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Bl. Théophane Vénard

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(JEAN-THÉOPHANE V&Eaucte;NARD.)

French missionary, born at St-Loup, Diocese of Poitiers, 1829; martyred in Tonkin, 2 February, 1861. He studied at the College of Doue-la-Fontaine, Montmorillon, Poitiers, and at the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions which he entered as a sub-deacon. Ordained priest 5 June, 1852, he departed for the Far East, 19 Sept. After fifteen months at Hong Kong he arrived at his mission in West Tonkin, where the Christians had recently been tried by a series of persecutions under Minh-Menh, a monster of cruelty. Shortly after Father Vénard's arrival a new royal edict was issued against Christians, and bishops and priests were obliged to seek refuge in caves, dense woods, and elsewhere. Father Vénard, whose constitution had always been delicate, suffered almost constantly, but continued to exercise his ministry at night, and, more boldly, in broad day. On 30 November, 1860, he was betrayed and captured. Tried before a mandarin, he refused to apostatize and was sentenced to be beheaded. He remained a captive until 2 February, and during this interval lived in a cage, from which he wrote to his family beautiful and consoling letters, joyful in anticipation of his crown. His bishop, Mgr Retord, wrote of him at this time : "Though in chains, he is as gay as a little bird ".

On the way to martyrdom Father Vénard chanted psalms and hymns. To his executioner, who coveted his clothing and asked what he would give to be killed promptly, he answered: "The longer it lasts the better it will be". His head, after exposure at the top of a pole, was secured by the Christians and is now venerated in Tonkin. The body rests in the crypt at the Missions Etrangères, Paris. Other precious relics are in the hands of the martyr's brother, Canon Eusebius Vénard, curé of Assais Deux Sèvres, France, who possesses, also, most of the martyr's letters, including those written from the cage. In a letter addressed to his father, Théophane refers thus to his approaching sacrifice: "A slight sabre-cut will separate my head from my body, like the spring flower which the Master of the garden gathers for His pleasure. We are all flowers planted on this earth, which God plucks in His own good time : some a little sooner, some a little later . . . Father and son may we meet in Paradise. I, poor little moth, go first. Adieu". The cause of his beatification was introduced at Rome in 1879, and he was declared Blessed, 2 May, 1909. The beatification ceremony brought a large delegation from France, including the Bishop of Poitiers and the martyr's only surviving brother. Théophane Vénard was beatified in company with thirty-three other martyrs, most of whom were natives of Tonkin, Cochin-China, or China.

[ Note: With nineteen other martyrs of Vietnam, Théophane Vénard was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.]

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