Hundreds of thousands of Catholics participated in the Opening Ceremony of the Holy Jubilee in So Kien on Nov. 24, 2009, the Solemnity of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988. In his letter to Vietnamese Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI urged them to follow martyrs' examples, break down barriers between people, and give new strength and passionate zeal for missionary efforts.

On Tuesday morning, Nov. 24, 2009 a group of cardinals and bishops including Cardinals Roger Marie Élie Etchegaray, Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals; André Armand Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, President of the French Episcopal Conference; Bernard Francis Law Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore; Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Saigon, Bishop Tod David Brown of Orange County, 30 Vietnamese bishops of all 26 dioceses, 1200 priests including dozens of foreign priests from European countries and U.S.A; and hundreds of thousands of faithful of northern dioceses took part in the festive grand opening ceremony of the Holy Jubilee in Vietnam.

In a letter dated Nov. 17 sent to Catholics in Vietnam on this occasion, Pope Benedict XVI stated that he was “united in joy and thanksgiving prayers of bishops” for the celebration of 350 years since the foundation of the first two Apostolic Vicariates of Tonkin and Cochinchina (1659-2009) and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the hierarchy in Vietnam (1960-2010).

For Pope Benedict XVI, “the selection of November 24 for the opening ceremony for the Jubilee Year was significant as the entire Catholic Church celebrates on that day the Solemnity of St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his 116 companions.” For being a priest and teacher of the Catholic faith he was beheaded in 1839 in Hanoi, after a long, harsh period of torture and intimidations. In the context of the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI exhorted “religious and diocesan priests in Vietnam to follow his radiant virtues associated with his priesthood.”

Praising the good preparation of the local Church for the Jubilee Year, Pope Benedict XVI, observed that “the entire Church in Vietnam has just completed a Novena praying for and in anticipation of the Holy Jubilee, making this extraordinarily religious event an offering to God, enriching spiritual lives of Christians and promoting the Church's evangelicalism.”

Now with the opening of the Holy Jubilee, he urged Catholics to take this opportunity to renew the Church in Vietnam and its missionary efforts.

“The Holy Jubilee is being viewed as the time for Catholics as a whole to rejuvenate our mission of announcing the Good News to our fellow countrymen. It's also for us to become more of a Church of Unity and Mission,” the pope wrote.

In his speech, Cardinal Etchegary, who impressed Hanoi Catholics with a gesture interpreted by many as support from Rome for their Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, continued to urge Vietnamese Catholics to keep nurturing their hope in God despite “disappointments and different facets of life”.

An extraordinary event took placed in St Joseph's Cathedral on Sunday morning of Nov 22 when Cardinal Roger Etchegaray solemnly gave Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet his crosier as a gift saying that he did not want to bring it back to Rome with him. The gesture since then has been passionately discussed in Catholic circles and even among non-Catholics.

“Hope requires courage, for we are living in a society where there are plenty of challenges and difficulties. We are confronting disappointments and different facets of life. Many times even hope is masked with a phony face. Other times we claim to be hopeful or delightful for having hope for something. But in reality we are hopeless. Hope- it is not a disillusion. This earth is not a waiting room for us to envision hope and happiness coming from a distant future," the cardinal said.

As an explicit reference to tensions between the Church and the communist State in recent years, Cardinal Etchegaray called for reconciliation.

"Reconciliation is something this world has been so eager to achieve, and it is so essential to us, since this world is being divided by so many different problems. There is huge difference among different individuals. Your bishops have been courageously stressing this issue, reconciliation, for that is how we can get connected with all our brothers and sisters in this country,” he continued.

Cardinal Etchegaray noted that the Church in Vietnam is alive and vigorous, blessed with strong and faithful bishops, and dedicated religious, and courageous and committed laypeople. For that, “if I could speak Vietnamese very well, I would say ‘Thank you’ a thousand times,” he concluded.

On Wednesday Nov. 25, all 26 dioceses of Vietnam have celebrated the opening of the Holy Jubilee at the diocesan level. Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, President of the French Episcopal Conference presided the opening ceremony in Bac Ninh diocese.