08/10/2005, 00.00
VIETNAM
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A new building for pilgrims opens at the La Vang Marian Shrine

The "House of Pilgrimage" has welcomed almost a thousand faithful per day since mid-July. Despite its traditional hostility to the shrine, the government granted the building permit in a record time.

La Vang (AsiaNews/Ucan) – The Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang, in central Vietnam, can finally welcome a larger number of pilgrims and in better conditions thanks to the building of a new, long-awaited building.

The government, which has traditionally been hostile to the shrine because of the ties it creates between local Catholics and the universal Church, granted the building permit in a record time: one month.

La Vang is one of the better known Asian shrines. Despite strict government restrictions against the Catholic Church, thousands of pilgrims visit it, especially on the Day of the Assumption.

Our Lady of La Vang Shrine, which comes under the archdiocese of Huế, Quang Tri province (south of Hanoi), is in fact very important to Vietnamese Catholics as Pope John Paul II reiterated in 1988 when he beatified 117 Vietnamese martyrs.

On that occasion, the Holy Father said he hoped the shrine would be rebuilt on the second centennial after Our Lady's apparition. He was disappointed though by the government's refusal. This left a small building that could contain only a few pilgrims; most of the faithful were forced to gather and pray in the square right in front of the church.

Now the new "House of Pilgrimage" is the largest building of the Marian complex. Officially, it will be inaugurated next August 15, but has already been functioning since mid-July, and so far has welcomed an average of 600 to 1,000 pilgrims per day.

The shrine's rector, Fr Joseph Duong Duc Toai, said the shrine will host pilgrims free of charge but the latter are encouraged to make a financial contribution. The shrine will also be devoted to pastoral activities and spiritual retreat.

The priest said that before the latest upgrading, the shrine could not adequately receive local and foreign pilgrims. "In the past," he pointed out, "the shrine could accommodate only 200 people and the bathrooms and toilets were always overloaded. And many [. . .] risked their health by spending nights in the corridors or under the sky".

By contrast, the new, three-storey building has three multi-purpose halls that can seat 300 people and can accommodate 3,000 people overall.

Father Toai said that funds from domestic and foreign donors covered most of the US$ 945,000 construction costs.

He also emphasised how quickly the government approved the project and granted the building permit; unlike the long waiting periods usually reserved for religious projects, all it took was a single month.

Sister Marie Nguyen Thi Toa, secretary at the shrine's office, said that even today many pilgrims ask to spend nights outdoors near the Marian altar because "they want to dedicate their hardship to the Blessed Mother. »

From August 13 to 15, the 27th Marian Congress of La Vang will take place near the shrine. Its theme will be "Mary: the Woman of the Eucharist".

The pilgrimage, which usually takes place at the same time as the triennial congress, was particularly important when Vietnam was divided into two states.

This year, Father Toai expects the arrival of 300 people.

Concurrently, La Vang will also host the First National Eucharistic Congress.

The shrine rose where the Our Lady appeared to a group of Catholics fleeing the persecution of King Canh Minh in 1798. It was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt since the first building went up. The last time it was rebuilt was in 1997.

Card Pham Dinh Tung, archbishop emeritus of Hanoi, called La Vang "a bastion for the Church in Vietnam".

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