.- An estimated 120,000 Catholics participated in the opening ceremony of Vietnam’s Holy Jubilee year marking the 350th anniversary of Catholic vicariates in the country. However, the celebrations were marred by news of the resignation of the Archbishop of Hanoi, which some believe to be a result of government pressure. On Monday evening four cardinals, 30 Vietnamese bishops from all 26 dioceses and 1200 priests gathered with an estimated 120,000 lay faithful from northern dioceses to participate in the ceremony. Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA that the priests included dozens of foreign clerics from Europe and the United States.
Festivities took place at So Kien, about 43 miles south of Hanoi, where the Church in Vietnam first was able to build a large and durable complex of buildings. The celebrations marked the 350th anniversary of the first apostolic vicariates in Vietnam and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in Vietnam.
The ceremony began at 5:30 pm with a one-hour procession of martyr’s relics. Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, President of the bishops’ conference of Vietnam, presided over the procession.
The gathered faithful were reminded that between the years 1625 and 1886 fifty-three edicts of persecution of Christians were signed by the Trinh Lords, the Nguyen Lords and the dynasty of the Kings of Nguyen. Each persecution was worse than the one before.
Those gathered for the Jubilee celebration expressed their gratitude for the estimated 130,000 Christians who died in these persecutions. Of these martyrs, 117 were beatified on four separate occasions. Their numbers included 96 Vietnamese, 11 Spanish Dominicans and 10 French members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.
Pope Leo XIII beatified 64 of these martyrs on May 27, 1900. Pope St. Pius X beatified eight on May 20, 1906 and 20 on May 2, 1909. Pope Pius XII beatified 25 on April 29, 1951.
All 117 were canonized on June 19, 1988 by Pope John Paul II under the strong protest of Vietnam’s communist government, Fr. An Dang reports. Another young Vietnamese martyr, Andre Phú Yên, was beatified by John Paul II in March of 2000.
Following the grand opening of the Jubilee ceremonies Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, President of the Holy Jubilee Committee, delivered his official declaration.
After the opening Mass, the festival’s inaugural night began with a sea of candle lights to welcome a procession of 118 Sisters of St. Paul from Hanoi and also a much loved performance group from the Diocese of Bui Chu. The performers included 400 trumpeters and drummers.
The opening ceremony was the second largest recent Catholic gathering in North Vietnam. The largest gathering was a Mass at Xa Doai on August 15, when more than 500,000 Catholics protested against the assaults on priests in Tam Toa.
The So Kien ceremony was widely reported and interpreted by state media as “an equivocal evidence” for the religious freedom policy of the Vietnam government, Fr. An Dang reported.
“The joy on the opening day of the Holy Jubilee in Vietnam, however, was marred by the news that Archbishop of Hanoi had submitted his resignation to the Pope,” he added.
On November 14 Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet told his priests at their annual archdiocesan retreat that that he had submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI because of deteriorating health. The archbishop, aged 57, is one of the youngest bishops in Vietnam.
Fr. An Dang explained to CNA that while the prelate ran a tight, exhausting schedule in his large archdiocese, many Vietnamese Catholics suspect that he is resigning due to pressure from the Vietnamese government.