Thursday, 31 July 2003

Vatican City (Fides Service) – “An authentic Pentecost of the Vietnam community in the Diaspora”: this was how Mgr Joseph Dinh Duc Dao, director of the Office for the Co-ordination of Pastoral care for overseas Vietnamese Catholics, described the recent Meeting for overseas Vietnamese Catholics held in Rome 24-27 July with the theme “United to live and proclaim the Gospel”.
“The results were positive at every level, but particularly from the spiritual point of view. Participation went beyond our expectations: some 3,000 Catholics from all over the world, a large number considering the distances and difficulties of travelling since September 11 2001 and also the SARS epidemic”.
Mgr Dao says “there was great enthusiasm among them, which was not dampened by the tropical heat in Rome at the time. Besides religious services there were also cultural events with typical Vietnamese music and singing, but the celebrations of faith were the best attended. The penitential liturgy was most moving and the procession in honour of Our Lady of La Vang, honoured at the national Marian shrine in Vietnam. We breathed an atmosphere of joy, harmony and unity. The event was a great success thanks to God, not for us organisers. The Spirit was present, it was like a new Pentecost and Our Lady looked down on us with love”.
After this first Meeting of the new millennium, there are challenges for the future. “The purpose of the Meeting was to increase enthusiasm and communion in the faith. Now we must incarnate the Gospel and strengthen missionary spirit” says Mgr Dao. “The Pope gave us the guidelines in Duc in Altum. We hope to organise other Meetings for Overseas Vietnamese Catholics in categories, youth, clergy, families, to strengthen witness of faith. The main challenge for overseas Vietnamese Catholics is to be fully participant in the local Church while preserving their cultural identity and the religious traditions of their forefathers, which is an enrichment for the whole Church”.
“The participants were confirmed in their faith, they were all very happy – Mgr Dao concludes. A worthy conclusion was the sending on mission during the special in St Peter’s Basilica Mass presided by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. With the two signs, the Cross and the Gospel, and under the protection of Our Lady of La Vang, each and every one present was entrusted with the task of carrying the Good news to every creature. PA (Fides Service 31/7/2003 EM lines 35 Words: 428)


Around the end of the 18th century Vietnam was divided into two kingdoms: the north, with its capital Hanoi, was ruled by the Trinh family and the south, with its capital at Hue, was governed by the Nguyen family. Anxious to occupy some of the north, the sovereigns in the south asked France to help them. But a group of scholars called Van Than was against French intervention and succeeded in proclaiming king of the south Quang Trung who conquered the north but died prematurely. In August 1798 the collaborators of the young King decreed a persecution against the Christians, whom Van Than blamed for the presence of the French on Vietnam soil. The Christians took refuge in the La Vang forest, about 60 kilometres from their homes. To encourage one another they would meet every day under a large tree to pray the Rosary. One day they saw an apparition of Our Lady holding the Infant Jesus and she told them that their prayers would be answered and that she would protect them and heal their ills. There were several more apparitions. In 1886 persecution stopped. The little chapel with a straw roof, soon became too small and many new chapels were built in succession. The most recent, with its three bells, was blessed in 1928 by Bishop Eugene Maria Joseph Allys, then vicar apostolic of Hue.
On 13 April 1961 the Bishops of South Vietnam (at the time separated from north Vietnam by the 18th parallel) gathered in Hue to make a solemn vow to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, promising to build a church in her honour when the time was right and asking Our Lady to obtain freedom for the Church and peace for Vietnam, north and south. With a joint letter issued on August 8 that same year they declared La Vang the national Marian shrine. On 22 of that year Pope John XXIII elevated the church to the rank of minor basilica.
In 1961 the Shrine was renovated and enlarged. However all the buildings in La Vang were totally destroyed in 1972 in the civil war. After national reunification on 30 April 1975 the Catholic Bishops gathered in Hanoi on 1 May renewed their solemn recognition of La Vang as the National Marian Centre. (Fides Service/Osservatore Romano 31/7/2003 EM lines 31 Words: 416)