ASIA-OCEANIAHomily of Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, OMI, at the Beatification of the 17 Martyrs of Laos
My Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
This is truly a day that the Lord has made! I extend to you our Holy Father’s warm greetings of peace and joy in the Lord.
In his Apostolic Letter granting the request of Bishops to beatify the 17 Martyrs of Laos, Pope Francis calls them "heroic witnesses of the Lord Jesus and of his Gospel of peace, of justice, and of reconciliation.” He instructs the Church in Laos to celebrate their feast day every year on December 16.
Today is first of all a celebration of God’s enduring love, God’s love for the people of Laos, God’s love especially for our 17 Martyrs. In response to God’s faithful love they gave up their lives for the sake of Jesus. This is why Blessed Joseph Thao Tien and his 16 companions are heroes of faith. They gave up their lives in the service of the Lord and in the service of their brothers and sisters of the faith. They believed and so they spoke of Jesus (see 2 Cor. 4:13) not only in words but with their lives.
We have to tell and retell their individual stories of heroism to every generation. Their names are forever inscribed in the annals of the Church in Laos: one diocesan priest, 5 priests of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, 6 priests of the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, 5 lay members of the faithful, including a 19 yr old catechist and a 16 year old student-catechist. One catechist, Joseph Outhay, was actually born in Thailand and became a catechist in Laos after the death of his wife and child.
The Laotian diocesan priest, Blessed Joseph Thao Tien, and the lay catechists were young. The words of St. Paul could very well have reverberated in their hearts: "Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (1 Tm. 4:12). Their heroic lives have indeed set an example of persevering fidelity to the Lord. Their individual stories are most inspiring and edifying.
Their violent deaths spanned the period of 1954 to 1970. The last Martyrs, the young Kmhmu’ catechist, Luc Sy, and his companion, Maisan Pho Inpeng, died for the sake of Jesus in 1970, only 46 years ago. Surely our own Bishop Ling, who was a very young deacon at that time has a treasury of memories of his heroic companions. Bp. Ling and Msgr. Banchong also endured later on great suffering for their faith in Jesus. Many of you who are now 70 years old might remember our heroes of the faith and the circumstances of their violent death. Perhaps some of you were their relatives or friends.
Faithful to Jesus to the end, each of them, priests, foreign religious missionaries, and Laotian lay people, could undoubtedly exclaim with the Psalmist: "The way of loyalty I have chosen; I have kept your judgments. I cling to your testimonies, Lord” (Ps. 119:30-31).
Why were they determined to commit their lives to the Lord? Because they loved the Lord without limit. In faith they committed themselves as priests and catechists to serving their brothers and sisters. Through faith, they shared in the sufferings of Christ. Theirs were the words of the Apostle Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.... I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal. 2:19-20).
Because of their faith in Jesus and their love of Jesus, because of their service to the communities of faith in various towns and villages of Laos, the Lord gifted them with eternal life, as they now gaze with love and joy at the glory of God (see John 11:40, 3:36).
You, my dear People of God, are a very "small flock” among the millions of people in Laos. But if, indeed, the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, Apologeticus, chapter 50), then we shall surely see the fruit of their spilled blood:
The grain of wheat has fallen to the ground and has died. With the utmost certainty it shall bear fruit (see Jn. 12:24) in the number of Catholics, in the quality of your faith, in the number of vocations to the priestly and religious life, in the greater dynamism of the young, and in the spiritual energy of lay movements and communities.
Today, the Spirit of the Lord calls us to follow the life and ways of our 17 Martyrs. They are heroic witnesses of the Lord’s work of justice and mercy, of peace and reconciliation. For these values of the Gospel, they died.
We honor them not only by praying to them, for they are definitively in heaven. We honor them by living our faith the way they lived their faith, by loving the Lord the way they loved the Lord -- in our daily struggles to persevere in the faith and in the daily insecurities of living our faith. The words of Isaiah the prophet in our First Reading today inspires us: "Be strong, do not fear!” (Is. 35:4). We hear the very same encouragement from St. Paul: "Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).
My brothers and sisters in the Lord, like our 17 heroes of the faith, we too can be witnesses of Jesus by proclaiming him and telling his story not by words but by the way we live. St. John Paul II tells as that the faithful living of a Christian life is the quiet but most eloquent witnessing to Jesus (see Ecclesia in Asia, no. 23).
