ucanews.com reporter, Quang TriUpdated: August 16, 2017 10:29 AM GMT
Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli (second from right) prepares for Mass to mark the start of the Marian Congress on Aug. 13, at the national shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. (ucanews.com photo)
The Vatican envoy to Vietnam has called on the Southeast Asian nation's communist government to respect religious freedom, during a large gathering of pilgrims at a Marian shrine on Aug. 13.
Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the non-resident representative of the Vatican to Vietnam, presided at the opening Mass for the 31st anniversary of the Marian Congress, held at the national shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in Quang Tri Province, central Vietnam.
In his homily, Archbishop Girelli spoke of the state of religious freedom in the country.
"In some provinces, civil authorities are anxious and complain about the Catholics and their deeds," said the archbishop during Mass where he was joined by Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Hue, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam, Cardinal Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi, 13 other bishops and some 200 priests.
Archbishop Girelli advised the gathering on the wisdom of St. Peter's words "We must obey God rather than men" and of Jesus' "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
"I would like to tell the Vietnamese Caesars to give to God what is God's," he said, to which the congregation responded with a large round of applause.
Archbishop Girelli said it is the wish of many that religious freedom in Vietnam needs to be properly respected. He said the local Catholic Church must be seen as something positive, rather than as something problematic for the country.
Archbishop Girelli asked the congregation to spend time praying during the congress so that they can acquire God's presence in their life. "Only when we follow Jesus and stay in Him, we are really happy," he said.
The archbishop, who is based in Singapore, pays working visits to dioceses in Vietnam, with each visit lasting only one month. All his activities must be approved by the government.
In February government authorities barred him from attending a thanksgiving Mass in Ha Tinh Province that celebrated Blessed John Baptist Malo (1899-1954), a Paris Foreign Missions Society missionary.
Some of the 100,000 pilgrims who attended the Marian Congress at the national shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. (ucanews.com photo)
An estimated 100,000 pilgrims — including people of other faiths from Vietnam and abroad — attended the three-day congress to mark the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven celebrated Aug. 15.
During the event, pilgrims attended Masses, went to confession, prayed the rosary and watched cultural performances.
The first such congress was organized at the Marian shrine in 1901.
After the government returned 13 hectares of land around the shrine in 2008, new facilities including a new basilica with a capacity to hold 5,000 people was constructed.
The Blessed Mother is believed to have appeared in La Vang in 1798 to console persecuted Vietnamese Catholics. In 1961, the bishops of Vietnam declared the site as the national Marian Shrine.