November 10, 2017

Statue of Our Lady of La Vang ‘like a miracle’ for Vietnamese community

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson blesses a new statue of Our Lady of La Vang on Oct. 15 installed on the grounds of St. Joseph Parish by the archdiocesan Vietnamese Catholic Community. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson blesses a new statue of Our Lady of La Vang on Oct. 15 installed on the grounds of St. Joseph Parish by the archdiocesan Vietnamese Catholic Community. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

It started as a request by the archdiocesan Vietnamese Catholic community to install a small statue inside St. Joseph Church on the southwest side of Indianapolis, where they worship in their native language on Sundays. Today, the entire front lawn of the parish is dedicated as a shrine to the Virgin Mary under the title Our Lady of La Vang.

“Everything is just like a miracle,” said Lenh Ngo, the president of the Congregation of Vietnamese Martyrs of Indianapolis. “We asked for one corner of the church somewhere where we could put Our Lady of La Vang. … And they said we could do [it] outside.”

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson journeyed to the new shrine on Oct. 15 as part of his first visit to St. Joseph Church. About 300 parishioners filled the pews as the archbishop celebrated Mass, rededicated the newly-renovated church building (see related story) and blessed the new shrine of Our Lady of La Vang.

Just a short distance from the church’s main doors stands an elegant, white marble image of the Blessed Mother. Installed on a large pedestal, the structure stands about 12 feet tall and is surrounded by a paved area, benches and fresh landscaping.

“If you have problems in your life, you want to come here to ask Mary to help you take care of your problems,” said Thoai Keeley, who was in charge of designing the shrine. “Just come here, say [a] prayer.”

Vietnamese Catholics have asked Our Lady of La Vang for help during difficulties since the late 18th century. At that time, a wave of persecutions in the country caused Christian families to flee their hometowns, many taking refuge in the La Vang forest.

In 1798, suffering from cold weather, sickness and starvation, these Christians gathered daily to pray the rosary and petition the Blessed Virgin for help. Tradition says that during one of these prayers, a beautiful woman holding a child appeared to them. The woman, believed by those present to be the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus, spoke words of comfort to the Christians, instructed them to boil leaves to cure their ailments, and assured them that their prayers were heard.

“Love of Mary by the Vietnamese people, it’s huge, you can’t even describe it,” said Chau Kachelmyer, who helped to organize a celebration for the shrine’s completion. “She’s the first one that we always run to. We ask our mother first. I always run to her, and whatever I asked she granted.”

True to the accounts of the apparent apparition, the new statue depicts Mary clothed in traditional Vietnamese garb. She gazes down with a kind, warm expression, her head surrounded by a halo of stars. The Christ Child, held in her arms, smiles warmly, his right hand raised in a blessing. His left hand points to his chest, which displays the Greek Alpha and Omega letters—a traditional symbol of his divinity.

The statue was carved by hand in Vietnam. Even the stone itself is unique to that country; it was mined from mountains famous for marble that are situated just south of the coastal city of Da Nang.

“It’s top quality. It’s only in that mountain,” said the treasurer for the Vietnamese congregation, Khoa Vo. “When you go out, you see how shiny [the statue] is. Really beautiful.”

“Our Lady points us in the right direction, pointing us to put our faith, our confidence in God during all the adversity we experience,” Archbishop Thompson told the congregation in his homily, which was also translated to Vietnamese.

“She didn’t take away their suffering. She was there to provide them that encouragement, that inspiration for perseverance,” he added.

Recalling this perseverance, the community did not allow the day’s rain showers to dampen their spirits. They had planned an outdoor gathering. Instead, the congregation listened from the pews as Archbishop Thompson spoke from the vestibule of St. Joseph prior to blessing the statue. He then processed outside to sprinkle the statue with holy water and returned indoors to continue the celebration of Mass.

“I’m grateful,” said Kachelmyer of the archbishop’s presence after the celebration. “I’m sure he’s very busy with all the tasks, and yet he would find time to come here and celebrate with us, blessing the shrine for us.”

In a reception following the event, the group presented Archbishop Thompson with his own statue of Our Lady of La Vang, delicately painted and standing about 2 feet high.

“We’ll find a wonderful place for this. Thank you very, very much,” he said.

The congregation itself represented the stunning display of unity that went into the shrine’s completion. Worshipping alongside the Vietnamese Catholics were English-speaking members of St. Joseph Parish, many of whom donated to complete the shrine. Also present for the Mass were two Buddhist monks from a local temple representing another community that gave funds to the project.

“A lot of Vietnamese here, Catholic and non-Catholic, appreciate Our Lady of La Vang because in the history she protected us from persecutions,” explained Father Minh Duong, who serves the Vietnamese congregation.

For their part, the Vietnamese parishioners continually affirmed that this shrine was not just for people from their country, but for all those desiring to show devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

“Tell people in other parishes in Indiana, if they want to stop by, please [do],” Nam Nguyen urged. “This is Our Lady of La Vang, Our Lady of Fatima. … it’s Our Lady. Invite them to stop by.”

(St. Joseph Church is located at 1401 S. Mickley Ave., in Indianapolis.)

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