Catholic Vietnamese Americans’ annual pilgrimage

August 14, 2007

NPR covers this Vietnamese Americans Make Pilgrimage to Missouri. The Columbia Tribune reported on this annual pilgrimage, ‘Asian invasion’ of faith: Vietnamese Catholics celebrate Virgin Mary. Excerpts from the article:

CARTHAGE – My siblings and I call it “The Asian Invasion.” Every summer during the first weekend of August, tens of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics flock to the small southwest Missouri town of Carthage for a four-day festival to celebrate the Virgin Mary. Vietnamese refugees credit the Catholic icon for their protection and rescue from Vietnam as they fled the country after the Vietnam War.

Each year, the Marian Days celebration draws thousands of Catholic Vietnamese-Americans to the southwest Missouri town of Carthage to honor the Virgin Mary. Vietnamese refugees credit the Catholic icon with protecting them as they fled Vietnam and made the transition into American life.

The Marian Days celebration began in 1978 with only a few hundred people. It takes place every year on the 28-acre campus of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix, a Vietnamese order of priests and brothers that has a provincial house in Carthage. The order came from Vietnam in 1975 just after the end of the Asian conflict.

Each year, attendance increases, with the most recent festival, which took place last weekend, besieging the town with more than 70,000 travelers from all over the country – hence the term “invasion.” Carthage’s population on any other weekend is just more than 12,000.

The pilgrims camp out on the lawn of the seminary – like a veritable “Godstock” – and book hotels and motels to capacity throughout the region. Church groups from cities with large Vietnamese populations, such as Houston and Kansas City, set up food tents in the festival area.

Festivities include daily Masses, penance ceremonies, benedictions and religious lectures. The peak of the celebration takes place on Saturday during a parade for the Virgin Mary and a fireworks and balloon ceremony. The closing-night Mass is recited in Vietnamese and translated into English as well.

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But as the families have assimilated into American culture, so has the festival – offering as much boba as bao, and as many fried Twinkies as pho. The concerts, which once featured mostly folk and traditional Vietnamese performances, are dominated by Vietnamese pop acts like Trish Thuy Trang, a Vietnamese Christina Aguilera of sorts.

And there are just as many, if not more, break-dancing circles that form as there are scheduled benedictions. In years past, the clerics have tried offering “holy raves” as part of their youth outreach programs. This year’s effort was an “inTune with Jesus Christ” podcast campaign.

But the balance between social and spiritual isn’t a problem. After all, the entire festival – and religion – is built upon the premise of keeping communities connected. As the years pass, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the festival serves as a way for families to stay connected as well.

New America Media has previously reported that For Catholic Church, Vietnamese Are the New Irish. In the article, the editor noted that 12% of all Catholic seminary students are Asian, and most of those are Vietnamese.

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