GREENVILLE — Vietnamese Catholics of South Carolina celebrated Mother’s Day and the feast of Our Lady of La Vang on May 10 at Our Lady of the Rosary Church. The crowd was so big that Deacon Ray Perham commented: “We’ve got more people than we’ve got church, which is a good thing.”
The annual celebration commemorates an apparition of the Blessed Mother to the people of central Vietnam in 1798, and is a major attraction.
Besides the authentic food, striking music, colorful outfits, flowers and displays, it marked the first appearance in the Upstate of the Diocese of Charleston’s new bishop. Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated the Mass that was the centerpiece of the day and gave the homily. He wore a new set of embroidered white vestments given to him by the same Vietnamese community at his installation in March. He was greeted for the procession before Mass with a standing ovation.
In an interview with The Miscellany, the bishop said that he had never been to a Vietnamese Catholic celebration before, but considered the Our Lady of La Vang event too important to miss, even though his presence meant a 400-mile round trip from the see city over the weekend.
“I’ve never seen a congregation that prays so beautifully,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “It’s appropriate that today is the secular holiday of Mother’s Day when we also celebrate Our Lady of La Vang. The great gift of God’s love was made possible because the Blessed Virgin Mary said ‘yes.’ I was happy to receive the invitation.”
In his homily, the bishop spoke about a childhood friend who, as a young man, drifted away from the church and even from any kind of relationship with God. One day, following an ocean surge from a hurricane, a beach on Long Island was littered with thousands of dying fish that had been stranded out of water. The man’s mother showed him the scene and told him that the fish were dying because they had lost their connection to the sea, just as the friend had lost his connection with God.
“He was in the same shape; he was dying spiritually. ‘Apart from me,’ Jesus said, ‘you can do nothing.’ His mother brought him to the truth,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “Mary seems to be constantly present to remind us to do what is necessary to stay connected to her son.”
As he spoke, Franciscan Father Dac T. Tran, administrator of Our Lady of the Rosary, translated the bishop’s words into Vietnamese. A combined choir from the parish and St. Anne Church in Rock Hill sang in the same language, but needed no translation.
“The choir was powerful and strong; the music was wonderful,” Bishop Guglielmone said.
Girls in native costume brought flowers and candles to the statue of Our Lady of La Vang that had been carried to the liturgy in procession around the church and school property. Many women wore the traditional Vietnamese dress, the ao dai. Four of them presented a painting of the Vietnamese martyrs to the bishop on behalf of the entire community.
The 40-person combined choir was led by Trinh Tran of Our Lady of the Rosary and Sister Agnes Hanh, of St. Anne. Nearly a dozen fourth-degree Knights of Columbus in full regalia escorted the bishop. Father Tran thanked Kathleen Merritt, diocesan director of ethnic ministries, for her assistance with the annual event, and an impressive feast with entertainment followed.