January 13, 2017

Parish remembers Vietnamese martyrs, honors Blessed Mother

Children from the archdiocesan Vietnamese Catholic Congregation take the stage on Nov. 27 in Elford Hall at St. Joseph Parish in Indianapolis. The performance was part of the west side parish’ s commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs. (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

Children from the archdiocesan Vietnamese Catholic Congregation take the stage on Nov. 27 in Elford Hall at St. Joseph Parish in Indianapolis. The performance was part of the west side parish’ s commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs. (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

By Victoria Arthur (Special to The Criterion)

From the martyrs who died for their beliefs to the Virgin Mary who comforted their faithful at a time of great persecution, Vietnamese Catholics have a rich history to remember and revere.

And hundreds of them in central Indiana did just that recently, gathering at St. Joseph Church on the west side of Indianapolis for important events that recall the past while looking to the future.

One of those events was the annual Holy Vietnamese Martyrs’ Mass, where many generations of Vietnamese Catholics assembled to recognize the foundations of their deep faith.

(Related: Vietnamese New Year Mass to be celebrated on Jan. 29)

“Our ancestors are everything to us, and our Vietnamese martyrs—who are saints now—are our heroes,” said Chau Kachelmyer, a longtime member and leader of the archdiocesan Vietnamese Catholic Congregation, which has been based at St. Joseph Parish in Indianapolis for years. “They are the source of the biggest pride for us, and it is our tradition to acknowledge them.

“Every year,” continued the Carmel, Ind., resident and mother of two, “we repeat the history and the traditions of these martyrs to keep their memories alive.”

The Nov. 27 Mass, preceded by an outdoor procession marked by traditional drums and punctuated by colorful costumes, was a vibrant celebration in stark contrast to the dark history of Catholic persecution in Vietnam.

Since the time that Jesuit and Dominican missionaries introduced the faith to the country in the 18th century, Catholics in Vietnam have been subjected to wave after wave of often brutal oppression. Today, Catholics there remain a persecuted minority under the officially atheistic Communist government.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized a group of 117 Vietnamese martyrs who are a representative sample of the estimated 150,000 to 300,000 Catholic faithful in Vietnam who gave their lives for their faith over the centuries.

Their feast day is Nov. 24, which this year fell on Thanksgiving. Fittingly, thankfulness was at the heart of the Martyrs’ Mass held three days later, followed by a bountiful reception in the parish hall with traditional Vietnamese foods.

Vietnamese parishioners at St. Joseph Parish are grateful to have a faith home where they can gather to celebrate the sacraments and pass on their rich traditions to their children.

“You don’t have to look very far to see the future of our Church,” said Nam Nguyen, who was watching his two young daughters perform onstage at the reception along with other children of the parish. “Sometimes, we come to church and see more children than adults.”

Like Chau, Nguyen left Communist Vietnam for a new life in America free of religious persecution. He, his wife and three children have made a home in Fishers, Ind., but St. Joseph is their second home.

Nguyen expressed his gratitude to the parish for being so welcoming to the Vietnamese community, and since joining the parish in 2009, he says he has witnessed the Vietnamese parishioners and the broader Church community grow closer.

“In the beginning, I remember our first Christmas together, and you could see Vietnamese over there and Americans over there, not interacting much,” Nguyen said. “But recently, as a result of various activities, that has been changing.

“Every September, we have our parish festival, when we plan together and cook together, and slowly we begin to know each other. And even a little thing like sometimes on Sundays we watch [football] together. One thing we have in common is we all root for the [Indianapolis] Colts!

“Whenever we are together,” he continued, “we find out there are more similarities between us than differences.”

Honoring Our Lady

One tie that binds the entire faith community of St. Joseph Parish is a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, according to Father Minh Duong, the parish’s associate pastor. The Vietnamese congregation, which he leads, held a Dec. 18 fundraiser in the parish hall to raise money for a large statue of the Virgin Mary that parishioners have ordered from Vietnam.

The statue, which Father Duong says will be the focal point of an outdoor shrine at the parish, will honor Our Lady of La Vang. This is the title given to the Virgin Mary as she appeared to the faithful in late 18th-century Vietnam.

To escape religious persecution, a band of Vietnamese Catholics had taken refuge in the jungle of La Vang, where they met secretly to practice their faith, including praying the rosary every day at dusk. In 1798, the Blessed Mother appeared to encourage these people, who were suffering hardships, including sickness from contaminated water. The faithful were reportedly cured of their illnesses after Mary instructed them to boil leaves from the plentiful jungle vegetation.

“This shrine will be a beautiful reminder of what Our Lady did for the Vietnamese people,” said Father Duong, who ministers to the approximately 150 Vietnamese families who call St. Joseph Parish home. Father Duong is a priest of the Diocese of Quinhon in Vietnam ministering in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Masses in Vietnamese are celebrated at St. Joseph twice every Sunday, at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Like Chau and Nguyen, Vietnamese people come from all over the area to the church to celebrate and share their traditions with others.

“We see the community grow every day,” Nguyen said. “I feel very much at home here.”

(Victoria Arthur is a freelance writer and member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.)

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