Garden Grove, CA – Deborah Tran said she no longer practiced her family’s Catholic faith, but she and her family made the trip from Denver, Colo., To attend the unveiling of a sanctuary at Notre-Dame de La Vang, a patron saint of Vietnamese Catholicism and a beacon for her parents’ generation of Vietnamese immigrants.
“It symbolizes perseverance and standing up for what you believe in,” said Tran, 48. “It’s like the Lady of Guadalupe for the Vietnamese community. That’s how big it is.”
Tran was among more than 8,000 people who came on July 17 to witness the unveiling of what is the first major self-contained shrine dedicated to the Virgin of La Vang in the United States.
Notre-Dame de La Vang is said to have appeared in an isolated rainforest in the late 1700s to a group of Catholics fleeing persecution in Vietnam. She became a centerpiece of the Catholic faith in the country and, after the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 – when more than a million Vietnamese became refugees – her intercession made it possible to spare the lives of his faithful.
The $ 12.6 million, 12-foot-tall statue, located in the Cathedral of Christ in the Catholic Diocese of Orange, was built to be a gathering place for the 100,000 Vietnamese-American Catholics in the diocese. Over 5,000 people from across the country and around the world have donated to make the statue possible.
Standing on a cloud-shaped pedestal, Our Lady of La Vang is depicted holding the infant Jesus and wearing a traditional Vietnamese áo dài dress and a khăn đống hat. Above her is a glass canopy supported by tree-shaped pillars and a stainless steel ribbon that surrounds it, which highlights the names of 117 Catholics who were martyred for their religious beliefs in the Vietnam.
The blessing of the sanctuary on July 17 included a mass and other festivities. Bishop Kevin Vann, of Orange, Calif., Welcomed a suite of Catholic dignitaries during the blessing, including former Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, Bishop of San Bernardino Alberto Rojas, Bishop of San Diego Robert McElroy and Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Marc Trudeau.
“It is also a sacred day of gratitude and joy for all of us because it is truly a meeting with the Lord and his mother, Our Lady of La Vang,” Vann said during the blessing ceremony.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Pontifical Nuncio of the Vatican in the United States, also celebrated the event, which addressed the faithful by saying: “We are the church”.
“Do not be afraid my friends to be the church where you live in this country,” said Peter. “You can do a lot to change this society because… all societies must be changed by the gospel.”
“Catholic means universal. We all belong to the Church in her universality,” added Peter.
The presence of the nuncio underscored the importance of Vietnamese Catholics and immigrants in general to the growth of the church in the United States, where a quarter of Catholics were born abroad. In addition, Vietnamese Catholics have provided 10% of vocations to the priesthood in recent years, according to Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
Before the blessing, Huan Le, chairman of the Notre-Dame de La Vang committee, paid tribute to the late Dominic Luong, the first American Catholic bishop of Vietnamese descent, who helped ignite the vision of the La Vang statue.
With the construction of the shrine, Le said Luong “saw a vibrant place where Catholics of all nationalities could come to celebrate Christ together through their culture right here in Orange County.
“Special attention has been paid to capture the historical aspects of Our Mother Mary’s appearance at La Vang while blending in perfectly with the renowned architecture of our Cathedral of Christ,” he added.
Tran, whose immediate family was caught leaving Vietnam after the war and sent back, then traveled to the United States. She cried as she explained what the Virgin means to those who remember that time.
“Whether you believe (in Our Lady of La Vang) or not,” she said, “it was something that took them through a war-torn country.”
[Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil contributed to this report.]