Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Hue and local priests celebrate a Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lavang in Quang Tri province, in Vietnam on Oct. 7. (Photo courtesy of tonggiaophanhue.org)
A new center dedicated to the Vietnamese Our Lady of Lavang, to be opened soon in Fatima, Portugal, will enable the study of evangelization by the first missionaries from Portugal in the Southeast Asian country while also serving as a link for its Catholic diaspora.
Archbishop Giuse Nguyen Nang, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam will preside at the official inauguration of the House of Our Lady of Lavang near the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima on Oct. 14.
The announcement made by Father Stephanus Bui Thuong Luu, who is in charge of the house, was published on the Vietnamese bishops' website on Oct. 2.
Archbishop Nang will also bless a statue of Our Lady of Lavang in Vietnamese dress and holding the infant Jesus inside the compound of the house.
The inauguration will be attended by Portuguese Church officials including Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho of Leiria-Fátima, who serves as president of the Portuguese bishops’ conference, and Vietnamese Catholic delegations from Europe, North America, and Australia.
In his letter to Luu, Nang praised the “exciting initiative” that “serves as a bridge between the churches in Vietnam and Portugal and a place where all Catholics of Vietnamese origin come to seek divine love and mercy through Mother Mary’s generous hands.”
The 70-year-old archbishop said the house will commemorate the fascinating work of Portuguese missionaries in the early stages in Vietnam. “Among them was Father Francisco de Pina, who made great contributions to quoc ngu, the Romanized Vietnamese script,” he recalled.
Luu, who heads the Lavang–Fatima Association that runs the house, said they bought an old building with a 5,000-square-meter garden a kilometer away from the Sanctuary of Fatima in 2021. It took 15 months to restore it and it is now complete with a chapel, a living room, two meeting rooms, and 20 private rooms.
In August, Nang wrote to Carvalho, his counterpart at the Portuguese bishops’ conference, about offering the house to the Vietnamese Catholic Church as “a meaningful gift when it marks the 500th anniversary of the spread of Gospel seeds” in 2033.
“Portuguese missionaries brought the Good News to our ancestors and built the first foundations for the Church in our homeland during the 16th and 17th centuries,” Luu said.
In 1615, five Jesuits, including Fathers Francesco Buzomi and Diego Carvalho, landed at Cua Han in Quang Nam province and introduced Catholicism to local people. Later other missionaries — Francisco de Pina, Christopho Borri, and Alexandre de Rhodes — also joined them.
They respected local traditions, integrated themselves into local communities, studied Vietnamese and created the first form of a Vietnamese script to be based on the Latin alphabet and grammar so as to proclaim the Good News, Luu added.
De Pina (1585-1625) is regarded as a pioneer in learning and researching Vietnamese after he arrived in southern Vietnam in 1617. He wrote a catechism book in quoc ngu and also a grammar book. He drowned at sea in Hoi An on Dec. 15, 1625.
De Rhodes, who carried out evangelization work in Vietnam from 1625-45, at first learned Vietnamese from de Pina, then amassed quoc ngu works by other authors and published three books on the alphabet in Rome in 1651: a Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary, a Vietnamese grammar book, and a catechism book.
The script was easy to learn and became an effective tool for people to spread national ideas and communicate with the outside world. It replaced older scripts and became the authorized script over a century ago in Vietnam.
Luu said the house in Fatima will provide accommodation to pilgrims and Vietnamese priests and religious who study in Portugal, besides holding spiritual retreats and courses to deepen the faith of Vietnamese Catholics.
It will also help those who want to study the various documents related to the early missionaries and their works kept in libraries in Portugal.
The priest said the house will help link overseas Vietnamese Catholics in the presence of their Our Lady of Lavang and revealed future plans to erect more statues at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France and at the Vatican in the future.
Our Lady of Lavang statues are presently erected in some churches in the United States and Australia, and in the Ark of Covenant Church on Kyriat Yearim in the Holy Land.