Our Lady of La Vang a reminder of religious freedom

By Moira McCormick, Special to The Miscellany

GREENVILLE—More than 500 Vietnamese Catholics traveled to Our Lady of the Rosary Church on May 6 to celebrate Our Lady of La Vang.

Community members from across the state join each year to remember the persecuted
Catholics to whom Mary appeared and healed in the late 18th century in Vietnam.

Franciscan Father David Q. Phan, who ministers to the Vietnamese for the Diocese of Charleston, celebrated Mass that day. During his homily he explained that Our Lady of La Vang celebrates both motherhood and hope.

Speaking in Vietnamese and English, Father Phan spoke about the importance of the mother in the family. He also mentioned the long history of religious persecution that has taken place in Vietnam, saying that Mary appeared to the martyrs to give the people strength and hope, and to deepen their belief.

The annual celebration of Our Lady of La Vang includes a procession and a traditional feast.

Lee Beu, from St. Michael Church at Fort Jackson, explained how a strong Catholic faith draws the Vietnamese community into a close-knit group. She said that in Vietnam, the Communist regime that has been in power for 40 years does not allow Catholics the freedom to worship and considers them an enemy of the state.

Beu said people here are blessed because they can open up.

“We can’t go to church [there],” she said. Here, not only do they go to church, they are also developing various ministries, such as one for seniors, said Kathleen Merritt, diocesan director of ethnic ministries.

They also offer Vietnamese language and culture classes to all faiths in order to bring the community together and continue their traditions.

Michael Tran, assistant director of ethnic ministries, said the celebration started after Mary appeared to Catholics fleeing from persecution in the 1700s. They were hiding in the jungle and had become very ill. A vision of Mary appeared in the trees and instructed them to boil leaves to use as medicine.

“When they did, their ills were cured,” Tran said.