OC’s new Mary Shrine recognizes special role of Vietnamese Catholics

Opera singer

A ray of sunshine late on Saturday afternoon danced in geometric patterns along the wind-rolled cobalt blue veil, which will soon be lowered to reveal the Cathedral Church of Christ in Garden Grove’s new neighbor: a statue of 12 feet of Notre-Dame de La Vang, object of veneration by millions of Vietnamese Catholics.

The natural laser light show was an unexpected treat for the approximately 8,000 parishioners, bishops, priests, dignitaries, visitors and other curious souls who gathered in Cathedral Square on July 17 for the solemn blessing of the new shrine.

More than 8,000 visitors filled the Christ Cathedral campus to attend the dedication ceremony. (Steven Georges / RCBO via Diocese of Orange)

The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, later admitted that he did not notice the shimmering display during the homily delivery at the mass marking the event. But given the history and mystique surrounding Notre Dame de La Vang, he said this vision could fit quite deliberately with other faith-inspired liturgical dances, children’s drum lines and tributes. adult choirs that preceded it.

“I am amazed to see how these immigrants who have suffered so much still find a way to show commitment and perseverance and to pass their faith on to subsequent generations,” said Bishop Pierre. “It is interesting to see how the Vietnamese have retained a cultural identity as well as a Catholic identity. It comes from the depth of their evangelization. It’s as amazing as anything we’ve seen today.

The participation of Archbishop Peter on behalf of Pope Francis was a good indicator of the importance of the day for American Catholicism. The French prelate even ended his homily with a verse in Vietnamese, which drew loud applause from the audience.

Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Bishop Christophe Pierre delivered the homily during the dedication mass. (Steven Georges / RCBO via Diocese of Orange)

“I wanted to express the idea that the church truly respects all cultures and that evangelism needs to deepen the identity of the person,” he said.

Our Lady of La Vang has become a centerpiece of the Catholic faith in Vietnam, comparable to the way Mexicans worship Our Lady of Guadalupe.

She is said to have appeared before a group of gravely ill Catholics fleeing persecution in 1789, huddled in the remote rainforest of La Vang in central Vietnam. As the community gathered at the foot of a tree to pray the Rosary, she appeared and told them to boil the leaves of nearby trees for medicine. It worked and the story has been passed down from generation to generation.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, which ended the Vietnam War, more than a million Vietnamese fled, many of whom ended up in the United States. Our Lady’s intercession has again been credited with protecting the lives of her devotees.

The ceremony was a celebration of Vietnamese American Catholicism. (Steven Georges / RCBO via Diocese of Orange)

The ceremony at Christ Cathedral unveiled a new 12-foot Italian white marble statue of the Virgin Mary, wearing a traditional Vietnamese ao dai dress and khan dong hat, holding the infant Jesus. It came six years after the start of the project and after several months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. .

It marks a pivotal moment not only for Vietnamese Catholics in Southern California, but also for pilgrims from across the country who plan to travel to see the statue. By becoming the site of the first major self-contained shrine dedicated to the Virgin of La Vang in the United States, the Cathedral of Christ will become a gathering place for pilgrims and worshipers.

The Our Lady of La Vang statue represents the Virgin Mary with the Eurasian face, holding the Child Jesus and wearing a traditional Vietnamese áo dài dress and a khăn đống hat. (Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Orange)

Just minutes from bustling Little Saigon in Orange County, nearly 40% of the 5,000 families registered at Christ Cathedral are Vietnamese. Orange County has the largest concentration of Vietnamese Americans in the country, and more than 100,000 of them are Catholics. Along with those of Orange, the populations of Los Angeles and San Diego represent nearly a quarter of Vietnamese Americans in the country.

Vietnamese also represent a significant percentage of new seminarians entering the priesthood in California. Their presence is also felt in religious orders – during the consecration, the sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross congregations in Los Angeles and Nha Trang, Vietnam, were present with the Dominican sisters.

“It was a spectacular event for no [only] such a wonderful patron of this community but, I think, a patron that we can all admire, ”said Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Marc Trudeau.

“Southern California benefits so much and is enriched so much by the wonderful Vietnamese culture, their community and their faith. Our church is so blessed to have them all and I knew I would also see a group from our Los Angeles community today. “

Sangeeta Teresa Mai, an American-trained Vietnamese opera singer, performed at the inauguration ceremony. (Steven Georges / RCBO via Diocese of Orange)

Sangeeta Teresa Mai, an American-trained Vietnamese opera singer, performed a moving rendition of “Ave Maria” as Archbishop Peter sprinkled the statue with holy water and incensed the statue. She said that growing up in the Catholic faith with the motherly side of the family brought her “many special moments… It was an honor to share this song with all who have come here from so many places to honor this wonderful new one. sanctuary that we have in our city now. It’s incredible.”

Mai, an Los Angeles-based artist whose family lives in Orange County and attends Christ Cathedral, added, “I felt a divine spirit moving through me that simply allowed me to be a vessel. I felt like I was connecting to La Vang today and it was very special.

The Notre-Dame de La Vang sanctuary contains a martyr wall with the names of 117 people. Each sign has the name of the martyr, the date of death and how the person died. (Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Orange)

Orange County Auxiliary Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen said in his homily at the mass that the celebration “is a historic day for all of us. Our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude as we welcome Our Lady of La Vang into our home. “

Bishop Nguyen’s family fled Vietnam in 1979 to escape religious persecution. They survived nearly 18 days at sea without food or water, and when they arrived in the United States, Bishop Nguyen vowed to dedicate his life to the Lord. He is the second Vietnam-born priest to be appointed bishop in the United States – the first was Bishop Domonic M. Luong, who also led the Diocese of Orange from 2003 until his retirement in 2015, days before. his death.

Bishop Nguyen recalled the process of bringing the statue of Our Lady of La Vang to the Cathedral of Christ, a process that began before its installation in 2017. He shared the vision for the statue with Bishop Kevin Vann as a representation of hope, faith and promise. to Vietnamese everywhere.

Our Lady of La Vang Shrine represents both the Marian apparition of 1798 in Vietnam and honors the significant contributions of the Vietnamese-Catholic diaspora in Orange County, which is home to the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. . (Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Orange)

The ceremony took place on the occasion of the second anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral of Christ. The property was originally built by televangelist Robert Schuller and known as Crystal Cathedral, and was purchased by the Diocese of Orange in 2012.

Much remains to be done to complete the half-acre shrine, which includes a martyr wall honoring the 117 Catholics killed for their faith in Vietnam. Soon will come the Rosary Gardens, a waterfall and a basalt stone medallion from Vietnam near the place of the apparition, which will go to the ground around the statue of Our Lady of La Vang. A wall honoring some 5,000 donors across the country who helped build the $ 12 million statue is also included.

As important as the dedication ceremony is, Bishop Nguyen said he expects more visitors soon. The first weekend of August is called “Marian Days” by Vietnamese-American Catholics, and he anticipates that 20,000 more will travel west to celebrate.

“I say that 20,000 people will come because it is our maximum capacity”, declared Mgr Nguyen. “If we had more space I’m sure even 50,000 people would come. “