Sunday, August 12, 2007

Vietnamese Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

~from the Columbia Tribune

My siblings and I call it "The Asian Invasion." Every summer during the first weekend of August, tens of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics flock to the small southwest Missouri town of Carthage for a four-day festival to celebrate the Virgin Mary. Vietnamese refugees credit the Catholic icon for their protection and rescue from Vietnam as they fled the country after the Vietnam War.

The Marian Days celebration began in 1978 with only a few hundred people. It takes place every year on the 28-acre campus of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix, a Vietnamese order of priests and brothers that has a provincial house in Carthage. The order came from Vietnam in 1975 just after the end of the Asian conflict.

Each year, attendance increases, with the most recent festival, which took place last weekend, besieging the town with more than 70,000 travelers from all over the country - hence the term "invasion." Carthage’s population on any other weekend is just more than 12,000.

The pilgrims camp out on the lawn of the seminary - like a veritable "Godstock" - and book hotels and motels to capacity throughout the region. Church groups from cities with large Vietnamese populations, such as Houston and Kansas City, set up food tents in the festival area.

Festivities include daily Masses, penance ceremonies, benedictions and religious lectures. The peak of the celebration takes place on Saturday during a parade for the Virgin Mary and a fireworks and balloon ceremony. The closing-night Mass is recited in Vietnamese and translated into English as well.

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