November 22 was Thanksgiving, but it was also the feast day of Our Lady of La Vang – when the Virgin Mary appeared in Vietnam to a group of Vietnamese Catholics taking refuge in the woods from religious persecution. During most of the 18th century, Vietnam was characterized by struggles for the thrones. Fearing the influence of Catholicism, Emperor Canh Thinh issued an anti-Catholic edict in 1798 and ordered to destroy all Catholic churches and seminaries. This persecution of Vietnamese Catholics and missionaries began and lasted until 1886.
Many people sought refuge in the rain forest of La Vang, where they suffered from starvation, illness, wild beasts, and bitter cold. In the evenings the community would gather to pray a rosary for God’s assistance. One night in 1798, they saw an apparition of a lady wearing the traditional Vietnamese áo dàiand holding a child in her arms, with two angels beside her. They said that Our Lady comforted them and told them to boil leaves from the trees for medicine to cure the ill. After this first apparition, the Blessed Mother continued to appear to the people in this same place many times throughout the period of nearly one hundred years of religious persecution. Also because of this persecution, Vietnam also has a large number of martyrs, and their memorial day was on November 24.
On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II in the canonizing ceremony of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs, publicly and repeatedly recognized the importance and significance of the Lady of Lavang.
During my trip to Pennsylvania, I spent a day in DC and visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in the Americas. It was SO BEAUTIFUL! There were numerous little chapels dedicated to an apparition of Our Lady, with other images of her on the walls. I went in hoping to find maybe just a mosaic of Our Lady of La Vang, and it turned out that she has a whole chapel dedicated to her down int he crypt. It made me so happy because this image of Mama Mary was one of the first that I grew up learning about.
There was a plaque on the wall telling the story of Vietnam’s religious persecutions, and another with the names of all the Vietnamese Martyrs. It made me so grateful to be a part of this faith and culture. People fought and gave their lives for what they believe in. Faith is no small thing. I’m so grateful to share in a part of this history, so I wanted to dedicate a post about it for you all. This long weekend has been one reminder after reminder of what a blessing my life is, from Thanksgiving, to the feast of Our Lady, to the memorial of the martyrs, and ending with the Feast of Christ the King! It’s been filled with hope and a reminder that we’re not alone in this world, no matter what struggles we are going through, there is a blessing around every corner. I hope you’ve had a good time with your loved ones as well.