“If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16:24)
A special Mass was held Saturday, Sept. 14, in Christ Cathedral. The Mass celebrated the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Lovers of the Holy Cross.
Here is the story of this centuries-old congregation.
Bishop Lambert de la Motte, the founder of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, is the image of the true disciple who had chosen the path of the cross to follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ Crucified. Bishop Lambert gave up everything: his prominent status, prestige, money, to commit himself to the mission of Christ to help people to recognize the loving salvation of God.
Lambert de la Motte was born in 1624 in Lisieux, France, in a noble family known to practice being judges. At the age of nine, Lambert had a spiritual experience. After this experience, he desired to gather those who love the Cross of Jesus and named them the “Lovers of the Holy Cross.” Because of the early death of his parents, Lambert had to provide for his younger siblings; therefore, he did not dare to think about his vocation. After graduating from Law School, Lambert served as a judge in a tax court, and was respected by many people. Under the guidance of the spiritual directors, Lambert gained a deep inner life and an extraordinary love for the Jesus Christ Crucified. It was during this time, Lambert deeply felt the Lord’s invitation to die for the world and live only for God alone. After praying for God’s will, he decided to give up his position as a judge, took a 30-day retreat and an ascetical pilgrimage to prepare himself for the priesthood, with the hope of becoming involved in Canada’s mission work.
But the dream as a missionary in Canada did not pan out. Fr. Lambert was given a position as Director of the Organization of Charity. During this time, Fr. Lambert learned about the Jesuit’s missionary work, through Fr. Alexandre de Rhodes, who was asking the Holy See to send the Bishop to missionary regions in the Far East, with the purpose of providing priests, in case the foreign missionaries were deported during the period of persecution. Finally, three Priests were selected to be ordained Bishops for missionary work. Fr. Lambert and Fr. Pallu were two of those three chosen.
On September 9, 1659, Pope Alexandre VII signed the edict “Super Cathedram” to establish two apostolic dioceses in Vietnam. He appointed Bishop Pallu to be the Apostolic Vicar of North Vietnam, and Bishop Lambert to be the Apostolic Vicar of South Vietnam. This event marked the birth of the Vietnamese Catholic Church.
After an arduous journey for more than two years, Bishop Lambert and his two priests from the Paris Foreign Mission Society came to Thailand in August 1662. Because of the persecution going on in Vietnam, Bishop Lambert was not able to come to his faithful people at that moment; however, he skillfully guided the Vietnamese Church from Thailand and when the situation was more settled, he found ways to get to Vietnam. Bishop Lambert ordained the first Vietnamese priests. Bishop Lambert also founded the Congregation for the Lovers Holy Cross. On February 19, 1670, he received the vows from the first two Sisters of the Lovers of Holy Cross in Pho Hien, North Vietnam.
From the day he left his homeland, France, at the age of 32, Bishop Lambert never had the opportunity to visit his homeland, family or friends. He rested in God in 1679 in Thailand, after 17 years of unwavering service to the mission in Vietnam.
The Lovers of the Holy Cross was established in Vietnam to carry out the mission of love, sacrifice and serve in order to continue the suffering of Jesus in the world. Bishop Lambert had planted in the heart of the Vietnamese Catholic Church a spirituality of centering on Christ on the Cross. This spirituality has become a strong driving force and motivation for hundreds of thousands of faithful Vietnamese Catholics who profess their faith after a nearly 300-year history of persecution.
The Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, together with the Vietnamese Church, went through a painful history of bloody martyrdom. During the persecution, many convents were destroyed, many sisters were dispersed and many sisters died for their faith.
Starting with the first two sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, today there are 30 provinces: 24 provinces in Vietnam, 3 in Thailand, 1 in Laos, 1 in Cambodia and 1 in the United States. The total number of the Lovers of the Holy Cross members is nearly 9,000, including temporary and final professed sisters, and there are more than 1,000 postulants.
With heartfelt gratitude, we thank God for the thousands of blessings God has bestowed on the Lovers of the Holy Cross in the past 350 years, together with all the sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross throughout the world. Responding to the call of Holy Father Francis, together with the Lovers of the Holy Cross throughout the world “Look back to the past with gratitude, live now with enthusiasm, and accept the future in hope.”
May our dear Lord, through the intercession of our Lady of La Vang, St. Joseph and Bishop Lambert, grant us the grace to be faithful to our resolution, and to boldly profess: “Jesus Christ Crucified, the one and only object of our minds and hearts, we adore You because by Your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.”