vendredi, mai 25, 2012

Notre Dame de Saïgon

This is an old little article I wrote for Upon this Rock, issue of February 2008

The occupation of the port of Saigon by the French Navy, on February 18th 1859, can be considered as the beginning of the colonization of Viet-Nam by France. Yet, the two countries have known each other well for two centuries and their relations were pretty cordial even though the Catholics had to suffer some persecutions in some parts of Tonkin. The first French Jesuit missionaries arrived on the peninsula at the beginning of the XVII century and the Catholic faith was well accepted at this time and by 1658 there were 300,000 Catholics. 

On the eve of the French Revolution, Bishop Pigneaux de Béhaine, who was the Apostolic Vicar of Cochin China, obtained from King Louis XVI a treaty between France and Prince Nguyên Anh who would soon become the Emperor Gia Long. Bishop Pigneaux de Béhaine helped him develop his country. But the following Emperors were more leery toward what was coming from the West and began new persecutions against the Christians. In response to the massacre of Catholics, Napoleon III ordered a military intervention.

          Cambodia, then Annam, Tonkin and Laos became French Protectorates, and finally the “Union Indochinese” was created in 1887. The French have never been numerous in this land – just a few thousand –  but they fell in love with it and named it “la perle de l’Empire” – the pearl of the Empire. With passion, they began a work of modernization of the country to the extent that Indochina became a truly profitable colony while the purpose of its conquest was absolutely not motivated by economical reasons. The Annamit people and other people from Indochina also benefited by this progress.
          The development of Indochina had to include the spiritual welfare of souls. The first church which was made of wood had been built in Saigon in 1865, but the termites which seemed to have a great appetite damaged it. The Governor then offered his palace for the celebration of Mass and finally decided upon the construction of a new cathedral. It took three years to build it.
Proposed to be one of France's most ambitious projects in Indochina at the time, Bishop Isidore Colombert laid the cornerstone for the cathedral on October 7, 1877.  Three years later, in 1880, the cathedral was opened to the public. These two dates are inscribed on a marble placard in the cathedral. The bricks used to build the structure were shipped from Marseilles. Artisans from Lorin Company (Chartres, France) were commissioned to create the stained glass windows. The cost of construction was a whopping 2.5 million francs.
 In his sermon for the Dedication, Bishop Colombert said: “By establishing her supremacy on these far-distant coasts, France could not be unfaithful to her vocation and forget her Christian traditions. She had showed the Annamit people the power of her arms and the greatness of her civilization. She still had to display with a manifest proof, the superiority of her religion by erecting for God a building worthy of her ancient faith and of the religious art of her fathers. (…) It must prevail over the temple of error and your patriotism can notice with joy that nowhere on the Asiatic Continent, from the shores of the Mediterranean sea to the extremity of China and Japan, a traveler can see a temple of Protestantism comparable to this Catholic church.”
In 1960 the Cathedral became the chief cathedral of Saigon and in 1962, the Vatican gave it the title of Basilica. In 1975 Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city but its habitants still speak about Saigon and the Cathedral is still in the heart of the Catholic Vietnamese, “Notre-Dame de Saigon”. 

mardi, mai 08, 2012

The Fundamental Truth: the Resurrection

Little meditation for Easter Tuesday (translation of a talk in French in Radio Esperance)

