Very few seminaries in the world
are blessed with so many saints and martyrs as College General, which is
also called the College of Martyrs. Their faith have inspired many seminarians
and lay persons in their fidelity to their own vocation. Julian in this
article reflects on their significance after having done some research
on their lives.
College General, Penang is one of the few seminaries in the world which
possesses relics of martyrs who were once either students or professors
who have borne the ultimate witness to Christ, in blood. Its rich tradition
of heroic men who have achieved martyrdom is a testimony to all Christians,
especially those who have walked along its corridors as well as those who
will do so in the future. It is hoped that the faith of these martyrs
will inspire and motivate us to emulate their love of Christ.
Two French Priests of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP), who were
professors of College, martyred and canonised in Korea:-
1) Bishop Laurent Imbert
2) Father Jacques Chastan
Five Vietnamese Priests, seminarians of College in the early 1800s,
martyred in their home country and canonised in Rome:-
1) Father Philip Minh
2) Father Peter Qui
3) Father Paul Loc
4) Father John Hoan
5) Father Peter Luu
About fifty other martyrs, mostly Vietnamese, martyred in the 19th century.
Among them was Fr Paul Chau, whose crucifix was sent to College General
according to his wishes.
While researching the lives of these exceptional servants of the Lord,
I discovered they had quite a few things in common. They were all
born into families who were Christians and they had contact with family
members who were priests or religious or somehow had been entrusted into
the care of priests. Hence, I strongly believe that the family is
the cradle of vocations, be it directly or indirectly. It is in the
family that one sees, experiences, and shares in the love of Christ.
These young men, I am sure had the seed of vocation to the priesthood sown
in them at a tender age. This together with the environment in which
they grew up and served, led them to their final destiny.
These young men were indeed courageous. They left their
homes for a distant land and undertook an arduous journey - be it by boat
or by land. They left their homelands for Penang with a sense of
adventure and determination. We too, are encouraged by them, in the
quest to be shepherds like Jesus, our Good Shepherd. We, as seminarians
are motivated to renew our commitment when we recall the struggles
these men had to undergo in their priestly formation. Many, if not all
of them, only saw their families after the seven years of formation had
elapsed. Little did these men realise then that, their formation
was to prepare them to face the ultimate challenge of being a disciple
of the Lord.
Missionaries from France began arriving in and around Cochin China or Vietnam in the 1600s and thousands of Vietnamese were converted to Catholicism. The rulers looked upon these missionaries with suspicion and were continually persecuting them. Persecution also awaited all of these newly ordained priests in their homeland. The two main waves of Christian persecution occurred around the late 1830s during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang and in the 1860s during Emperor Tu Duc's reign. Despite being looked upon with suspicion and even despised as traitors, these brave men discharged their duties as shepherds, with utmost dedication. Their zeal and enthusiasm to serve the flock in spite of the danger and intimidation, reflected a deep sense of trust in the Lord which would take these men to the "greatest of all graces - martyrdom" (Karl Rahner).
When they were denounced to the rulers and tortured, they never denied
their faith. Foremost in their mind was to protect the flock and
many sacrificed themselves so that others might be spared from persecution.
"The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" echoes loudly in their
hearts. Even while in captivity and tortured, they were at the service
of others. They consoled and cared for the spiritual as well as material
well-being of their fellow prisoners. They were selfless in providing
comfort to the others and always had their interest in mind. It must
be the fervent prayer-life that had sustained these men in their time of
suffering; a prayer-life each of us should aspire to and cultivate.
Besides a deep sense of Prayer, a devotion to our Blessed Mother also
sustained our martyrs to the end. Saint Paul Loc had a great devotion
to our Mother while Saint Peter Luu was seen praying and reciting the rosary
till his head was severed from his body. Clutched in Saint Peter Qui's
hand was a little statue of Mary. They faced death bravely, drew strength
from our Mother and were joyful to have been able to be a witness to Christ.
What can we learn from these brothers of ours, who have lived a life of Faith, Love and Fidelity? It is to trust in our God whole heartedly, in spite of setbacks and failures - for God's way of leading and guiding us are often contrary to the way we imagine them to be. We are also to remain faithful to God who knows every fibre of our being and our strengths as well as our weaknesses. He will never forsake us but instead lead us to discover Him even more intimately through the trials and tribulations of life.
Not all of us will be asked to bear the ultimate witness as these men
had willingly undergone. However, to bear witness to Jesus we must!
We do this when we respond in love in our daily dealings within our families,
circle of friends, colleagues at work, our Church members, persons close
to us, as well as persons we would rather avoid. Our martyrs had
loved to the end, even embracing death itself. We implore that through
their prayers, we too will be able to embrace all trials in life and share
Christ, who is Love, to all.
Canonisation - the official act of the Catholic Church whereby persons
are proclaimed with the title of 'Saint'. They are men and women
whose lives have been outstanding and heroic examples of Christian perfection
and holiness. Thus the church discerns that these people who had
lived such outstanding holy lives on earth, must certainly be with the
Lord in glory, now that they have died.
Saints are venerated and honoured but not worshiped, as St Augustine
said, "The Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of martyrs
with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example,
share in their merits and be helped by their prayers".
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)