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Marian Shrine Attracts 60,000 Pilgrims On Opening Day


May 24 2007

Thousands of devotees flocked to the opening of a new government-approved Marian shrine in southern Vietnam, praying and thanking the Blessed Mother.

The local government approved in January the construction of the hilltop Ta Pao Marian Shrine in Binh Thuan province ´s Tanh Linh district, 1,518 kilometers south of Ha Noi. The shrine´s May 13 opening coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

The site includes a 300-meter flight of stairs leading to the three-meter-tall statue of Our Lady of Fatima, a platform for celebrating Mass and a chapel.

Francis K´Tao, an K´Hor ethnic minority Catholic from the neighboring province of Lam Dong, told UCA News that he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and could not afford medical treatment.

"In a dream I was visited by Mother Mary, who asked me to work in the shrine´s construction," he recalled. Every day for a month, he carried 15 50-kilogram bags of cement from the foot of the hill to the statue. "I feel good, and my health is getting better," he said, adding, "I am happy that Our Mother cured me."

Marie Do Thi Tin told UCA News, "Today I come here to thank the Blessed Mother for special graces she gives my family." Wiping the sweat from her face, the mother of four said she had an ovarian cyst, but after praying to the Blessed Mother, it disappeared. She said Mother Mary also cured her husband and her son of persistent coughs.

After her prayers, she came down to the foot of the hill for the shrine´s inaugural Mass. Bishop Paul Nguyen Thanh Hoan of Phan Thiet led the Mass, which was concelebrated with 42 priests. Massgoers stood in rice fields rendered muddy from the previous night´s rain.

"Ta Pao is officially a diocesan pilgrimage center from now on," Bishop Hoan said in his homily. At the end of the Mass, people said the prayer to Our Lady of Ta Pao that he approved on May 9. Father Jean Baptiste Hoang Van Khanh, an organizer, estimated that the opening drew 60,000 people.

Anna Doan Thi Yen, who knelt in the mud during Mass, told UCA News she prayed for her married son who is not a practicing Catholic. "I ask Mother Mary to help my son and his family return to the Church," she said.

In the past she visited the national shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in faraway Quang Tri province, in central Vietnam, but now "I can come here more often, as it is closer to my home."

Another devotee, Nguyen Thi Anh, told UCA News that she took about 50 people a month on pilgrimages to the unfinished Ta Pao shrine. "We are happy that the construction is finished," she said. The 430 steps to the top will make it easier for the disabled, elderly, sick and children to reach the Marian statue, she added.

Father Dominic Nguyen Van Hoang, who was in charge of the shrine´s construction, told UCA News that benefactors and pilgrims covered the cost of the construction. Local people, including some who were not Catholics as well as K´Hor ethnic people from Da Lat diocese, provided free labor. During the four months of construction, 100 people became Catholics, he said.

Before Mass, people walked a kilometer from the local Dong Kho church to the shrine. The statue of Our Lady of Fatima was placed on a car decorated with colorful ribbons and flowers at the head of the procession.

The previous evening, thousands of pilgrims made the Way of the Cross at the shrine. They also prayed the rosary as seminarians and nuns dramatized mysteries of the rosary. People also gathered around the Marian statue on the hilltop to touch it and to offer bottles of water, flowers, incense sticks and candles.

Thousands of pilgrims now come on the 12th and 13th of every month and on the Blessed Mother´s feast days.

The Marian statue became popular in 1999 after three students said they saw the Blessed Mother appearing to fly to the other side of the mountain. For the next two years, local authorities discouraged visits to the statue because they considered the pilgrimages superstitious and potentially harmful to public order. They eased restrictions later, when they saw that the pilgrims did not cause problems.


(Accompanying photos available at here)