Let us "encourage one another and build one another up…cheer the fainthearted” (Thes. 5:11, 14), especially in times of great trials for our faith. May Mary our loving Mother be our constant companion on the journey to a life of deep faith and of vibrant love. May our 17 Martyrs help us to love and serve others especially the poor and the needy so that God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation may always reign in your beautiful country of Laos.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, grants you his fatherly apostolic blessing.
N.B. after the Post-Communion Prayers
In my own name I express by deep-felt gratitude to Bishop Jean KHAMSE VITHAVONG and the Catholic Bishops’ Assembly of Laos for their warm welcome and hospitality.
On behalf of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, I thank the Government of the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Laos for its kindness in making this celebration possible. Pope Francis prays for harmonious relationships among all the people of Laos. He prays for the leaders of government that they may always lead the people of Laos towards peace and justice, progress and development.
Thank you and God bless. (Vientiane, Laos – December 11, 2016)
While it is not rare that some Oblate missionaries eventually assume citizenship in the country where they are preaching the Good News, Fr. Vincenzo BORDO, a native of Italy, speaks eloquently here of his own feelings as he assumed a new "identity” and a new name as a citizen of Korea.
The great dream of a missionary is to go to a far-off country, to live as the people live, to speak their language, to dress as they do, to eat the same food, to study and to appreciate their culture, and with humility and dedication, to serve the poor in that nation. To become like them and to become one of them. And then to rest in peace in that corner of the world.
Looking back at my life, on the threshold of turning 60, I think I can say that, thanks to Jesus, so many of these dreams have come true. I live in a country that I love and appreciate and I work for the poor. I speak their language; I share the same meals; I dress like them. And perhaps because of this, the Government, seeing this sincere, long and arduous journey of sharing, decided, by a presidential decree, to honor me with Korean citizenship. During the ceremony of handing over the passport, after I made the oath of allegiance to the Republic, when the Minister handed me the flag of Korea, sweet tears of joy fell from my eyes. Yes, now I am in fact a Korean citizen. My dream has come true.
So, when you come here and you wish to see me, do not look for Vincenzo Bordo, because this person is no longer in the Korean registry. Instead, look for KIM HA JONG. In the documents, this is my new name. "Kim” is the surname of the first Korean priest. He was a wonderful young man, in love with life, with God and with his people. He died a martyr when only 24 years old! "Ha Jong” means "Servant of God. Yes, following in the footsteps of Jesus, I learned to choose the poor and to be a servant of these destitute brothers and sisters. So that little dream of a young boy has turned into a beautiful mission of brotherhood and friendship between two peoples: Italy and Korea. They are nations that were able to meet one another, to get to know and esteem one another in the richness of their ancient cultures, thanks to that tiny, fragile and wobbly bamboo bridge that I too helped build.
Father Vincenzo Bordo (left) after the ceremony of handing over the certificate of Korean nationality on 19 November 2015.
Over these years I have also learned that the fears of the new are simply excuses to mask our petty selfishness, hidden behind legitimate claims of security. That the mistrust of others is just a phantom, due to stupid ignorance and the presumptuous arrogance of those who have nothing to learn.
Meanwhile, I have realized that a life of welcoming, listening, sharing and of dialogue leads to broaden the mind to new and wonderful knowledge; the spirit to infinite horizons and it opens our hearts to incredible sensations never before felt. That which is different is not a threat but rather an unfathomable richness.
Now I'm getting ready to fashion the last piece of this great mosaic that has been my life in the Orient: to rest in peace among the rolling hills and beautiful forests of this nation. And to do that, I have enrolled as an organ donor. That will be, whenever God wishes, the last piece of the enchanting DREAM which the Lord has made in this corner of the world. (Fr. Kim Ha Jong Vincenzo)
(On 22 November 2016, the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, published this article in its blog, Vatican Insider. It was written by Luciano Zanardini.)
