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Marian devotion strengthens Catholics' faith in Vietnam

More families host flower ceremonies in May after marveling at how their faith has positively transformed their lives
Marian devotion strengthens Catholics' faith in Vietnam

Children in costume with flowers in hand join a Marian procession to Minh Quan church in Yen Bai province in northwestern Vietnam on May 4, 2019. (Photo by Peter Tran/ucanews.com)

Published: May 21, 2019 10:09 AM GMT
Updated: May 21, 2019 10:15 AM GMT

Joseph Nguyen Dang Binh and his wife were cleaning their newly built house in Vietnam's Yen Bai province while their neighbors helped beautify their Marian altar with roses, candles and electric lamps on May 4 as the local Catholic community prepared for a Marian march.

After the couple hosted this night of Marian devotion, which included recitals of the rosary as children in white dresses danced and offered flowers to the small Marian shrine, it was carried to Minh Quan Church about a kilometer away.

The procession featured hundreds of people singing hymns, playing drums and gongs, and saying prayers as this tiny sub-parish experiences a resurgence of faith while keeping old traditions alive.

"We like hosting this ceremony to express our deep gratitude to Mother Mary, who has kept us in peace and helped us overcome difficulties and suffering for the past two decades," said Binh, a bricklayer by trade.

Joseph Le Van Nghi, a local lay leader in this northwestern province, said Marian floral offerings are usually held on Saturday evenings in May, known as "The Month of Flowers" among Vietnamese Catholics.

Families must register a year in advance if they wish to host such events. Four households in Minh Quan signed up last year.

Nghi said the rite and other forms of Marian devotion have grown in popularity in Vietnam in recent years, with Catholics across the country now observing floral offerings at churches on the first and last day of the month as well as all four Saturdays.

Michael Tran Van Ton, who belongs to Phu Hau Parish in Thua Thien Hue province, said Catholics gather to pray and sing hymns in front of a Marian grotto at their local church every day during this special period.

"Marian devotion traditions help bring people together and deepen their faith," Ton told ucanews.com while tidying his home to welcome an expected rush of congregants.

The 63-year-old said it was normal to carry the altars from people's homes to places of worship during this month.

Women pose by a Marian altar inside a family home at Gia Hoi Parish in Hue City in central Vietnam on May 15. (Photo by Joseph Nguyen/ucanews.com)


Marian devotees thank Mother Mary for saving them from natural disasters, pray for the parish's development, eat fruit, chat and even share a beer or two, he said.

Such traditions are believed to have originated among Vietnamese Catholics in the northern provinces.

Nghi said local Catholics have maintained the Marian floral offering procession since 1992, when they finally scraped together the funds to build a new church after the former one was destroyed by floods in 1968.

The subparish was established in 1930 shortly after 30 Catholic families moved to the area from Nam Dinh, Phu Tho and Thai Binh provinces. It now boasts around 100 families comprising 300 parishioners.

Nghi said they used to have to rely on flaming torches to light the annual processions because there was little or no electricity in the area, yet their religious spirit remained undimmed.

The floral ceremonies last around three hours and take place in the evening, with volunteers pitching in to serve meals. The parades can cover up to five kilometers, depending on where the hosts live, he added.

Binh, 41, said it was an honor to play host and serve his community and his faith, which he credits for turning his life around.

"We are truly blessed to have so many people attend this year and pray for our family," he said, adding he butchered a pig and some chickens to give them a hearty meal afterwards by way of thanks.

Binh said his family was so impoverished at one point they had to live in a leafy shelter on the edge of a forest, catching fish from a nearby lake just to put food on the table.

He recalls the misery of living like a social outcast, unable to provide for his wife and children. One night, he was brutally beaten by strangers; another time, his son got pneumonia and had to be hospitalized in Hanoi.

"Now we pray to Mother Mary every day," he said. "She saved our boy by sending people to lend us money to cover his treatment costs, because at that time we were penniless."

His wife, Maria Le Thi Dao, said their faith has given them the fortitude to weather the hard times while also radically transforming their luck.

"Mother Mary has given us good health, wonderful children and regular jobs, and now we have a new house and a happy family," she said.

The family has hosted the flower ceremonies three times over the last 20 years.

Dao, who works at a local elementary school, said they started off decorating the Marian altars with wild flowers picked from nearby fields. "Now we can afford to buy roses," she said. "We offer them to Mary to show her our undying love."

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