May 23, 2014 — The Society of Jesus in Vietnam is celebrating its 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jesuits to Vietnam with a jubilee year of seminars, forums and celebrations.
Archbishop Paul Bui Van Doc, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam, presided at a special Mass marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first three foreign Jesuit missionaries to Vietnam, held in January at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City. About 1,500 people attended the celebration, concelebrated by nine bishops and 100 priests.
Archbishop Doc asked local Jesuits to "be hymns of praise and bring people back to God through their life, witness and pastoral activities" and urged Jesuits to have constructive dialogue with other people and to build bridges between them, especially to the disadvantaged in remote areas.
The first Jesuits arrived at the port of Hoi An in central Vietnam on January 18, 1615, accompanied by a group of Japanese Christians fleeing persecution at home. This marks "an important milestone in the history of the Catholic church in Vietnam," said Jesuit Bishop Cosme Hoang Van Dat.
Other Jesuit missionaries were also sent from Macau to the nation years later. Among them was Jesuit Father Alexandre de Rhodes, who later became an expert in Vietnamese language and customs. His catechism book, published in 1651, was considered the first book in Quoc Ngu (Romanized Vietnamese script). Sixteen foreign and Vietnamese Jesuits were killed for their faith in religious persecutions from the 17th to 19th centuries, including Blessed Jesuit Father Andrew Phu Yen, an indigenous catechist who worked with the early Jesuits, including Fr. de Rhodes. He was killed in 1644 and beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
The Province of Vietnam has created a website for the jubilee year. In a statement announcing the commemorations, Jesuit Father Joseph Pham Thanh Liem, Jesuit Provincial of Vietnam, said the Vietnamese Jesuits will "organize seminars on missionary work and the Quoc Ngu and hold pilgrimages to the home town of Blessed Andrew Phu Yen and to the place of his execution."
Fr. Liem said the yearlong observation will include seminars and forums aimed at "learning (about) and promoting ways to evangelize properly in the world today through looking back over the history of evangelization in Vietnam. What can we discover that will suggest better ways for us to engage with the people of Vietnam today?" [Sources: National Catholic Reporter, UCA News]