By MARY MARSHALL
ROCK HILL — More than 600 Vietnamese Catholics celebrated the second annual Mass honoring Our Lady of LaVang at St. Anne Parish last Sunday. Bishop Robert J. Baker along with Franciscan Father Dac T. Tran, vicar for the Vietnamese Ministry, and Msgr. Mai Thanh Luong from New Orleans celebrated the Mass.
Participants represented parishes throughout South Carolina as they celebrated the occasion according to ancient traditions. The entire community joined in the procession carrying elaborately decorated banners, wearing colorful traditional dress, and singing Vietnamese songs honoring Mary as the statue of Our Lady of LaVang was brought to the church’s altar.
Msgr. Luong brought the traveling statue of Our Lady of LaVang to South Carolina.
In a solemn and graceful offering, flowers, incense and candles were presented to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dating back to Vietnamese Catholic culture in the early Vietnam church, this ceremony is based upon many poems written from scripture praising God through Mary. Young Vietnamese maidens would sing the poems with ancient traditional tunes.
Over time, the poems were replaced by hymns and later combined with traditional and royal dances, becoming the flowers offering. The flowers’ colors symbolize Mary’s characteristics: humbleness (blue), royalty and faithfulness to God (pink), chastity (white) sacrifice (violet) and obedience (yellow).
“The month of May honors Mary,” Bishop Baker said. “The Vietnamese people help us honor the Blessed Virgin who loves us so much and draws us closer to each other and to her son, Jesus Christ. Through the flowers offering, we see the young people come forward in such a beautiful way to honor God and Mary.”
In his homily, Bishop Baker concentrated on the feast of the day, the Ascension saying, “We reflect on the time from the resurrection to the Ascension because this was when Jesus confirmed the great sacramental mysteries to the apostles.
“Fear of death and all its great horrors were taken away. Frightened hearts were now strengthened so that when Jesus ascended into heaven, fear was replaced by joy. Jesus’ Ascension is a cause of joy because Jesus tells us he is with us until the end of time through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is here in the celebration of the Mass and all the sacraments.”
Referring to the trials endured by the Vietnamese community as they relocated to South Carolina, Bishop Baker said, “Jesus is with us through all of our difficulties, trials, and struggles. In the midst of these trials, we must have joy. Jesus through the Holy Spirit brings us that joy.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, which alternated between English and Vietnamese with the readings and homily in both languages, Bishop Baker reminded all that Christ ascended into heaven not to abandon us but to be our hope. He said, “God is the common father of all of us.”
Our Lady of LaVang
The history of Our Lady of LaVang dates back to the persecution of Vietnamese Catholics and missionaries, which began in 1789 when King Canh ‘Minh issued an anti-Catholic edict and an order to destroy all Catholic churches and seminaries.
Eighty years of persecution and suffering followed with many Catholics from the town of Quang Th seeking refuge in the deep forest of LaVang. Here they confronted bitter cold, lurking wild beasts, jungle sickness, and starvation.
Strong in faith, they gathered nightly to say the rosary. One night, they were visited by an apparition of a beautiful Lady in a long cape, holding a child in her arms, with two angels at her side. The people recognized the Lady as Our Blessed Mother, who comforted them, offered them protection and promised that the prayers of all those who came to this place to pray would be heard and answered.
The refugees erected a small and desolate chapel in her honor. During the following years, her name spread throughout the region. In spite of its isolated location and in lieu of persecution, groups of people made the pilgrimage to pray to the Lady of LaVang.
After the period of persecutions ended, Bishop Gaspar ordered a church to be built in honor of our Lady of LaVang. However, due to its location and the dangers involved getting there, the project took 15 years to complete.
During two days of celebration in 1901, Bishop Gaspar inaugurated the church in a solemn ceremony proclaiming Our Lady of LaVang as the Protectorate of Catholics. In 1928, a large church was built to accommodate the many pilgrims, but was destroyed in 1972 during the Vietnam War.
As claims from people whose prayers were answered were validated, the history of Our Lady of LaVang continued to gain greater significance. In April 1961, the Council of Vietnamese Bishops selected the holy church of LaVang as the National Sacred Marian Center, and in August 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated it to the Basilica of LaVang.
On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Vietnamese martyrs, publicly recognizing the importance and significance of Our Lady of LaVang.