HAI DUONG, Vietnam — A diocese in northern Vietnam has begun construction of a church dedicated to Dominican martyrs, replacing the ruins of an earlier one destroyed during a U.S. air raid in 1967.

Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong celebrated a special Mass Nov. 6 to begin the construction of the new church at the Hai Duong Martyrs Shrine, about 35 miles southeast of Hanoi.

Ucanews.com reported that 70 priests concelebrated at the Mass, attended by 7,000 people from throughout the country. Representatives from government agencies and Buddhists also were present at the event, with many offering congratulatory flowers.

“Today, 50 years after the destruction of the martyr shrine, we are happy to begin the construction of the new church. This is a historic landmark of our diocese,” Thien said during the Mass.

The bishop said the event was the result of diocesan officials who patiently had dialogue and cooperation with local government officials for years. Government authorities helped relocate 43 households illegally set up in the shrine area and granted the diocese a land-use certificate and building permission.

Thien said the shrine was a place where many Catholics and missionaries were executed for their faith, including four of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs, killed in 1861. The diocese observes their feast Nov. 6.

Local Catholics built a church dedicated to the martyrs in the shrine area in 1927. That church, considered the biggest one in Indochina, was destroyed by a U.S. air attack July 1, 1967. Just part of a tower and some walls remain standing.

Father Joseph Duong Huu Tinh, a member of the construction board, told ucanews.com the government asked the diocese to retain a 270-square-foot wall as evidence of what occurred during the war.

Thien said the new facilities aim to express the local Catholics’ deep gratitude to the martyrs and show the heritage of their faith.

“I would like to call on all of you to follow the martyrs’ shining examples by loving and working with other people to build a society of peace and justice,” he said.