1. For Vietnamese Catholics, Fr Thanh is a martyr

Fr Joseph Trần Ngọc Thanh, a Dominican clergyman, was killed on 29 January, on the eve of Lunar New Year celebrations.

Following his death, Vietnamese Catholics are demanding justice and want to know why he was murdered. They also seek forgiveness for his murderer because, as the Gospel of Christ teaches, one does not react with violence to violent crimes, however brutal. Also, Catholics in Vietnam do not want another Catholic to be killed for what they believe a plot prepared and carried out as a warning shot, to deter Catholic missionaries from working in the country’s Central Highlands region.

Hower, forgiveness requires justice.

Forgiveness in the true sense of the word precisely presupposes justice and stands or falls with it. This is why Paul marvels at the wisdom of God shown in Christ:

Rome 3:25-26 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

For God to remain righteous, and still justify sinners, justice had to be answered. That answer was given on the cross where Christ paid the full price for our sins. God’s justice will not be compromised. The demands of His holy Law had to be met. God did not simply say, “aw shucks, let’s just forget about it.” Nope. Impossible.

The faithful are still shaken by the violent death of the young priest who was killed while performing the sacrament of confession and are eager to see some light shed on the murky details surrounding it.

Since he was buried, his grave has become a place of pilgrimage, by Christians and others, coming to pay their respect to his memory.

Last Monday, Fr Toma Aquino Nguyễn Trường Tam, Dominican provincial superior, expressed support for the priest's relatives, and met with the group of lawyers helping them.

Dominican leaders, together with the Diocese of Kontum, are considering appointing a consultant tasked with preparing a brief for the investigators in charge of the case.

Ordained in 2018, the dead clergyman travelled to Đắk Mót parish the following year where he took up the post of deputy vicar.

His funeral was held on 31 January at St Martin’s monastery in Biên Hòa, Đồng Nai province, while his remains were buried on the grounds of the local Dominican monastery.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Toma Aquino stresses that the order wants the investigation into the priest’s murder to be completely transparent, hoping that “an open trial will soon get underway.”

At the same time, he wants justice and Vietnam’s law to be enforced in a “Catholic spirit” because “we do not want revenge” or “another person's blood” nor material compensation.

“We just want to know the reasons that led the killer to take a knife; the goal is to prevent further violence. We shall all forgive him.”

Remembering the “kind, humble, diligent, saintly committed” spirit of the murdered priest, the Dominican Father said they received many messages of condolence and closeness from other religious orders. In his view, “Fr Thanh’s death was martyrdom.”

The slain clergyman’s body now lies near the statue of the Virgin Mary, on a hill, with a non-stop flow of people, Catholics and non-Catholics, who light incense and pray at his grave.

“I was moved and anxious to pray at the grave of Fr Thanh,” said Joseph Phan, a Catholic from Saigon, speaking to AsiaNews. “Many people are queuing, in silence,” he explained. “Everyone seems to feel the love and courage of the missionary from the (Central) Highlands.”

People of other or no faith have also come to pray and lay flowers. One bunch carried a note that said: “God is love. I am an atheist, but I'm here to pay homage to Fr Joseph.”

Abroad, hundreds of Buddhist monks also prayed for his soul, in accordance with Buddhist practice, in front of the altar. A picture of the prayer posted online went immediately viral, touching many Christians and non-Christians.

2. Trial begins over 2016 jihadist murder of French priest

The case against the alleged accomplices in the terrorist killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel is being heard in Paris.

Surviving members of an Islamist terror unit believed responsible for the murder of French priest Jacques Hamel five years ago got underway in Paris on Monday.

Fr. Hamel’s throat was slit in the midst of a hostage situation in a church near Rouen, in the north of France, during a weekday morning Mass. The two assailants were fatally shot by police at the scene, but a man who is believed to be the “instigator” for the attack and three accomplices are before a Paris court this week.

The “instigator,” however, is thought to have been killed in a coalition attack in Iraq, but since his death has not officially been confirmed, he is being tried “in absentia.”

The other three appeared at the Court of Assize in Paris. They face charges of membership in a terrorist organization, which they have denied, said German news agency DW. Their lawyers have described them as “scapegoats.”

Fr. Hamel, 86, was assistant priest at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a working-class suburb of Rouen. He had served as a priest for 58 years and chose to continue his ministry even after his formal retirement in 2005.

On July 26, 2016, two men came into the church just after Communion had ended, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The Islamic State group said the two were its soldiers and that the attack was in retaliation for France’s attacks on jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen said that he hopes the trial will shed light on the jihadist attack in his diocese.

One of those taken hostage at the church, Guy Coponet, 92, is expected to attend at least part of this week’s trial “to understand how these youths, barely out of adolescence, could commit such horrors,” his lawyer told the AFP news agency.

Prosecutors have said the three who are in court this week knew about the attackers’ plan, DW reported.

3. Statement of the Conference of Bishops of France on the opening of the trial of the assassination of Father Jacques Hamel

On Monday, February 14, 2022, the trial of those accused of being involved in the attack on Father Jacques Hamel begins before the Special Assize Court of Paris.

Here is the entire statement of the Conference of Bishops of France:

The death of Father Jacques Hamel on July 26, 2016 – assassinated by two young terrorists who claimed to be Daesh – shocked believers and non-believers throughout France and well beyond our borders. This elderly priest, still in service, close to the humblest and most fragile, was assassinated at the heart of the mass he was celebrating, because he was a priest, because he was a Christian.

This trial, which will last almost a month, brings back painful memories and will be difficult for many. The Conference of Bishops of France wishes to testify to the relatives of Father Jacques Hamel, to the people taken hostage that day, to the parishioners of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray, but also to the lay faithful and the priests of the diocese of Rouen, as well as to their Archbishop, Mgr Dominique Lebrun, our deep affection and prayers. We are also thinking of all the victims of terrorism – we are not forgetting in particular Simone, Nadine and Vincent, the victims of the attack on the Basilica of Nice – in France and around the world and their relatives. To all, the Conference of Bishops of Francewould like to reiterate its compassion and its communion.

We have confidence in the judicial institution: justice must be done and the truth known. It is necessary for the family of Father Jacques Hamel, it is necessary for those who lived through these tragic hours. It is also necessary for the accused and their relatives. The truth will allow justice. Truth and justice are necessary for everyone to move forward, whether for the victims or for the accused.

The death of Father Hamel remains a great suffering for many. But his life and his martyrdom bear fruit. Father Jacques Hamel will remain for the priests of France a fine example of given priestly life. He will remain for Christians the witness of a charity offered to all, a humble and generous servant to the end. His life and his death resonate for our country as a call to fidelity and fraternity, so that evil does not have the last word.

Father Hugues de Woillemont

Secretary General of the Conference of Bishops of France

Spokesperson for the bishops