Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - Tens of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics visited the La Vang Marian Shrine, in the central province of Quang Tri, on the feast day of the Assumption, celebrated yesterday, 15 August. Pilgrims made special offerings for their families and the country in the country's most important shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Mgr Leopoldo Girelli, Pontifical delegate presided over a special Mass together with the archbishops and bishops of Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, My Tho, Xuan Loc, Lang Son, Hung Hoa, Da Lat and Da Nang, as well as 200 priests before a crowd of pilgrims in prayer.
The feast day celebrated yesterday also saw the laying of the first stone for the new cathedral. Having obtained all the necessary provincial permits, the work site opened under the attentive gaze of the bishops and the members of the Committee for Holy Art of the Vietnam Bishops' Council. The faithful and pilgrims had waited a long time for construction to start. For Vietnamese Catholics, Our Lady of La Vang is the most important Vietnamese Catholic site.
On the feast of the Assumption, Vietnamese Catholics showed loyalty, gratitude, love and communion with the leaders of the country's Church. In his the homily, the Pontifical representative said, "Mary's assumption to heaven is our happiness," which will "grow when the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang is built" to celebrate Mary "as our heavenly mother."
Mgr Girelli highlighted the importance of religious freedom for human beings in a country where Catholics are often victims of abuses. Through cooperation with local authorities, the top Vatican official said, "We have established ideal conditions to build the cathedral."
Built in 1798, the original shrine has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. Over the centuries, it was destroyed several times, the last one in 1972 during the Vietnam War.
The shrine is located in Hai Dang, a district in Quang Tri province, some 60 kilometres from the city of Hue, at a site where Our Lady appeared in 1798 when the country was ruled by King Son Tay Canh Thinh who had ordered the destruction of all churches, parishes and the Catholic faith.
To escape the royal decree, Quang Tri Catholics found refuge in the forests and mountains of La Vang, praying to God and the Virgin Mary to spare their lives. Under the branches of an old tree, they spent nights praying and reciting the Rosary, asking Our Lady for "help and protection."
The cult of Our Lady of La Vang is widespread also among non-Catholics, including Buddhists and Protestants, who pray to the Virgin Mary for special graces.
Over time, it has become a point of reference and the national pilgrimage centre. It is currently undergoing renovation.