Vietnamese Catholics living in Thailand gathered on Nov. 17 to celebrate the witness of 117 canonized martyrs of their homeland.

Remembering their country's martyrs is an imperative for Vietnamese expatriates, Fr. Anthony Le Duc, secretary of the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in Thailand, told CNA, because they are "shining examples of faith, and remind expatriates the rich heritage of their faith which was hard fought for by our ancestors."

More than 500 Vietnamese Catholics, joined by some Thais, gathered at St. Joseph's parish in Ayutthaya, about 50 miles north of Bangkok, for Mass, a procession, and a play.

"It is important for them to continue living and witnessing to this faith in the predominantly Buddhist country of Thailand, and to share our faith with them," Fr. Le Duc reflected.

Bl. John Paul II canonized 117 Vietnamese martyrs in 1998. There were many waves of persecution in Vietnam from 1600 to 1900, and both clergy and laypeople were killed for their faith.

Ayutthaya was chosen as the site of the commemoration because its parish was built in 1666 by Vietnamese fleeing persecution in their country. To this day, many local Catholics are of Vietnamese ancestry.

Vietnamese Catholics have contributed to the development of Church in Thailand in the past, and newcomers can do the same for the local churches into the future when they live out their faith "enthusiastically and courageously," said Fr. Le Duc.

Fr. James Vu, chaplain of the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in Thailand, told CNA that it is wonderful to see that the Vietnamese youth are so excited to make this pilgrimage and to "invest their time and effort to organize this event."

"It's their enthusiasm that served as a gift to offer up to the Vietnamese martyrs; and seeing their display of faith is a great source of encouragement and inspiration for us priests and religious who are journeying with them."

Sr. Theresa Huyen added, "I am proud the youth, although busy, still having great devotion to the Vietnamese martyrs, and are proud to have the opportunity to express their faith in a visible way through the play and procession."

The play depicted the martyrs' persecution, bringing to life a representation of their suffering and faith in Christ.

"I arrived in Thailand three weeks ago, and it's amazing to see that even in Thailand, we saw celebrations of the Vietnamese martyrs that were deeply Vietnamese in character, from the liturgy to the procession, to the songs. It is proof that no matter where the Vietnamese people live, we are able to carry on our faith," Deacon Joseph Nguyen Van Vuong said.

"I have lived in Thailand for 10 years, but this is my first time to join in a pilgrimage," said participant Anton Phan Tan Dung, calling it "a special occasion for us to meet each other and … share in the faith handed down to us by our ancestors."

Le Hoang Anh, another participant, said that in Thailand "it's not always easy for us (Vietnamese) to find a church or to attend church celebrations, and attending this celebration today made me feel so happy, because I felt like I was attending a celebration in my own country."