Our Lady of Lavang, Viet Nam (1798)
The fact that the Blessed Virgin visited a small group of Catholics in the little jungle village of Lavang, in Viet Nam, in 1798, is not surprising to anyone who knows the ways of the Mother of God. She has always been faithful to her children by grace.
It was as a result of one period of persecution that a number of Vietnamese Catholics found refuge about 1785 in a jungle that hardy foresters would hesitate to penetrate. Here they stayed hidden, suffering privations, dangers, and illnesses, in order to practice their religion. One of the few comforts they had was reciting the rosary every day at dusk.
On one such evening, they were first frightened and then enchanted to behold a Woman and Child standing nearby in a mysterious glow of light. Simple as these people were, some among them recognized the Virgin Mother and Her Child. All listened entranced while Mary told them softly that she was fully aware of their hardships and of their chronic sickness due to contaminated water. She told them to gather certain leaves that grew near and make a strong tea of them; this would keep them healthy. Solemnly she added, “From this day on, prayers said on this spot will be heard – and answered.” The year was 1798.
Not long after the Virgin’s visit, the people heard that the persecution they escaped had ended. Most went back to their original homes; they could talk about little but the apparition they had seen, and word of this miracle spread.
By 1820 even the Buddhists believed in Our Lady’s promise and built the first little shrine, a pagoda, on the spot where Mary had been seen. Within a short time these Buddhists become Christians; and their small shrine became the first Church of Our Lady of Lavang. The faithful found solace and courage in this devotion in times of oppression and general misery that have come again and again to the Vietnamese.
In 1885 during a period of rabid anti-Christianity, the Lavang chapel was burned; a priest, Father Philip Minh, now Blessed Philip, was beheaded. There was another lull between attacks and work was begun on a building to replace the burnt chapel.
There were great difficulties in transporting supplies plus a lack of adequate funds, but the great church of Our Lady of Lavang somehow evolved to completion and was dedicated in 1901 in the name of the Protecting Mother of the faithful. A congress of all dioceses of Viet Nam was called and Lavang became a place of pilgrimage for countless devout people of Southeast Asia.
During the Marian Congress of 1961, a new basilica of Our Lady of Lavang was dedicated by Archbishop Peter Ngo-Dinh Thue of Hue. At that time he told Catholics of South Viet Nam that he received messages still from Catholics in North Communist Viet Nam who say they never fail to believe that the Holy Virgin of Lavang will one day deliver their country from Communist oppressors.
Viet Nam is a land of many martyrs. Across the centuries, devoted religious, scholars, leaders and the poor have paid homage to Mary.