While many local Catholics roast turkeys this Thanksgiving, one group will reflect on the sacrifices their ancestors made for the freedom to practice their religion.

The Vietnamese Apostolate, based out of Sacred Heart parish in Albany, will celebrate the feast day of the Vietnamese martyrs - a date observed on Nov. 24 each year.

The Vietnamese Americans, many of whom are refugees who emigrated to the Albany Diocese, said the coincidence in dates will enhance the meaning of Thanksgiving for them.

"What a great way to give thanks," said Thuy Nguyen, who fled Vietnam and moved to the Capital District more than 30 years ago at the age of 17.

She will attend the Mass before eating a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner: "I just feel so happy and so sacred that the two days match up."

Thanksgiving is a Vietnamese holiday, too, though it's usually combined with other holidays during Tet, the week-long Lunar New Year at the end of January.

"They're thankful for their lives, for their safety. If they make it to America, it's a miracle," said Rev. Quy Vo, a native of Vietnam who serves as associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament parish in Albany and occasional minister to the Vietnamese Apostolate.

"It's a day of remembering both the living and the dead," Father Vo added. "The way we express we're thankful is to go to church and pray for them."

Sunday Masses in the Vietnamese language are currently offered a maximum of once a month for the 75 families in the apostolate, which spans more than 10 counties in the Diocese. To attend a Marian celebration, a group of Vietnamese Americans from eastern U.S. states, including New York, travel to Buffalo each year.

This is the first time in more than 10 years that the local apostolate has secured a priest to celebrate the feast day of the Vietnamese martyrs.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized the 117 martyrs. Their collective story began in the 17th century: After Jesuit missionaries brought Catholicism to Vietnam, a king there banned foreign missionaries and tried to force his people to trample on a crucifix.

Persecutions of Vietnamese Catholics were launched three times in the 19th century. Some records estimate that between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or tortured.

The first Vietnamese martyr, St. Andrew Dung-Lac, was a native priest who was captured, imprisoned and beheaded for converting others to Christianity. He came to represent all the named martyrs, who came from Vietnam, Spain and France and included 50 priests, eight bishops, 42 laypeople, 16 catechists and one seminarian.

"Even though [their feast day] is not celebrated in the Church, it's always on our mind, every time we say a prayer," said Ms. Nguyen, who attends Our Lady of Fatima parish in Schenectady. "We are so honored and we are so proud that [the martyrs] are Vietnamese blood. They are the ones that proclaim the faith and the love we have for Jesus Christ."

The martyrs are remembered in American Masses around the feast day, but the cultural differences can disappoint Vietnamese Americans.

"We are coming from the Vietnamese Church into the American Church," said Father Vo, who emigrated to America at the age of 11. "That's a different thing."

Local Vietnamese Catholics said it is common for Catholics in Vietnam to attend daily Mass and honor Mary with statues in their homes and processions in churches.

But "no matter where you go, I think there is unity," Father Vo said of the worldwide Church.

Father Vo said descendants of Vietnamese Catholics who came to America in the 1970s are losing sight of their heritage.

The feast day "is a way of preserving their faith and generation and cultures," he said; "to help them create their own identity of who they are in America."

Johnny Tran, an apostolate and Sacred Heart parishioner, said the local Vietnamese community is "really lucky to have Father Vo here" to celebrate the feast day Mass. "It's the perfect opportunity to look back and thank God and to learn the lesson of history and discuss the current situation of the Church."