Tống Viết Bường, Martyr
by Phan Phát Huồn, CSsR

History of the Catholic Church in Việt Nam,
Tome I (1533-1960)

Long Beach, California: Cứu Thế Tùng Thư, 2000.

Chapter Seventeen. Prohibitions against Catholicism in Đàng Trong under the Reign of Minh Mạng (1830-1840)
III. Decree of Nationwide Prohibition against Catholicism
Tống Viết Bường, Martyr (pages 401-403)

Not only were members of the clergy and foreign missionaries courageous enough to die for their faith, but lay Catholic followers had such courage as well.

One of the faithful who died a martyr was Tống Viết Bường, a platoon chief. He was born at Phủ Cam (16), Huế. His father was Nicolas Tống Viết Giang, and his mother was Maria Lượng. As a platoon chief of the royal garrison from Gia Long's reign, he concealed his identiy until 1831 when it was disclosed that he was a
Catholic. That year, the montagnards at Đá Vách in Quảng Nam rebelled against the local authorities, and Bường was assigned to pacify the rebellion. The rebellion defeated, Bường and his platoon returned home. Taking advantage of this occasion, a rival of his disclosed his identity, and this piece of news reached Minh Mạng's ear. The king summoned him and asked:

"When you have done with your fighting, did you pay a visit to Non Nước Pagoda on your way home?"

He calmly answered: "Your Majesty, because Your Majesty did not instruct me to do so, I did not go there. Moreover, there was no rebellion at Non Nuoc Pagoda, why did I have to go there?"

The king said: "As a rule, after gaining victory
from a battle, the commander usually takes his company to a nearby pagoda for prayers. Why didn't you do that?"  

Without hesitation, he replied: "Because I am a Christian.

The reply confirmed the king's awareness that there were many Christians
around him in his court. By the end of 1832, Minh Mạng ordered an inventory of all Christians in the armed forces. Of course, Bường's name was included. Soon afterwards, Bường and 12 colleagues were imprisoned. (17)

In 1832, the commander of the garrison of the capital ordered the Catholic officers and soldiers to sign a Catholicism-denial pledge. Twelve soldiers and one officer refused to sign the paper.
Despite an officer, Bường had to wear neck and limb shackles like his enlisted men. All of them were tortured so mercilessly that their flesh scattered. Unable to stand terrible pains, six men had to give up and signed the pledge. Bường and other six were stơd firm in their faith. Raging with anger at the resoluteness of the soldiers, Minh Mạng ordered them to be scorged every other day, so that the wounds were unable to heal. He thought his method would shake their minds. But he was wrong; they were determined to keep their faith (l8).

Knowing that he would be executed, Bường calmly said good­bye to his fellow-prisoners. The soldiers who had been under his command took him to the execution site. It was about five o'clock in the evening; the soldiers forced him to move more quickly. He told them:

"My comrades, why do we have to hurry. I know my way. We are not going to miss it. "

It was nearly dark when the prisoner arrived at the site. In the flickering light of torches, Captain Bường looked for the last time at the familiar houses near the church at Thợ Đúc, among which was his daughter's [Tống Thị Quờn*]. The mandarin in charge of the execution talked to Bường:

- Bường! You are not a robber. You are not a rebel. Why do you have to endure all these ill-treatments only because you are a Christian? Deny your Christianism, then His Majesty will forgive you and reinstate your rank.

- No, I am approaching my goal now. Never will I retreat,
Bường replied.

After that, he asked for some minutes to pray. In such a completely quiet and heart-breaking moment, Bường silently looked at the ground and prayed to God to grant him more energy and courage to endure to the last minute. As he finished his prayers, the executing soldier standing behind him raised high his sword and struck hard at Bường neck from behind. This occurred on October 23, 1833. His head was displayed in public for three days. He was buried at Phủ Cam. Tống Viết Bường was canonized as a martyr saint by Pope John Paul II in 1988 (19).


(16) His exact birthdate has not been known, but probably it was in between 1773 and 1783.

(17) Buong was a captain, and he was nicknamed Đội Bường 'platoon chief'. Actually, the term đội in the Vietnamese military standard was equivalent to an army captain not a sergeant. See Vũ Công, Máu Tu Đạo trên Nông Thôn đất Việt. (The martyrs’ blood on the Vietnamese countryside, 2nd ed., p. 8. For more information, see:
- Roux, Vestiges Profanes et Religieux du Vieux Huế, p.45, Huế, 1943
- Bui Duc Sinh, Giáo Hội Công Giáo ở Việt Nam 'The Catholic Church in Viet Nam (mimeographed copy) vol. ÌÌI, pp. 46-47, Sai Gon. 1974
But Duc Sinh, op. cit., p. 49. Realizing that nothing could shake Bường's determination, the Secretary of Ministry of Justice suggested that he be tried, but Minh Mạng told the minister: "Not necessary to try him. Keep battering him until he agrees to trample over the Cross. Otherwise, beat him to death and throw his body out of the citadel.”
But Duc Sinh, op. cit., p. 46-47.