Catholic faith.

On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II recognized the faithful witness of those Vietnamese men and women martyred throughout the years by canonizing 117 of them at a ceremony in St. Peter's Square in Rome. The 117 Vietnamese Martyrs included 96 Vietnamese, 11 Spanish missionaries and 10 French missionaries. By elevating the martyrs to the rank of canonized saints, the pope encouraged the universal Church to celebrate the martyrs' fidelity to the kingdom. This is a singular honor for Vietnam and its people.

The Vietnamese Church, throughout its history, has been proven heroic and has matured through the blood of the martyrs and sacrifices of many. It has always remained faithful to the Church and to the Vicar of Christ, worthy of being described by Pope Pius XI as the Eldest Daughter of the Catholic Church in Asia.

Such is the great history which you inherit and celebrate today as Vietnamese Catholics. By the sacrifice of those who come before you and by your own sacrifices and suffering in leaving your native land and settling in the U.S. as immigrants and refugees, you have continued to grow in your Catholic faith. You have proudly brought that faith from Vietnam to Oakland and you have become a part of the vitality of this local Church.

I am most grateful to all of you for the Catholic faith you claimed as your own and for your commitment to pass on that faith to the next generation. I am grateful for all the good works you do in making the Vietnamese Community an expression of the Lord's kingdom, a place of refuge for those who come here to find the love and warmth of Christ the King, the One who serves. Be assured that your fidelity to him and his Church will help you to know continually his presence, his love and his peace.

A happy Vietnamese Martyrs Feast Day to all of you.

(This was Archbishop Brunett's homily Nov. 25, the Feast of Christ the King, at the Vietnamese Martyrs Mass at St. Anthony Church in Oakland.)

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