Vietnamese Community Will Gather in Numbers for Three-Day Marian Festival

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
7 Oct 2015

Flowers and fruit were among the traditional Vietnamese Catholic community offerings at last year's 2014 Marian Festival

More than 5000 men, women and children from Sydney's vibrant Vietnamese Community will take part in a three day Marian Festival to be held at the Pilgrimage Centre, Bringelly this weekend.

Organised by the Archdiocese of Sydney's Vietnamese Chaplaincy together with the Vietnamese Pastoral Council, the Festival will focus on family and on Mary, Instrument of Mercy.

The Festival which begins at 6 pm on Friday 9 October will feature a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross, keynote speakers, workshops, a Mass to remember and honour the Vietnamese Martyrs, Eucharistic Processions and Adoration, a Youth Festival campfire together with live music, traditional Vietnamese dancers and entertainment.

The highlight of the three-days will be a Solemn Mass at 4 pm on Sunday, 11 October in honour of Mary, Our Lady of La Vang celebrated by the Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP.

Sydney's Vietnamese Catholic community celebrated their inaugural Marian Festival in October last year

Among the many concelebrating Vietnamese priests and chaplains will be Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan of the Lang Son Parish in Vietnam.

Bishop Ngan will also be one of the keynote speakers and will address the thousands gathered for the Festival on "Mary - Instrument of Mercy."

Other keynote speakers include Father Richard Umbers who will speak on youth, and the challenges they face living the faith in today's world. Fr Michael Pham Wang Hong will speak on family and the challenges of emulating God's Mercy as an integral part of our lives, while Fr Dinh Thanh Binh will celebrate family with a discussion of family as the source of human love.

This weekend's Marian Festival follows last year's inaugural Festival and is set to become a much anticipated annual event on the Vietnamese Catholic and Archdiocese calendar.

Sydney's Vietnamese Catholic community will once again celebrate in large number this year

"Last year the Festival was just one and a half days. But after the overwhelming response we received and the numbers who attended we decided to expand the Festival and hold it over three days," says Father Liem Thanh Duong, Senior Chaplain to Sydney's Vietnamese Catholic Community and the driving force behind the inaugural Marian Festival as well as this year's much larger event.

"We started the Festival last year because we thought it was important for our community to continue to express our faith in the light of who we are, and to bring everyone together as one," he says. "For the children it is also an opportunity for them to join in a celebration of our culture and to express our faith as Vietnamese in the traditional way."

But Fr Liem is adamant that the Festival is not only for the Vietnamese Catholic community and that Catholics from parishes across the city as well as those from other denominations will be welcomed.

Sydney's Vietnamese Catholic community's annual Marian Festival is a moving and vibrant display of faith in action

"Whatever country we come from, no matter what our language or culture, in the eyes of God we are all One," he says.

For the past six months a 200-member Vietnamese pastoral team has been organising and preparing for the three day Festival.

While the focus of the Festival is on family, mercy will be the subject of many of the prayers, homilies and keynote addresses.

"As we approach the Holy Year of Mercy which begins on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we remember the birth of Jesus which was, is and will forever be, the powerful revelation of God's Mercy," Fr Liem says. "We also wanted to celebrate the Holy Mother, Mary as an instrument of Mercy, and how she is such a wonderful role model showing us all how we too can be instruments of mercy to our brothers and sisters, families, parishes, communities, the Church and the world in which we live," says Father Liem.

Vietnam's persecuted Christians hiding in the jungle are comforted by an apparition of Our Lady of La Vang

For the many non Vietnamese expected to attend the Festival, one or all of the three days offer a unique opportunity not only to experience the Vietnamese culture, traditions and deep Catholic faith, but to also learn about the Vietnamese Martyrs and Mary, the Lady of La Vang.

The Vietnamese Martyrs were canonised by St John Paul II in 1988 and fall into several groups. These include those of the Dominican and Jesuit missionary era in the 17th Century, those killed in politically inspired persecutions in what was then known as Indochina in the 19th Century, and those martyred during the Communist purges of the 20th Century.

The Vatican estimates the numbers of the Vietnamese Martyrs at between 130,000 and 300,000. There are several parishes around the world dedicated to the Martyrs of Vietnam. The hundreds of thousands of courageous brave souls who underwent unspeakable acts of torture and who died for their faith are remembered and honoured as Saints of the Church on 24 November, the day dedicated to their memory.

The first apparition of Vietnam's Our Lady of La Vang, who will be honoured at the Solemn Mass celebrated by Archbishop Fisher, appeared during great persecution of Catholics by Nguyen Dynasty in 1798 when 37 parishes and churches were attacked and more than 100,000 Catholics killed.

Young Vietnamese Catholics presented a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross at last year's Marian Festival

Legend has it that a great number of Catholics had taken refuge in the jungle. Gathered in the bitter cold, surrounded by wild animals, many were ill and all were facing starvation, when the apparition of a beautiful Lady, wearing a long cape and holding a child in her arms appeared. Accompanied by two angels, she comforted the group and told them to boil the leaves of nearby trees to use as medicine. She also told them that from that day on, all those who came to this place to pray would be heard and their prayers answered.

A chapel was erected on the spot where Our Lady, the Blessed Mother, had appeared and despite the location in mountains amidst thick jungle, people continued to find ways to dodge dangerous animals and hack their way through the undergrowth to pray to the Lady of La Vang. Later the way would be cleared and pilgrims and the axes, spears and drums to scare the wild animals were replaced by flowers and rosaries.

Because of its precarious position it took many years for a church to be built on the site but finally in August 1901, watched by 12,000 faithful, the church was consecrated by Bishop Gaspar who proclaimed the Lady of La Vang as Protector of Catholics. A larger church was built in 1928 but was destroyed during the Vietnam War in 1972.  The shrine to Our Lady of La Vang remains but a replacement church is yet to be built.

The Vietnamese Catholic Community's 2015 Marian Festival will be held from 9-11 October at the Pilgrimage Centre, 20 Carr Road, Bringelly NSW 2556.

Vietnamese bishops, priests and religious, families, students and children participated in the inaugural Marian Festival last year