A priest celebrates Mass in 2015 at a church attended by ethnic Hmong Catholics in the village of Sapa, Vietnam. Delegations from the Vatican and from Vietnam reported continued progress in their discussions, including agreeing on "upgrading" relations with a permanent papal representative "in the near future," a Vatican press statement said. CNS photo/Kham, Reuters

Speaking Out: Our persecuted brothers and sisters

By  Vincent Pham, Speaking Out
  • December 20, 2018

We hear much about the situation of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, but lets not forget about the persecution of Christians in Asian countries. 

During the Christmas season, as Vietnamese Catholics fill the pews at my parish, my thoughts turn to these people. 

Catholics have been persecuted in Asia for many centuries. In Vietnam, the 19th century saw thousands of Catholics martyred, including 117 who were canonized by St. John Paul II in 1988. The Catholic Church in Vietnam recently closed a Jubilee year celebrating 30 years of the canonization of the martyrs. 

Persecution in Asia is not an event of the past. After the fall of Saigon in 1975 that marked the end of the Vietnam War, more than 1.6 million people fled Vietnam and sought refuge in other countries. My father was among that group of refugees, popularly known as the Vietnamese Boat People. 

As a son of a Vietnamese refugee, I have occasionally had conversations with my dad about his life in Vietnam. He did not face any direct form of persecution since he grew up in the province of Biên Hòa, a predominantly Catholic area. Practising the faith became difficult under the communist regime. 

In order to live freely to practise the faith, without fear or restrictions and discrimination, my father and his two brothers fled Vietnam on a boat and lived in Galang refugee camp in Indonesia with thousands of other refugees until they gained sponsorship by different countries like Canada and the United States. 

I constantly update myself with the news of the Catholic Church in Vietnam. I am saddened to read news of communist government officials taking the land of religious congregations and churches. Catholics who have spoken out against the communists are jailed or even exiled. 

There are similar cases of persecution in China, where crosses have been torn down from churches and people must secretly practise their faith to avoid government oppression. 

Even though the Philippines has one of the highest Catholic populations in the world, Catholics were being persecuted by ISIS-inspired groups who capture Catholics, including priests. 

Despite the persecution, the Christian population in Asian countries continues to grow. Sometimes I question why Catholics and Christians have to suffer so much in these countries. But Jesus never said that following Him would be easy. Rather, He said, “You will be hated by all because of my name” (Matthew 10:22).    

During this Christmas season, as many Canadian Catholics attend Christmas Mass and spend time together with their families, let us take a moment to pray for the people in these persecuted countries, that they may continue to be bold witnesses to the faith and that we, too, may be witnesses of Jesus in our everyday lives. 

(Pham, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Chaminade College School in Toronto, Ont.)

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