By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — Firecrackers, a balloon release, dance, a blessing and Mass marked the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption for the Vietnamese Catholic community at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. The Aug. 15 feast day is a very important religious event to the Vietnamese people.
Father Hai Dinh, parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, which has a large Vietnamese community, said the feast day’s significance dates back to a time when Catholics were persecuted in Vietnam from 1798-1886.
“Many Vietnamese Catholics from the town of Quang Tri, a village in central Vietnam, had come to the forest of LaVang to hide,” he said. The people suffered from cold, feared the wild animals and were sick with jungle fever and hunger. “During the night they prayed the rosary and while praying one night, they saw an apparition of a woman in a long cape, with a child in her arms, and with an angel at each side. They recognized the woman in the apparition as Mary, the mother of Christ.”
Mary, Our Lady of LaVang, comforted the people and told them how to make medicine for their sickness from the leaves of the surrounding trees, Fr. Dinh said. She told them that whoever came to this place to pray would have their prayers answered. Mary continued to appear to the people who visited the forest to pray throughout the time of persecution. Today, every three years, pilgrimages numbering 100,000 participants travel to LaVang.
Hang Dinh, a native of Vietnam, said the Vietnamese community chose Our Lady of LaVang as its patron saint upon joining the cathedral in 2001 to carry on the tradition of dedication to her. Celebration of the feast day in Davenport is comparable to the one in Vietnam. “It is a big holy day there as it is here,” Hang Dinh said. The size of the celebration depends on the particular village or parish in Vietnam.
Hang Dinh said the younger generation in the Quad-Cities is growing and beginning to learn the traditions of the older generations. The community continues to expand and believes the traditions for the feast of the Assumption and other special occasions will not die any time soon.
On Sunday, Bishop Martin Amos gave a blessing in the courtyard next to the cathedral prior to Mass to begin the festivities. Young Vietnamese girls dressed in traditional attire performed a dance and threw fresh flowers in front of the permanent Our Lady of LaVang statue in the courtyard.
Afterwards a procession moved from the courtyard to the church, proceeding up the steep front stairs and into the building with a portable statue of Our Lady of La Vang atop a raised platform. Four women, also in traditional clothing, carried the statue into the church for Mass. Bishop Amos celebrated Mass and a reception followed outdoors.