By Barb Arland-Fye
Rain drops fell softly as Bishop Martin Amos prayed, children danced and the crowd sang in a courtyard at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport where a statue of Our Lady of LaVang resides.
Minutes earlier, Father Hai Dinh, parochial vicar at both Sacred Heart and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, assured the gathering that “Mother will take care of us,” said Lien Truong. She’s a member of the Vietnamese Catholic Community, which makes its home at Sacred Heart.
And Mother did take care of them, Lien said. The rain let up, long enough for the gathering to process with a smaller statue of Our Lady of LaVang into the cathedral for a Mass celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
My husband, Steve, and I were among the faithful participating in the feast day celebration. He had returned home the previous night from a road trip as a locomotive engineer and we wanted to spend some time together. Steve had never been to a Mass of the Vietnamese community and looked forward to the experience.
Gongs boomed as we entered the cathedral and men, women and children — a number of them dressed in brilliant-colored ceremonial clothes and hats — took their places in the pews. Still others carried the platform bearing the statue of Our Lady of LaVang to an area off to the side of the altar decorated with flowers and incense.
Bishop Amos presided at Mass and spoke in English. But the readings, songs, intercessions and many prayers were spoken in Vietnamese. Fr. Dinh repeated the bishop’s homily in Vietnamese.
Focusing on the rosary, the bishop noted that the “Assumption of Mary into Heaven” is one of the glorious mysteries. He asked those gathered to reflect on all of the mysteries of the rosary, which include the five luminous mysteries that the late Pope John Paul II added to the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries.
“The pope reminded us that the rosary is about Jesus. It is to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ. Certainly nothing could be more precious to her. To pray the rosary is to contemplate, to meditate, to ponder these mysteries,” the bishop said. “Memories were to be the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.”
That message resonates with many in the Vietnamese Catholic Community because of their deep devotion to Mary. In Vietnam, Our Lady of LaVang is the central and national shrine of Vietnam. During a time of great persecution in the late 18th century, she is said to have appeared before the people, consoling them and giving them a sign of her loving care. Their faith has sustained them during trying times throughout history.
Steve seemed in awe of the rich sense of culture he experienced at this feast day celebration. He appreciated listening to the Mass in another language and tried to follow along with the songs printed in Vietnamese in the program.
He smiled at the sight of a half-a-dozen young girls in yellow tunics and white pants dancing in honor of Mary at the foot of the altar during the offertory. He was amazed at the size of the community gathered for Mass, and the number of children wearing colored scarves around their shoulders that denoted their membership in the international Vietnamese Catholic Community youth group.
“It just seemed like the community has a strong feeling for the faith,” Steve told me afterward. “Everybody wanted to participate. Maybe it was just me looking in. But it seemed like they really wanted to be there.”
And we did, too.