La Vang, Quảng Trị Province, Vietnam — For Bishop Kevin Vann, his fourth trip to Vietnam in January marked the completion of a journey that began with an idea and became a dream for many.
On Jan. 18, Bishop Vann celebrated Mass at the national shrine to Our Lady of La Vang, a Marian apparition said to occur before a group of persecuted Catholics in 1798 in this rural corner of central Vietnam. In the centuries since, Our Lady of La Vang has represented hope and promise to Vietnamese Catholics — and, increasingly, other ethnic groups and faiths around the world.
A strong sense of devotion to Our Lady of La Vang in Orange County is why in 2016, after years of consideration, Bishop Vann and the Diocese of Orange announced their intention to build their own La Vang shrine at Christ Cathedral.
KEITH HOANG AND BISHOP KEVIN VANN ARE PICTURED AT THE SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF LA VANG IN VIETNAM.
It was dedicated with much fanfare in 2021 and, while always rooted in the Vietnamese Catholic community, the shrine has grown to become a beloved site for many cultures and causes in the Diocese.
“I would say, above all, I have a sense of gratitude to God,” Bishop Vann said of returning to La Vang for the first time since 2019. “We have our projects, our dreams, our hopes, our prayers and we set forth on a journey to do them. But then they happen; it’s just a lesson of faith.”
The faux trees covering Vietnam’s La Vang shrine make it resemble the rainforest setting of the 1798 apparition. Its centerpiece is a Virgin Mary statue depicting her holding the Baby Jesus and wearing a traditional Vietnamese dress and hat. The statue is the fourth in the site’s long history.
The shrine is the focal point of a larger campus that also contains an under-construction basilica (which replaces an earlier one that was heavily damaged in the Vietnam War), worship spaces, a pilgrims retreat center, two small lakes with islands, a section devoted to the Vietnamese martyrs and more.
Bishop Vann has also been to Marian apparition sites in Fátima (Portugal), Lourdes (France), Guadalupe (Mexico) and Knock (Ireland).
“Every one of them is an example of the Mother of God, speaking to all the cultures of the world,” Bishop Vann said. “That’s what I really have a sense of.”
For Bishop Vann, Our Lady of La Vang “shows me how she speaks to so many different cultures, especially the Vietnamese culture that is so, so strong in the Diocese of Orange.
FR. BAO THAI AND ELYSABETH NGUYEN ARE PICTURED AT THE SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF LA VANG IN VIETNAM.
And how the Gospels say, ‘Do not be afraid.’ She comes to us. Do not be afraid to have confidence and courage in what the Lord asks us to do.”
Elysabeth Nguyen, CEO of the Our Lady of La Vang Foundation (OLLV) and a leader in Christ Cathedral’s La Vang shrine since its beginnings, also celebrated Mass with Bishop on Jan. 18. She first traveled to La Vang in 2016, wanting to discover more about the apparition and her own Vietnamese roots. Despite not having an appointment, she fortuitously connected with the shrine’s pastor at the time. He was supportive of Orange County’s project and emotional when he got to see it completed. The two reconnected during her latest visit.
“I feel a sense of gratitude and relief,” Nguyen said of returning to La Vang following the completion of Christ Cathedral’s shrine. “A lot of things make more sense now. It’s a hard feeling to explain.”
THE ORIGINAL LA VANG BASILICA WAS DESTROYED DURING THE VIETNAM WAR. PHOTO BY CHRIS TRAN/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
Nguyen noted how Christ Cathedral’s La Vang shrine is now multicultural, hosting events and religious observances for local Mexican, Peruvian, Filipino and Polish communities, to name a few. It also plays a central role in the Diocese’s annual Marian Days and Walk for Life and last year’s I AM Eucharistic Congress. Vietnam’s La Vang shrine is no exception to having a wide cultural appeal. During Nguyen’s visit, it hosted visiting Chinese pilgrims and a group of Korean Catholic priests.
THE NEW BASILICA OF OUR LADY OF LA VANG IN VIETNAM IS CURRENTLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION. PHOTO BY CHRIS TRAN/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“I started to realize that Her presence in this origin place has impacted so many, not just in Vietnam, but the people who are visiting,” Nguyen said, adding that “the miracle of [Christ Cathedral’s] project has been interacting with so many people who are humble and helpful. That’s really the blessing from God. He really wants me and my colleagues to do this. Without that spiritual support, I don’t think it could be done.”
Christ Cathedral’s shrine is still under construction with its Marian Gardens portion, which are set to be completed and dedicated later this year.
The shrine will also be the subject of a forthcoming documentary, “Our Lady is the Center,” co-produced by the Diocese of Orange and OLLV Foundation. It is scheduled for release this summer.