By SHEILA OJENDYK
TAYLORS Vietnamese Catholics from all over South Carolina gathered at Prince of Peace on May 6 to pay tribute to Our Lady of Lavang. Bishop Robert J. Baker joined Father Thomas Nguyen Thai Thanh and Benedictine Father Samuel Weber in a joyful celebration that included a procession, the traditional Vietnamese flower offering, and Mass.
In 1999, a statue of Our Lady of Lavang was blessed by Pope John Paul II and then brought to the United States. The statue is being sent to Vietnamese Catholic communities all over the the country before its permanent placement at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. An identical statue is located at the Cathedral of Lavang in Vietnam.
After the opening prayers, the congregation said the Apostle’s Creed and began chanting the rosary in Vietnamese. The procession followed with altar servers, flower girls, banners, young men carrying the statue of Our Lady of Lavang, a Knights of Columbus honor guard, and the bishop and priests.
Upon re-entering Prince of Peace, the statue was moved to a secure base in preparation for the flower offering. Most Westerners have never had the privilege of seeing this beautiful, sacred dance in which dancers honor the Trinity and the Virgin Mary with gifts of silk, candles, and flowers.
Bishop Baker celebrated Mass in English, but the largely Vietnamese congregation responded in Vietnamese. Father Tranh, associate pastor at Christ the King Church in Jacksonville, Fla., gave the homily in Vietnamese, and Vietnamese and Philippine choirs sang.
At the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Baker spoke to the congregation, and Father Tranh translated. He thanked the people for coming to celebrate this special liturgy and said, “The Vietnamese people are very close to my heart. I know how much you have suffered and how much you have lost. I pray and ask that you share your wonderful faith with your Catholic brothers and sisters in South Carolina. … This month, we are celebrating the great heritage of the people with Vietnamese and Asian backgrounds.” He asked forgiveness “if we have failed to reach out to you with love and kindness.”
Bishop Baker introduced Kathleen Merritt, director of the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries. Merritt is currently looking for a liaison in the Vietnamese community. As part of the special needs of the Vietnamese community, Bishop Baker hopes to bring a Vietnamese priest to South Carolina.
Before closing, Phan Ngoc Tu, the chief organizer for the event, shared the community’s joy at being able to honor Our Lady of Lavang in the traditional manner. He expressed his gratitude to the priests and staff at St. Mary Church in Greenville and Prince of Peace and thanked Father Steven Brovey for his generosity and support. Nancy Theu Thi Pham translated.
By participating in the previous day of reconciliation at St. Mary’s and the special pilgrimage procession, participants earned a plenary indulgence.
Bishop Baker and Father Tranh were presented gifts from the grateful community. Tu invited Bishop Baker to join the Vietnamese Catholics in this ceremony every year. Next year’s event will be in Rock Hill.