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:
- in the various places in Laos where they gave up their lives;
- among priests and religious men and women;
- among lay people of various callings, married and unmarried, parents and widows;
- and among the young.
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)