Our Lady of Lavang
The first Catholic missionaries arrived in Vietnam in 1533. A scant hundred years later, there were over a hundred thousand Catholics. Seminaries were established and by l668, two native priests were ordained. A group of women religious was formed in l670, which is still active today.
Throughout history, Catholics have been persecuted for their faith. Vietnam was no exception. Severe persecutions broke out in 1698. In the eighteenth century, there were three more persecutions. And again in the l9th century there were persecutions. The sturdy Vietnamese Catholics stood firm, in spite of the danger. Over one hundred thousand Catholics were martyred in the mid 1800's alone. Today, under the communist regime, the bishops and priests are still harrassed. Fragmentary reports on the status of the church since the war are not encouraging. In spite of this, pilgrims flock annually to the shrine of Our Lady of Lavang. This shrine was established in 1800 at Hue, near the center of the country. At the end of the 17th century, the persecution of Catholics in central Vietnam was so severe that many of the people fled to a remote jungle area in the mountains near Lavang. They wished to be free to practice their religion, as well as to save their lives.
One evening as the community was reciting the rosary together, there was an apparition of a beautiful lady holding a little child in her arms, and with angels surrounding her. The lady was dressed simply, but wearing a crown. The people recognized the beautiful Lady as the Queen of Heaven. She spoke to the people in the loving tones of a mother. She encouraged and comforted them. Displaying a tender concern for her children, she taught the people how to make medicines from the plants and herbs that grew in the area. She also promised her protection to any who would come to that particular site to pray. Unlike her messages at Fatima and Lourdes, the Lady of Lavang brought only messages of comfort, not warnings. She simply expressed her tender mother's care for her persecuted children. The apparition appeared again a number of times.
The people of Lavang built a simple church of leaves and rice straw, and dedicated it to their mother Mary. Devotion to her grew, and a number of miraculous cures and favors were reported. Through other persecutions, the Lavang area continued to be a sanctuary for oppressed Catholics.
In 1805, officers of the Vietnamese emperor began an anti-colonial movement. They were determined to rid the country of all Catholics. No longer was Lavang safe. Thirty Catholics were put to death by the emperor's soldiers right at the door to their little church. The church was burned, although not by one of the soldiers. The soldiers had heard of the miraculous deeds at Lavang and were frightened to destroy the chapel. Amazingly, the altar and the chandeliers, both made of wood, survived the fire. The people then rebuilt their beloved shrine. On the site where the original apparitions took place, a new brick church was begun in l885. It was completed in l900, and in l90l the first annual celebration of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lavang took place. Over 130,000 Catholics from all over the country participated. Devotion to Our Lady of Lavang grew rapidly, and by l925 it was necessary to enlarge the complex because of the throngs of worshipers. This church was completed in l928. Many non-Christians acknowledged that there was something special about this place. In the early 1920's, the emperor of Vietnam fell ill. A non-Christian, he sent one of his Christian ministers to pray for him at the shrine. He recovered speedily.
During World War II, Vietnam was a battleground for the Japanese and the French. After this, the French and the communists, known as the Vietcong, battled until l954 when they split the country into two governments. Almost a million people fled from the communists in the North. At this time, Lavang became a center of pilgrimage. In l96l, the conference of the Vietnamese bishops made the church the national shrine of the country. In August of l96l, Pope Paul VI conferred on the church the title of Basilica of Our Lady of Lavang.
By April of l975 when South Vietnam fell under the control of the communists, the Lavang complex had enlarged to include a retreat center, a hospitality center, an outdoor amphitheatre and a beautiful statue of Mary commemorating her apparitions.
The Vietnamese people have always had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother. They carry this love for her with them, wherever they go. They trust their mother to keep them in her loving care, just as she cared for those who were privileged to see her at the apparitions at Lavang.
Blessed Lady of Lavang be my mother and comfort me, especially in times of trial and unhappiness. Enter my heart and stay with me wherever I may go. Grant that one day, through you, I may find rest and peace in my Father's house.
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Copyright © 2004 by Ann Ball
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