Thursday, June 13, 2013

Saint of the Month: Saint Augustinô Phan Viết Huy!

Saint Augustinô Phan Viết Huy

AKA: Augustine of Huy
Feast Day: June 12.

Really Existed? Almost certainly.
Timeframe: c. 1795 – June 12, 1839.
Place: Vietnam.

Credentials: Canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 19, 1988.
Martyrdom: Hideous torture-murder.

Patron Saint of: no clear tradition.
Symbolism: no clear tradition.

When you first look at a roster of saints, it is surprising how many Vietnamese names jump out at you. To the uninitiated -- and I am, at the very least, that -- Saint Micae Nguyen Huy My, Saint Nicolas Bùi Ðuc The, and Saint Phanxicô Xaviê Hà Trong Mau are a counterintuitive presence among the many Thomases, Richards, and Henrys.

Christianity and Catholicism has been a presence in Vietnam since the sixteenth century, but has not always been especially popular with the civil authorities. Associated with foreigners and later with the French colonial power, it has often been a target of popular resentment and rage against the grinding forces of history. Over the centuries, many Vietnamese Catholics have found themselves treated with the kind of cruelty and contempt that human societies sometimes deal out to their members who are perceived, fairly or not, to be in collaboration with outside institutions that are judged, fairly or not, to be Enemy.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized 117 "Martyrs of Vietnam," of whom Augustinô Phan Viết Huy is one. Like the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, who we encountered last June on the feast day of St. John Rigby, the Martyrs of Vietnam are generally considered representative rather than selective. They have not been chosen from the murky ecclesiastical history of Vietnam because of their individual importance to the progress of Christianity in the region, but are just a selection of known and documented people who suffered some form of martyrdom for their religious belief.  They are meant to stand in for however many more of their peers met similar fates over the years.

The Martyrs of Vietnam are celebrated on November 24, but since Saint Augustinô Phan Viết Huy had already been beatified in 1900 he retains his own individual feast day. There is little information available about him in the standard English-language hagiographic sources beyond that he was a layperson and soldier who helped Western missionaries in the early nineteenth century. Vietnamese sources are not at all easy to follow in machine translation, but this site seems to say that he was a military officer who, along with many others in his unit, was caught out as a Christian when he defied orders to trample on a crucifix. Authorities hoping to discredit Christianity wanted him to publically renounce his faith, so instead of a simple execution he faced a running regimen of torture that sounds pretty grisly in Google Vietnamese English. His death is usually described in a few simple words that are however rather disturbing; I shall put them in white type so that sturdier students may, if they choose, opt in on this knowledge: he was "stretched on a rack and sawn in half."

I'm afraid I am at a bit of a loss for a way to end this account on a positive note.  So, I will simply wish you a good Feast of Augustinô Phan Viết Huy.  If you like homework with your hagiography, I suggest meditating on the futility of judging others meanly for their choices of belief and practice that do not correspond with one's own.


Anonymous said...

I'm related to him.

Michael5000 said...

No kidding! Did I get my facts more or less right?

Anonymous said...

I'm related to him; he's like my greatx7 grandfather.