Vietnamese Catholics gather at National Shrine to celebrate their faith

Washington DC: June 22, 2008 - For three days, Vietnamese Catholics from around the country came together at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington to pray and learn about their faith. Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, the archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, presided at several Masses during the June 19- 21 pilgrimage. Events included a seminar on family ministry and workshops on Catholic religious education, and discussions on the role of the laity today as witnesses to Jesus, and how families today can live their faith in the United States. The Vietnamese Catholics also participated in a Eucharistic procession, adoration and Confession, dance performances, and a Marian procession.

(Photo:Rafael Crisostomo)
Right photo: A Woman sings during a June 21 Marian procession at the National Shrine sponsored by Vietnamese Catholics from across the United States.

Thu Bui, the chairman of the parish council at Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Church in Arlington and the lay chairman of the Vietnamese Catholic Federation in the Mid-Eastern States, said about 3,500 Vietnamese Catholics from 25 states attended this year's pilgrimage, sponsored by the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in the USA. But this year's pilgrimage had a special significance as it marked 20 years since Pope John Paul II canonized the 117 Vietnamese martyrs on June 19, 1988. Purposes of the pilgrimage, according to Bui, included commemorating the canonization of those martyrs, venerating Our Lady of La Vang in her chapel at the National Shrine, and strengthening ties between Vietnamese communities throughout the country.

The theme for the pilgrimage was "With the Vietnamese Martyrs, We Come to Our Lady of La Vang." The chapel to Our Lady of La Vang, a gift from Vietnamese-Catholics to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was dedicated on Oct. 21, 2006. The first apparition of Our Lady of La Vang occurred in 1798. During a period of persecution, Vietnamese Catholics had taken refuge in a jungle in the La Vang region in central Vietnam. They prayed the rosary there, and one night the Blessed Mother appeared to them in Vietnamese clothing and comforted them. A chapel was built there and then a church, and in 1961 the Council of Vietnamese Bishops made the church of La Vang the National Sacred Marian Center. In 1962, Pope John XXIII then converted the church of La Vang into the Basilica of La Vang.

One Vietnamese pilgrim who was at the National Shrine on June 20, Trinh Tran, said she came from Massachusetts to "listen to father's talks about Jesus and Mary." Tran said, "We are Catholic to be good in the world."

Long Nguyen, another pilgrim from Massachusetts, said she was tired from waking up early to catch the bus along with 55 others to make the trip to the National Shrine in Washington. About the priests' talks during the three-day event, she said, "We learn from them." She said the pilgrimage is also an opportunity to communicate with the children. "We don't have enough time together" in this country, she said.

Father Van Dinh, a diocesan priest from Oakland, Calif., said he was there "to work with the youth." On June 20, Father Dinh was in the Crypt Church at the National Shrine with the Vietnamese youth as they listened to speakers and sang songs. One song they sang was "This Little Light of Mine."

Father Dinh said the youth today have to deal with peer pressure and the hardest part for them is "to be the light for the world." The priest said the activities during the pilgrimage provide a "gateway" for the young people to remember what they are learning. The hope is that they will "go home and put into practice" what they have learned, he said.

"I hope that they can see that they are not alone," Father Dinh said.

(by Meredith Black / Catholic Standard - Washington Archdiocese)