Although the Vietnamese community in Orange County has been influential here for decades, many locals are still surprised when they hear that, second only to Vietnam itself, more Vietnamese live here than anywhere else in the world. Since the mid-’70s, the Vietnamese people and their rich culture have had a significant impact on the county and the surrounding region.
So it was no surprise that O.C. had a strong presence last summer at Marian Days, an annual festival and pilgrimage honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary that last Aug. 3-6 drew more than 100,000 Vietnamese Catholics from around the world. Bishop Kevin Vann attended the 40th Marian Days, a free event that takes place at the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer, in Carthage, Missouri. Bishop Vann was one of the featured entertainers in a Friday night show, and he led a huge Mass the following morning.
“Bishop Vann attended Marian Days over 10 years ago, and this year he got to see the incredible growth of the event and the campus,” says Michelle Dao, the Orange Catholic Foundation’s Donor Relations and Campaign Coordinator. “The campus used to be little more than just a large dirt lot. Today it encompasses over 40 acres.”
This includes two auditoriums, a theater and gift shop, and a retirement home for priests, as well as campgrounds and an RV park used every August by thousands of visitors. More than 200 priests participated in Mass, and parishes from across the country came together to form a choir of over 200 men, women and children.
The first Marian Days event took place in 1978, when 1,500 Vietnamese Catholics from the surrounding region visited the Carthage locale. A statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the acclaimed Marian apparition reported in 1917 by three children in Portugal, was enshrined there six years later. Every year, pilgrims from near and far gather in Carthage to honor the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. The festival includes a variety of Masses and other ceremonies, plus an assortment of workshops and seminars, live entertainment, opportunities for confession and a massive 3.5-mile procession, in which the Our Lady of Fatima statue is carried in and around Carthage.
The procession, this year composed of more than 50,000 people, took place on Saturday, Aug. 5, before evening Mass, Dao says. “The locals come out because they enjoy the Vietnamese culture, food and entertainment, and many experience Mass,” she says. “They’re very respectful. This year, the procession took place on a super hot day, and neighbors on the route handed out water. The [Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer] has a great relationship with the community, thanks to all of the work that the priests there have done. Every year, locals always know that the procession is coming, and they’re very accepting – never any complaints about the noise and the crowd.”
The Saturday morning Mass led by Bishop Vann – a highlight of the festival – was held at the campus’ Main Platform in honor of Our Lady of LaVang, a Marian apparition witnessed at a time when Catholics in Vietnam were persecuted and killed two centuries ago. (A separate Mass also honored the 100-year anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima.) The prior evening, he and Fr. Thanh-Tai Nguyen, Bishop Vann’s secretary, entertained a huge audience with a song performed in Vietnamese.
Bishop Vann enjoyed an intimate connection with the Catholic Vietnamese community long before he came to Orange County, Dao says. “It started when he became Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth [Texas], where he helped build their Vietnamese parish. Coming to the Diocese of Orange, with its large Vietnamese population, strengthened this connection.”
Continually ensuring that the Vietnamese community has an influential voice in the Diocese, Bishop Vann is leading the effort to build a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of LaVang on the Christ Cathedral campus. He makes it a point to attend Vietnamese Masses, celebrations and other events. “Bishop Vann does this with all of our parishes,” Dao says. “It’s always great to be reminded that we have a Bishop who is spreading the gospel to all communities.”
During this year’s Marian Days, the documentary “Our Lady of Fatima” was screened several times in the Vietnamese Martyrs Auditorium. Workshops focused on such topics as family life enrichment, young adults in Catholicism and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Vendors sold rosaries, statues, communion dresses, candles and more. One booth offered visitors the opportunity to be photographed with a background image of Our Lady of Fatima and the Pope; the photos were available on T-shirts and mugs.
And nobody went hungry during the festival. Large food booths, each manned by more than 100 volunteers, served a variety of regional Vietnamese dishes from throughout the U.S., including Phở, Bánh cuốn, Bánh mì, Gỏi cuốn, Ca Kho To, and Goi.
The 41st Annual Marian Days will take place Aug. 2-5, 2018, in Carthage.