As Christian music played from large outdoor speakers, Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen stood in the shade of the Christ Cathedral as the late-afternoon sun brightly burned.
He was joined by several thousand Vietnamese Catholics from around the country who were awaiting the start of the inaugural Marian Days, a two-day celebration that began at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 1, and continued through 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 2.
YOUNG WOMEN WALK IN A PROCESSION CARRYING BOUQUETS OF FRESHLY CUT RED ROSES TO THE OUR LADY OF LA VANG SHRINE DURING THE MARIAN DAYS EVENT HELD ON SATURDAY, JULY 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA SUDOCK/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“I think the word ‘exciting’ captures the feeling now,” Bishop Nguyen said.
The event’s focus was the Our Lady of La Vang Shrine, whose dedication on the Christ Cathedral campus last July 17 culminated several years of planning and fundraising by Orange County’s Vietnamese Catholic community.
VOLUNTEERS READY THE OUR LADY OF LA VANG FLOAT IN PREPARATION FOR THE MARIAN DAYS PROCESSION ON SATURDAY, JULY 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA SUDOCK/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
And now, the first-ever O.C. Marian Days was about to begin – two days of Masses, processions, workshops, rallies, worship, dancing, food and music centered around on the shrine’s centerpiece: a 12-foot-tall Virgin Mary statue depicting how the Blessed Mother is believed to have appeared before a group of persecuted Vietnamese Catholics in 1798 in a rainforest of Vietnam.
BISHOP KEVIN VANN GREETS A YOUNGSTER AFTER CELEBRATING MASS ON SATURDAY, JULY 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVEN GEORGES/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“The success of this event comes from the heart of the Vietnamese Catholics who love all the things related to Marian devotion,” Bishop Nguyen said. “That’s the core of this event.”
A few minutes later, 14 Vietnamese women and men made a beeline to Bishop Nguyen.
BISHOP THANH THAI NGUYEN JOINS A PROCESSION DOWN TO THE OUR LADY OF LA VANG SHRINE FOR A MARIAN DAYS MASS ON JULY 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA SUDOCK/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
They arrived in Orange County on June 28 from Jacksonville, Fla., where for 17 years Bishop Nguyen served as parochial vicar and pastor of their parish, Christ the King Catholic Church.
“We love Bishop Thanh,” said Christ the King parishioner Sheila Ta-Nguyen. “He’s a humble person and we came here to enjoy this special experience. We’re very excited.”
At Christ the King, before his move to Orange County in 2013, Bishop Nguyen helped lead an effort to build a Vietnamese center and to preserve Vietnamese cultural traditions.
Now, he once again found himself surrounded by Vietnamese Catholics whose reverence and joy were palpable.
“I heard that some people came all the way from Vietnam to be here,” Bishop Nguyen said.
BISHOP THANH THAI NGUYEN ADDRESSES ATTENDEES DURING MARIAN DAYS ON JULY 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA SUDOCK/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange’s Marian Days (“Marian” refers to things relating to the Virgin Mary) was inspired and modeled after the annual Marian Days of Carthage, Mo.
That pilgrimage-style festival has been in place since 1978, drawing tens of thousands of attendees, particularly Vietnamese Catholics, to the Midwest to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Orange County’s July 1 and 2 event, themed as “With Mary, Giving Thanks to God,” featured a festival-like environment and guest speakers for youth and adult parishioners on topics such as catechesis, education, theology, Mariology, prayer and liturgy.
BISHOP TIMOTHY FREYER DISTRIBUTES COMMUNION DURING THE EVENING MARIAN DAYS MASS ON SATURDAY, JULY 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVEN GEORGES/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
The outdoor-indoor celebration also included informational booths with representatives from various Diocese of Orange parishes, ministries, and other dioceses. Some 2,000 people volunteered for Marian Days, and 10,000 white chairs were set up facing the outdoor shrine.
“Orange County is the hub of Vietnamese people in the United States, so this is very special,” Bishop Nguyen said. Father Brandon Dang, vocations director for the Diocese of Orange, staffed a booth outside Christ Cathedral.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to gather as Catholics,” he said. “And it’s very significant in terms of Vietnamese culture and these grounds, where we now have the Our Lady of La Vang shrine. This event is all-encompassing.”
