Celebrating the close of a jubilee year for the Church in Vietnam, special Vatican envoy, Cardinal Ivan Dias urged Catholics to continue to evangelize their country.
An estimated 500,000 people representing Vietnam's 26 dioceses took part in a Mass marking the end of the jubilee Jan. 6. The country's more than six million Catholics were celebrating the 350th anniversary of the faith in Vietnam.
The celebration took place at the Shrine of La Vang, venerated by Vietnamese Catholics as the site of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Marian in the late-1700s.
It was an outdoor Mass in the cold and rain presided over by Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pope's special envoy for the occasion.
There were 35 Vietnamese bishops present along with others from neighboring countries and further abroad. Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Luong of the Diocese of Orange, California and Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, Australia were among the concelebrants, who joined by over a thousand priests, more than one-third of all those in the nation.
In his French-language homily, Cardinal Dias said that it was no accident that the Jubilee's closing was planned for Jan. 6 when the Church celebrates the Epiphany, welcoming "the light" of the birth of Christ.
The loving God who revealed himself through the birth of his son 2,000 years ago, still shows himself to all those who seek him, the cardinal said.
He then quoted from the Gospel of John, saying, "those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God." The cardinal said it was an occasion for Vietnamese Christians to thank God that they are among those chosen from the nearly seven billion people on earth. Gratitude is due to the generous teaching and courage of missionaries who brought them the Gospel message, he said.
The Epiphany, he explained, is a reminder of the great gift of God and an invitation to share this "gift" with others. The cardinal called on Vietnamese Catholics to remember all of those who built the Church with their "blood, sweat and tears" and to be inspired by the Jubilee to live their faith.
The anniversary celebrations should be an inspiration to live the faith more sincerely individually and as a community to put into practice Christ's mission to "go and make disciples of all nations," he added.
In Vietnam, where 94 percent of the people are not Christian, the cardinal said this mission remains pressing.
He invited Catholics to bring Christ to the nation through their work and lives, and through personal witness.
Cardinal Dias looked to the example of Vietnam's 117 martyrs to inspire Vietnamese Christians to bring holiness to all aspects of life with courage.
In such a way, he said, they will create a healthier, more human, just and equitable society. Living with the love of Christ, people will recognize them as disciples of Christ.
He closed by urging the faithful to pray for the intercession of the Virgin of La Vang that they might learn to live exemplary Christian lives, that they accept the will of God, give thanks for his grace and blessings, and be patient amidst the challenges and difficulties of life.
Jan. 7 saw Cardinal Dias in Hanoi for the celebration of Mass in St. Joseph's Cathedral in memory of the martyrs. He said during the celebration that in the life of the martyred priest, St. Andrew Dung Lac, one can find a deep faith and a radical love for Christ and his flock.
The cardinal said that, as followers of Christ, they should always seek to fulfill their duty as citizens and Christians, giving "fearless witness to our love and our loyalty to Jesus Christ and his Gospel to the (point of) giving of our lives, to shed our blood like St. Andrew Dung Lac and his fellow martyrs. "
Cardinal Dias will stop at the city's major seminary on Jan. 8 for his third Eucharistic celebration with Vietnamese Catholics in as many days, before boarding a flight back to Rome.