Before breakfast (we ate on the road) we headed south to Minh Cầm where the pastor, Fr. Giáp (whom Fr. Bình knew from years before), greeted us. He had gathered into the parish courtyard those families he knew were in greatest need. The area had experienced severe flooding in the past year and its subsequent economic devastation. Kim Dung and SARA had visited this community in years past.
From there we went further south to Gia Hưng, to a parish also impacted by the flood. Kim Dung said this was the first time she had visited this community. The pastor met us and welcomed us in the usual style. He had parish leaders help him contact those in greatest need from the neighborhood and have them all at the church in time for our arrival. The flood was so deep that the water was up to the keyhole on the church, and the church is sitting in a higher spot in the village.
After distributing our gifts we had lunch with the pastor, Fr. Vinh, and an unexpected guest, Fr. Hửu, the pastor of a neighboring parish who happens to be a younger cousin of Fr. Bình. Fr. Hửu got word that his cousing would be in the area.
After lunch we headed for La Vang, one of the key spots we had planned to visit. It was here in 1798 that Our Lady appeared to Catholics who were facing persecution for the faith – by edict of the king – and who were forced to flee and to hide in the forest. They were also starving and had some very ill members. Mary appeared to them under a tree and encouraged them in their struggles, then she taught them how to use herbs to heal their maladies.
We prayed at the contemporary-styled shrine depicting Mary under a Banyan tree. I prayed specifically for those who are still in need of healing from the Vietnam War: for the people of Vietnam, especially those whom we have met who are still struggling from the devastating side effects of the war. I prayed for all American Vietnam war veterans suffering from post traumatic syndrome (PTSD), especially for those whom I know. Someone had given me a small medal with the POW/MIA insignia that said “Lost, but not forgotten.” I prayed for those POWs and MIAs and all those Americans who did not come home. I put the small medal at the feet of Our Lady.
This shrine suffered its own devastation during the war. It surprised me that there is no church on the site, only a stage and arena sitting for outdoor Masses. Apparently, there is a plan to build a church. In the past, there was a large church which had been completed in 1928, and that had been designated as a minor basilica in 1961 by Pope John XXIII. It was destroyed during the war due to a battle in 1972. The only thing that wasn’t destroyed in that battle was the main shrine you see in the pictures. The statue shrine was only completed in the late 1960s. Vietnamese Catholics are VERY devoted to Mary, especially under the title of Our Lady of La Vang.
We ended our day by going to Hue (Hway), the former capital of Vietnam under the kings, and a center of Vietnamese culture. We went for a boat ride on the Perfume River that featured traditional Vietnamese music (see video).
We stayed the night as guests at the motherhouse of the Sisters Adorers of the Holy Cross of Hue.
Fr. Bình preaching during 5:30am Mass at the orphanage. Yes, some of the kids were there!
Meetings at Minh Cầm where the pastor, Fr. Giáp (whom Fr. Bình knew from years before), greeted us and gathered into the parish courtyard those families he knew were in greatest need so that they could receive our gifts.
The church in Gia Hưng. In the last year, floods put water as high as the keyhole on the door, just above the window sill.
One of the enthusiastic young members of this parish who is vision impaired and mentally challenged.
Many in this area live with disabilities, like this man whose feet are dramatically out of position.
This boy rides on the back of his father’s “rowing powered” wheel chair. I saw a lot of these in Vietnam. One pushes and pulls on the steering wheel to be propelled forward.
After lunch we pose for a picture in Gia Hưng. L to R: A volunteer from the parish, Fr. John, Sr. May, Fr. Bình, Kim, Fr. Bình’s cousin, Fr. Hửu who is pastor of a neighboring parish, Huong and Fr. Vinh, the pastor.
The 1993 movie Heaven & Earth (about a Vietnamese woman’s struggle to survive in time of war) depicted scenery like this and made me want to come to this amazing country.
A painting depicting the 1798 apparition of Mary to persecuted Catholics hiding in the forest of Central Vietnam.
Close up of the statue of Mary and Christ. The shrine in which this statue is displayed was completed in the late 1960s.