Approximately 20 busloads of Catholics from 14 parishes across the archdiocese poured into the plaza of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels the afternoon of Nov. 16 to enjoy a colorful, musical and dramatic celebration of the 117 Vietnamese Catholic martyrs.

An exhibition area depicting the history of the Vietnamese martyrs and a play dramatizing a martyrdom scene, featuring music, drumming and vibrant costumes began the event in the plaza. 

Following the play, there was a solemn procession into the cathedral, with scores of children and adults wearing diverse ethnic attire and holding multi-colored flags and banners. Participants carried the relics of three of the martyrs, the bones of two priests and one soldier.

Archbishop José Gomez welcomed an estimated 3,000 people, including visitors from neighboring dioceses, to the Mass. He joined regional auxiliary bishops Alexander Salazar, Edward Clark, and Oscar Solis, and other clergy and religious at the celebration. 

“It is a joy for me to celebrate this Holy Eucharist with you in this beautiful liturgy for the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam,” the archbishop said in his homily. “This celebration reminds us of…the beautiful diversity of cultures that we have in the Catholic Church.

“In the early Church they used to say, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians,’” the archbishop continued. “Today we honor more than 100 holy martyrs. Their martyrdom became the seed for generations of Christians in Vietnam. From their suffering, a courageous Church was born and this beautiful and fruitful Vietnamese Catholic culture, that extends from your homeland across the ocean to your new home here in Los Angeles and across America.”

According to event organizer Lu Bui, director of the 2014 Vietnamese Martyrs Mass, the purpose of the Nov. 16 celebration was three-fold: to honor our Catholic predecessors, who sacrificed their lives for their faith; to remind us about the importance of having strong faith in God; and to preserve the Vietnamese culture.

“Spiritually, the Vietnamese martyrs are truly heroes and role models,” he told The Tidings, exemplifying what “faith as small as a mustard seed can do.”

“Their sacrifice reminds us, as Vietnamese, that we are resilient, courageous in protecting our Catholic faith,” said Bui, a parishioner at St. Catherine Laboure Church in Torrance. “Culturally, they make me proud of being their offspring.” 

The Martyrs Mass, which also commemorated the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the Vietnamese Catholic community in Los Angeles, was broadcast to more than 1 million Vietnamese immigrants across the country.

In 1988, the late Pope John Paul II canonized the 117 martyrs, the largest canonization in church history. After missionaries brought Catholicism to Vietnam, rulers there banned foreign missionaries. 

The martyrs were among thousands who were killed between the 16th and 19th centuries for refusing to denounce their Catholic faith. They included priests, religious and lay people, and both Asians and Europeans, though most were native Vietnamese killed by their own government.

Montana Pham, a group leader for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement and parishioner of Our Lady of Peace Church in North Hills, described the annual celebration as an ideal way to teach Vietnamese youth about their faith and culture.

“This event is especially significant for the youth, who don’t necessarily have a lot of connection with their Vietnamese heritage,” Pham said. “Having the center of L.A. host this event here is a great way for them to be exposed to it. This is our time to get together and celebrate…. I got my spirit reinvigorated today.” ŒΩ