Every May since 1978, the Our Lady of La Vang Vietnamese Catholic Community in Cincinnati has celebrated Marian Day in honor of the Blessed Mother. This is also a tradition among Catholic parishes in Vietnam and in many other countries.
Our Lady of La Vang (Đức Mẹ La-Vang) is a Vatican-approved apparition that occurred in Vietnam in the 17th century. At the time, Catholics were being persecuted and killed due to the king’s prohibition of foreign religions. The people of La Vang in Quảng Trị Province ran into the jungle to hide, but many were sick and were bitten by snakes. While hiding in the jungle, the community gathered to pray the rosary every night. One evening, the Blessed Mother appeared to them, standing on the branches of the tree where they gathered to pray. She was dressed in ao dai (traditional Vietnamese attire) and held a child in her arms. The Blessed Mother comforted the people and told them to pick and boil the leaves from the trees and then drink the liquid. After consuming the liquid, many people were cured from their illnesses. Today, the Shrine of our Lady of La Vang (Basilica of Our Lady of La Vang) is situated in Hai Phu commune in Hải Lăng District of Quảng Trị Province in Central Vietnam.
Vietnamese Catholics, especially the women, love the Blessed Mother. They teach their children and grandchildren to pray the rosary at an early age. They also evangelize to the non-Christians in their neighborhoods by telling them about Our Lady of La Vang and teaching them how to pray the Hail Mary.
At the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, many Vietnamese people fled their country by way of the sea. As they were chased by pirates, ran into turbulent waters and experienced sinking boats or drowning, they would pray to Our Lady of La Vang for rescue. Some of those fleeing reported seeing a lady appear to them or a bright light shining in the darkness of the ocean, showing them the way. Many of the Vietnamese people converted to Catholicism as they settled in their new countries.
Celebrations of Our Lady of La Vang start with a procession around the block or the church’s parking lot as the Blessed Mother is honored with Marian hymns and prayers. A statue of Our Lady of La Vang is carried on a float surrounded with flowers. Parishioners of all ages walk slowly before the statue while praying the rosary. Songs praising Our Lady’s virtues — beauty, gentleness, compassion and holiness — are sung between the rosary decades. At the end of the procession, the youth have multiple dances, offering up flowers to Our Lady. The statue of Our Lady of La Vang is then carried into the church, where the people line up to offer the Blessed Mother flowers. This is followed by a Mass, a meal and fellowship.
Today, the Vietnamese Catholic community in Cincinnati continues the tradition of honoring the Blessed Mother. There is always a special place for her in the church, in their families and in their hearts. As their tradition goes, at the end of almost all Masses, they conclude their worship with a Marian hymn. They pray to and thank Our Lady of La Vang for their community and for the country where they settled and are free to worship God and practice their Catholic faith.