Many of us were introduced to the saints through books we
read as children. In their pages we encountered holy people
whose stories were gripping and whose contribution to the
Church and world stirred our hearts. With youthful zest, we
resolved to become another Francis of Assisi, Thérèse
of Lisieux or Martin de Porres.
But another Andrew Dung Lac? Unlikelybut not because
the story of one of Vietnams first saints lacks for
drama or his legacy holds little meaning. Sadly, so few details
are known about him that we are left to fill in many blanks.
That said, Andrew Dung Lac is probably the best known of the
117 Martyrs of Vietnam, canonized by Pope John Paul II in
June 1988. Indeed, the group is referred to in the liturgy
as St. Andrew Dung Lac and Companions.
This much we do know about him: Named Anh Tran at his birth
around 1795 in northern Vietnam, he moved south with his family
to Hanoi when he was 12. Though his parents were not Christian,
they saw the benefits of having their son instructed by a
Christian lay catechist. The boy received an education often
denied the poor.
Some time later he was baptized a Christian, taking the name
Andrew. In time, he himself became a catechist and was ordained
a diocesan priest in 1823. Surely Andrew knew that, in embracing
the faith and in choosing the priesthood, he was making a
fateful decision. Christianity had often been under siege
since it was introduced in Vietnam in the mid-16th century,
though it also experienced periods of growth as thousands
But persecution was particularly virulent between 1820 and
1840 during the reign of Ming-Mang. Christians were commonly
required to renounce the faith and demonstrate their change
of heart by trampling on a crucifix. Catholic churches were
destroyed and believers often had their property confiscated
and were exiled from their home regions. Family members were
commonly separated from one another. Though efforts by the
French to secure religious freedom for Catholics in 1833 helped
alleviate some persecution, they were not enough to halt the
martyrdom of Andrew Dung Lac and others.
Following imprisonment and repeated torture, Andrew Dung
Lac was beheaded on December 21, 1839, in Hanoi. His crime:
being a parish priest.
Martyrdom has been central to the history of the Church since
the earliest centuries. Each martyr has offered the same simpleand
profoundlessons: Be not afraid. You are not alone. Your
faith is your greatest treasure. Embrace it, celebrate it,
live it openly. Trust in God. These are the lessons we draw
from the life of Andrew Dung Lac.
But one need not live in 19th-century Vietnam to appreciate
the costs that can come with proclaiming oneself a follower
of Jesus. Just ask 21st-century Christians struggling to proclaim
their faith openly in Pakistan, Algeria or elsewhere.
Wherever we live, we are all called to witness to the faith
we proclaim. Surely we can turn to Andrew Dung Lac to intercede
for the courage and perseverance we may need.