ROCK HILL—For Mary Vu, the annual Vietnamese Martyrs’ Celebration is an important chance to honor ancestors who gave their lives for the Catholic faith.
The Rock Hill resident joined hundreds of others Nov. 30 at St. Anne Church for an afternoon that included Mass, a procession, traditional music and foods.
“As Vietnamese, we always remember our family and relatives on certain days, and this is a chance to show we appreciate the martyrs,” Vu said. “We celebrate them, thank God for what they did.”
Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Vietnamese martyrs in 1988. They include missionaries who died for the faith in Vietnam as early as the 16th century, and men and women killed in the 19th century as ruling dynasties tried to wipe out the church.
The group is also known as the Martyrs of Tonkin or Annam, and Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions. Their actual feast day is Nov. 24.
Vatican officials have estimated as many as 300,000 Catholics may have died in Vietnam during the years of persecution.
Franciscan Father David Q. Phan celebrated the Mass in Vietnamese, and urged the faithful to use the martyrs’ example as a guide for life.
“The martyrs laid down the foundation of faith for the Vietnamese people, they had to struggle and were persecuted,” he said. “The martyrs give us a witness to live out in our daily life by giving charity to others, by taking care of our children and raising them up in the faith. We are called to be holy and live a moral life.”
He also talked about how important it was for Vietnamese Catholics to follow church teaching and maintain cultural traditions while also adapting to American life.
Each year, the celebration rotates among parishes with large Vietnamese populations.
Michael Tran, assistant director for the Office of Ethnic Ministries, said the diocese serves about 1,500 Vietnamese Catholics, primarily in Rock Hill, Greenville, Charleston, Columbia and Myrtle Beach. All five communities were represented at the celebration.
Many who attended said the event was a good way to combine the American Thanksgiving holiday weekend with Vietnamese tradition.
Nhung Phan of Rock Hill attended with her parents and sister from Columbia.
“This is a good chance to learn about people who sacrificed for their beliefs, and also for our family to get together and go to Mass together,” she said. “It’s also nice to be with the Vietnamese community from around the state.”
Kim Choy of Columbia attended with her husband Stan Choy, who is not Vietnamese but said he enjoys observing his wife’s cultural traditions.
“It’s very important for us to celebrate and have time to thank God for the martyrs,” Mrs. Choy said. “This feast is important because it teaches about living a good life of faith, of being a good role model in faith for our children.”