Being a minority doesn’t mean you can’t proclaim Christ. In order to do it, what is important is to live the day-to-day life of the local people, the buildings can wait (there aren’t any permissions to build churches here). This is the testimony of Andrzej MADEJ, a Polish Missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Superior of the Missio sui Iuris in Turkmenistan. He lives with two other priests (Fr. Rafal CHILIMONIUK and Fr. Pawel SZLACHETA) in a small two-floor rented house in Asgabat, near the border with Iran and Afghanistan. 82% of the country’s surface area is occupied by Karakum desert so the biggest problem here is the lack of water. Locals say that "one drop of water is like a nugget of gold”. There are no other congregations or priests around.
"For now, we are the only Catholics representing the Church here. Often, when I return to Poland for the holidays I’m asked: ‘Why don’t you stay here? The country’s in great need of priests’. To which I reply that in Poland there are around 30,000 priests while in Turkmenistan there are only three”.
A Romantic poetry buff, his ministry took him first to Poland and then to Kiev, where for four years he proclaimed the Gospel in a closed down parish that had been turned into a concert hall. He managed to partially turn it into a church again. "During my training back in the 60’s, under the Soviet regime, we were forced to learn Russian; this is how the Holy Spirit prepared me for this beautiful missionary experience in the former Soviet Empire”. In 1997, he left for Asgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. "The Catholic community is made up of around 2000 faithful but our contacts include Christians of other faiths and Muslim people and families who are willing to receive us. What is characteristic about our house is that we are a real hub, not just for faith-related issues but also for human relations. Nineteen years on, we would like to build a small church and an Apostolic Nunciature.”
Turkmenistan’s main religion is Islam but there are some communities, albeit very small, of Christians (Catholics, Orthodox and Evangelicals). "There are twelve Orthodox parishes. We try to maintain fraternal relations with everyone. Our relations with some Evangelicals are excellent: we share God’s word together in our chapel every Sunday. We also meet for other moments of prayer and praise.” During the Jubilee "our spiritual experience was mainly through the liturgy. We try to be close to those who are lonely, sick or face other problems. The first priestly ordination of a young Turkmen who joined our Congregation was a special grace in this Holy Year of Mercy. Two other young people are in training and these are signs of hope for this fledgling Church”.
Every day the Oblates devote a few hours to prayer and Eucharistic celebration, visiting families – not just Catholic ones – and trying to offer spiritual support to the sick. One of these people, in Slavomir (700 km from the capital), created a wooden pedestal with a hidden cross that he sculpted as a sign of gratitude for his healing. "He confided to me that while he was making the sculpture, those who saw the cross urged him: ‘We don’t want to look at this ugly thing, hide it’. This is when I better understood the words of St. Paul when he said that the Crucified Jesus will continue to be a scandal until the end of time, for those who do not believe.”
Despite international tensions, Christians live peacefully alongside their "Muslim brothers and sisters. We attend Muslim feasts we are invited to. What we want is to build relationships with everyone and work to eliminate the prejudice that sees Christians or westerners as individuals who are only interested in war or on imposing their own civilizations.” But there is something else that concerns him: "When I see Europe’s empty churches I ask myself what is happening when in other parts of the world Christians are going to great lengths to be faithful and testify their faith…” (Luciano Zanardini in www.lastampa.it/2016/11/22/vaticaninsider/eng/world-news)
Besides celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Thai-Lao Delegation has celebrated, together with the rest of the Oblate Congregation, the 200th anniversary of our founding. On November 19, 2016, the members of the Delegation gathered at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Din Daeng, Bangkok, to thank God for his unending graciousness to the delegation. The event was highlighted by the celebration of the 50th anniversary of religious profession of Fr. Pricha THAMNIYOM and Bro. Bernard WIRTH; as well as the 25th anniversary of priesthood of Fr. Claudio BERTUCCIO.
Presiding at the Mass was Bishop Phibul Wisitnonthachai of the Diocese of Nakhorn Sawan. Also concelebrating were Archbishop Paul Tschang In-Nam, the Papal Nuncio to Thailand; Fr. Gerry DE LOS REYES, the Delegation Superior; Fr. Lauro DE GUIA, the Provincial of the Province of the Philippines; and about 30 priests from various religious communities, dioceses and the Oblate members of the Delegation.
Before the final blessing, Bishop Phibul delivered a message to the Oblates, encouraging them to continue giving witness to the poor by their example. He emphasized the service the Oblates are providing in their ministry to the Hmong people in his diocese. He asked them to continue their commitment to this work.