Saint Vicent Do Yen
Saint Vincent ĐỖ YẾN
* An Elderly Wanderer
Saint Vincent Đỗ Yến was shown in portraits as an old man over 70 years old, full of gray hair, the result of 40 years plus devoting to Christians in many parishes in Hải Dương province. Like a conscientious doctor taking care of his patient, this lovable, spiritual, and gentle old priest had always been present among Christians in all their trials. Now, when the king ordered an all-out pursuit of priests with threats of ravaging any place that dared providing them safe haven., the old disciple, avoiding enmeshing others in his trouble, left the beloved Kẻ Sặt parish for undetermined destinations... like Christ said: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” His farewell to his beloved sheep of this world had united Fr. Vincent Đỗ Yến with saints in Heaven. The old priest had received the crown of martyrdom as an everlasting reward from God.
* Priest of the Order of Preachers.
Vincent Đỗ Yến was born in 1764 (post-Le’s dynasty), in Trà Lũ, Phú Nhai parish, Nam Định province. This region was a fertile land having born many saints such as: Vincent Liêm, Thomas Dụ, Dominic Đạt... VIncent Yến answered God’s call for the religious life at an early age. After years of virtues formation, philosophy and theology training, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Delgado in 1798. People thought that his ministry would be cut short because he was arrested during Christian persecutions in King Cảnh Thịnh’s last years, and his freedom was bought with ransom money by Christians.
On 7/22/1807, Fr. Vincent Đỗ Yến received the Dominican habits and professed his solemn vow the following year. Religious life helped uniting him deeper with God. He lived simply, often made personal sacrifice and spent hours in meditation. His heart was always burned with love for God and man; he was devoted to evangelization, never worried about fatigue or personal safety. Under King Gia Long’s (1802-1820) and at the beginning of King Minh Mạng’s reigns, Fr. Vincent Yến carried his ministry in relative safety. He was initially responsible for Kẻ Mốt parish, then Kẻ Sặt parish, Hải Dương province. Everywhere he went, he poured out his heart to reinforce parishioners’ faith and to convert many nonbelievers into Christians. The faithful asserted that he was always happy, wise, calm, gentle, and saintly and that wherever he went he did his all to deepen the faith of Christians and to help many pagans believing in God.
* The Wandering Feet...
In 1838, King Minh Ming ordered the mandarins to strictly follow his edict of persecutions in the dioceses of Tonkin or North (Đàng Ngoài). Many bishops, priests, religious, and lay Christians had bravely sacrificed their lives for faith. Many churches, seminaries, religious community houses were destroyed. Fr. Vincent Đỗ Yến, pastor of Kẻ Sặt parish, was pained witnessing his flock being pressed into dismantling the spacious church which they had built with their own hands and money. Sympathizing with the flock’s misery, he stayed among them, moving from house to house, celebrating Mass at night, counseling and providing sacramental services during the day. Every thing was done in secrecy as it was done in the Church’s early days.
However, informed that Fr. Vincent Yến was still hiding out in Kẻ Sặt parish and determined to capture him, the authorities put the parish under surveillance and threatened to flatten the village. Wishing the parishioners to have peace, the shepherd quietly departed, taking with him the painful feelings of being separated from his beloved flock. He entrusted everything in God’ providence.
At first, he went to the community of Thừa, but sensing it unsafe, he went on to Lực Điền (Hưng Yên). Exhausted by the long trip, he stopped and rested under the shade of a bamboo bush. A passerby stopped and wondered: “Where are you going? Why are you sitting here?” To hide his identity, the priest feigned ignorance and asked for directions to Kẻ Sặt parish as well as to Lực Điền. The passerby gave directions then left. Continuing his trip, he met village chief Phan on June 8. Feigning sympathy, the village chief begged Fr. Vincent Yến to stay at his home. Then the chief made an about face and arrested the priest, put him in a cangue and prepared to have him brought to Hải Dương. Warned of the priests arrest, parishioners of Kẻ Sặt and Lực Điền brought buffaloes and money to buy his freedom, but the chief refused hoping for bigger reward from his superiors. Fr. Vincent Yến had to use all his persuasive power to prevent Christians of the two parishes against using force to free him.
In Hải Dương, the disciple was taken to the tribunal three days later. The town mandarin, already a humane man and with the advice of a physician named Hàn, the mandarin’s personal physician, did not want to spill the blood of a Christian. He advised the priest to admit to be a physician so that the mandarin could free him. The witness of faith responded: “No, I am not a physician. I am a priest who only preached and celebrated Mass to God. I am willing to die it, not lying to live.”
The mandarin tried to find other reasons to release Fr. Vincent Yến. He had a circle drawn around the priest and declared that he would considered the priest’s stepping out of the circle as walking over the cross and the priest could go free. Once more, the preacher of faith unwaveringly refused: “There is no difference between doing that and renouncing my faith.” Unable to shake the experienced priest’s faith plus not desiring to execute an innocent man, the mandarin sent a report to the royal city and petitioned the royal court to transfer the priest back to his home province of Nam Định.
* Hour of Reward...
King Minh Mạng did not approve the transfer request instead handed down the death sentence that was signed on 6/20/1838 and reached Hải Dương on June 30 with the following content:
“Đỗ Yến is a native and a Catholic priest, imprisoned but still faithful to his religion. He certainly is a stupid person who is determined to not conform to the right path, and therefore must be beheaded immediately; why send him back?”
In the three weeks of imprisonment, with the intervention of physician Hàn, Fr. Vincent Yến did not have to wear a cangue or shackles; he was allowed to have the food Christians brought in. Days and nights, he concentrated most of his time reciting prayers and in quite and lasting meditation.
On 6/30/1838, the prefecture mandarin carried out the newly received sentence. Fr. Vincent Yến proudly went to the execution site which was located at a crossroad not too far from the community of Bình Lao and about 1 kilometer from the western wall of Hải Dương. The gentle look of the respected and elderly priest with the dignified demeanor touched a lot of hearts. At the site, he kneeled down and prayed reverently. Then the executioner carried out his responsibility. With only one saber swing, the martyr’s head fell to the ground...
The mandarin gave a piece of cloth to shroud the body, had the head sown back into his neck, then allowed parishioners of the community of Bình Lao to carry it back the parish for burial. Eight months later, Christians exhumed his body to rebury it in the church of Thọ Ninh parish. During the exhumation, people discovered that his body looked the same as when he was just executed. Mr. Trưởng Dong, a pagan, who had witnessed the exhumation, said: “It’s true that a person who lived virtuously, died divinely. It had been 8 months, but there was no change, no bad odor; moreover, there was even an aromatic scent.”
The martyred hero Vincent Đỗ Yến, Dominican priest was elevated by Pope Leo XIII to the rank of blessed on 5/27/1900.