By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Vietnamese Catholics gathered at Sacred Heart Cathedral Aug. 12 to give thanks to the Blessed Virgin Mary for helping them during a time of persecution.
The celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which is held Aug. 15 in the U.S.) began with prayers, song and dance in the courtyard between the cathedral and rectory. Then all those in attendance processed into the cathedral for Mass. Young women from the parish dressed in light blue carried a statue of Mary – also known as Our Lady of La Vang – behind the crowd. The statue was placed in the front of the sanctuary during Mass.
Martin Ngo, president of the Vietnamese Catholic community, said the feast recalls the spiritual and physical departure of the mother of Jesus Christ from earth and gives honor and thanks to her. “Mary is the patron saint of the Vietnamese.”
“We believe she gave us hope during the persecution of Catholics in Vietnam in 1798,” Ngo said. “Mary appeared to the Vietnamese to help them through crisis, disease, hunger and oppression by the government at that time. Since then, Vietnamese Catholics continue to honor Mary for helping them through tough times.”
Fearing the spread of Catholicism, the Cảnh Thịnh Emperor restricted the practice of the faith in Vietnam in 1798. Soon after, the emperor issued an anti-Catholic edict, resulting in persecution.
“Many people sought refuge in the rainforest of La Vang in Quảng Trị Province, Vietnam, and many became very ill. While hiding in the jungle, the community gathered every night at the foot of a tree to pray the rosary. One night, an apparition surprised them. In the branches of the tree a lady appeared, wearing the traditional Vietnamese áo dài dress and holding a child in her arms, with two angels beside her,” Ngo said.
“The people present interpreted the vision as the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus Christ. They said that Our Lady comforted them and told them to boil leaves from the trees for medicine to cure the illness. Legend states that the term ‘La Vang’ was a derivative of the Vietnamese word meaning ‘crying out.’ Modern scholars believe it comes from the ancient practice of naming a location for a genus of a tree or plant native to the area, ‘La’ meaning leaf and ‘Vang’ meaning ‘herbal seeds.’”
In 1802, Catholics returned to their villages, passing on the story of the apparition in La Vang and its message. As the story of the apparition spread, many came to pray at this site and to offer incense.
Today the tradition continues in Vietnam and places where Vietnamese have resettled.
After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, many Vietnamese left Vietnam and lived all over the world because they did not want to live in the Communist country, Ngo said. They brought the tradition of honoring Mary with them. They host many events throughout the year in the U.S. to honor Mary, he added.
Priests from Divine Word Seminary in Epworth, Iowa, celebrated the Mass in the cathedral. A reception followed in the diocesan center with traditional, homemade Vietnamese food.