BISHOP THANH THAI NGUYEN CELEBRATES A SPECIAL MASS FOR MORE THAN 3,000 PEOPLE IN CHRIST CATHEDRAL THE MORNING OF JULY 2 DURING THE INAUGURAL MARIAN DAYS CELEBRATION. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIERNAN COLIFLORES/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
DRUMMING AND SINGING
Father Vincent Pham, director of the Vietnamese Catholic Center in Santa Ana, got things rolling at the Garden Grove campus with a countdown.
“Happy Marian Days!” he declared.
“Ave Maria!” the crowd roared.
July 1 happened to be the first official workday in his new role for Father Bao Thai, the new rector of Christ Cathedral who replaced longtime rector Father Christopher Smith.
“Fantastic!” he declared when asked how his day was going before he disappeared into the throng.
A performance by the Thin Ân Drummers Group – the words mean, respectively, “Heaven” and “Blessings” in Vietnamese — and liturgical music by the 200-member Vietnamese Youth Choir preceded an opening Mass at 7:30 p.m.
The Mass, celebrated in English in some parts and Vietnamese in others, was celebrated by Bishop Timothy Freyer. An estimated 4,000 people attended the Mass, whose Gospel reading (Luke 2:41-51) described how Jesus, at age 12, along with his family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover.
On their way home, Jesus went missing. Three days later, his parents found him in the temple conversing with teachers.
“Imagine the panic, the worry, the anxiety that their 12-year-old boy was lost in the big city,” Bishop Freyer said of Mary and Joseph.
After finding her son, Mary felt frustration, confusion and joy, Bishop Freyer said.
“Mary has a love for all of her children and seeks us and tries to help us,” he continued. “In 1798, when people fled into the jungle because they were being persecuted, many began to get sick and so our Lady of La Vang came to them as they were praying the rosary and gave them medicine so they could be healed.
“She came at a time of great tragedy, sadness, loss, fear, and confusion and brought comfort and release and healing not just to bodies, but to souls. And in 1975, as many fled Vietnam and were sent adrift on small boats, they began to pray to Mary and once again she found her children in need and guided them to safe shores.”
Bishop Freyer remarked how the Vietnamese have enriched the United States and other countries with their devotion to the “Blessed Mother of faith and Jesus Christ and a beautiful, vibrant, and rich culture.”
After Mass, youth and adults participated in a candlelight procession to the Our Lady of La Vang Shrine.
A LITURGICAL DANCE IS PERFORMED AT THE BASE OF THE OUR LADY OF LA VANG SHRINE IN FRONT OF A GATHERING OF THOUSANDS OF WORSHIPERS FOR THE INAUGURAL MARIAN DAYS ON SATURDAY, JULY 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA SUDOCK/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
On Saturday morning, a crowd of 3,000 showed up for a “healing Mass” celebrated by Bishop Nguyen and featuring a choir of 100 adults.
Throughout the day, the campus hosted various workshops and sessions geared for teens.
Saturday’s big event was a 90-minute rosary procession that had thousands of participants walking off the Christ Cathedral campus’ west side to Chapman Avenue, then heading east in a single lane of traffic before turning down Lewis Street to enter the campus’ east side and ending up at the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang.
Maryann Tran, 12, a parishioner at St. Columban in Garden Grove, was among several youth dancers in the procession.
“I think this is a very special event, and I’m very excited to dance,” said Maryann, wearing a blue traditional long Vietnamese ao dai dress.
Thirty Vietnamese Knights of Columbus members were at the front of the procession behind eight senior altar servers at Christ Cathedral.
Altar server Joshua Dang, a freshman at Orange Coast College, led the procession with a fellow altar server.
“It’s a great honor to be part of this procession and to lead it at a pace with everyone following me,” Dang said. “It’s a blessing and a good step forward for Vietnamese Catholic youth.”
Volunteers handed out blue fans as souvenirs and for participants to help stay cool during the long walk.
A liturgical dance featuring more than 200 people, as well as a 500-person choir and orchestra, preceded the event-concluding 7:30 p.m. Mass whose main celebrant was Bishop Kevin Vann.
The nearly $13 million Our Lady of La Vang shrine, the site of monthly Masses as well as other observances and celebrations, is nearly complete. Still to be added behind it is a Marian garden that will stretch to Lewis Street.
Fr. Bao said he was inspired by O.C.’s inaugural Marian Days and looks forward to next year’s event, which is poised to be an annual tradition for Vietnamese Catholics everywhere.
“Marian Days were indeed the blessed opportunity for the faithful to renew their faith in Christ and learn the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the salvific plan of God for humanity,” he said.