In the Early Church, the newly baptized used to meet on Easter Tuesday at Saint Paul Basilica on the way to Ostia.  Saint Paul, the great tireless Apostle, spent his whole life after his conversion to bear witness to the Resurrection of Christ.  This is the reason why the Church encourages her new faithful to be witnesses too.  The crucial point of the Apostles’ preaching is the Resurrection of Christ, and so it will until the end of times.   “If Christ be not risen again, Saint Paul says, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain.”
“The Resurrection, Dom Guéranger says, is the fundamental truth and the supreme fact that certifies the entire mission of the Son of God on earth.”  It is not enough to believe in Christ crucified, which by the way does not require faith, even though it is well an article of faith; we must also believe in the Risen Christ.  “The whole energy of Christianity, Dom Guéranger adds, is contained in the dogma of the Resurrection.” 
The Church wants to transmit this energy to her newly baptized.  She tells them:tyou have been baptized in the death and Resurrection of Christ. Now, go! Go into the world whom you do not belong to! Go and bear witness to the truth!  There are still in the world so many souls plunged into darkness.
After the example of Saint Paul in today’s epistle, the Church makes us hear the voice of Our Lord in the gospel: “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day; and that penance and remission of sin should be preached in His name among all nations.”  The preaching of Easter message is a necessity in order to answer the call of our vocation of Baptism.  It is also a duty of charity toward those who do not know Jesus Christ.
We may be blamed for doing proselytism!  This reproach can even come sometimes from the mouth of “shepherds” of souls.  But are they really shepherds, according to Our Lord’s heart, those who attempt to refrain the Church’s mission of evangelization? Let us not be mistaken by idle words!  Let us rather hear the voice of Christ, the voice of the Church!  Many souls are lost for not knowing Jesus Christ the only Savior.  Can we keep for ourselves what we have received?  Can we refuse to share the gift of faith and the grace of salvation?  
“The Lord gave them the water of wisdom to drink, says the Introit of today’s Mass.  She shall be made strong in them, and shall not be moved.”  Let us drink to the fountain of grace in order to strengthen our souls.  Let us receive the water of the Sacraments, the water of doctrine in order to be wise, not according to the false wisdom of the world, but according to Jesus Christ, the uncreated and eternal Wisdom!  Founded on the rock, that is Christ and fed by His Body, we can be the witnesses of His Resurrection. Surexit Dominus vere, yes, the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

lundi, mai 07, 2012

Haec Dies: The Liturgical Time

This is a translation in English of a little talk I gave on Radio Esperance during the Octave of Easter.

Haec dies quam fecit Dominus; exultemus et laetemur in ea! This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it!"
During the Octave of Easter, the Church unceasingly celebrates this Day and invites us to rejoice.  During this week of Easter, the liturgy stops time in order to keep us in the Day that the Lord has made.  Time is both linear and cyclic.  It is linear as it is a successive continuous duration that has something to do with movement in the philosophical meaning of the word, which is a change from potency to act, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas.  It is a succession of instants whose result is the fact that there is past, present and future. 
Time is also cyclical, related with the natural cycle of stars and planets: day, week, year...  The notion of time is important in order to understand well the liturgy. There is a liturgical time that is also linear and cyclic and that is articulated  around two great axles which are the Incarnation an the Redemption.  These are two historical events of the past that the Liturgy actuates every day of the year, focusing more or less on this or this side of the mysteries, depending on the day when they are celebrated. 
The Church, that is the infallible guardian of the mysteries reveled by her Founder, uses her authority in dogmatic, disciplinary and liturgical matter in order that the faithful may receive and appreciate these divine mysteries.  As a matter of fact, dogma, that is so decried nowadays, is nothing else that the verbalization in human language of the unutterable mysteries revealed by God; the discipline is a way to live in society and in accordance with our faith; finally, the liturgy is the proclamation of the mysteries and an extraordinary way to live them again in any time and any place. 
During the Octave of the Resurrection, the Church uses her authority in liturgical matter in order to “suspend the time” so that we can during this week rejoice in the Day that the Lord has made: Haec dies quam fecit Dominus!  The liturgy reminds us throughout the week that this Day has come now.  The holy Sacrifice of the Mass as well as the Divine Office make us celebrate it by putting us between the historical reality of the Resurrection and the realities promised to us, pilgrim on earth, of the good that are still to come.  
Time, Saint Augustine says, is also a distension of the soul.  When a Christian soul allows itself to be seized by the liturgy, it leaves in a certain way the profane world dilates in order to let the Divine grace grab it.  The liturgical time has the power to bring us in another dimension; a dimension that is wholly Divine and well real though invisible.  It gives us an opportunity to contemplate the invisible things that we profess in our Credo.  During the Octave of Easter, in this Day that the Lord has made, our soul stretches from the Day of the Resurrection - a past and historical day - to the glorious eternity in which the Son of Man lives and reigns now and forever.  
Let Easter Time be for us a way of dilating our soul and to bring us in the glory of eternity and of the Blessed, following the Risen One.  Haec dies quam fecit Dominus; exultemus et laetemur in ea!