Like most Vietnamese-American Catholics, Elysabeth Nguyen grew up hearing stories of Our Lady of La Vang, who is said to have saved her people from persecution.
The Marian apparition is said to have appeared in the late 1700s to a group of Catholics fleeing persecution in Vietnam. She then became a centerpiece of Catholic faith in the country, and after the fall of Saigon in 1975 — when more than a million Vietnamese became refugees — her intercession was credited with sparing the lives of her devotees. Churches named for the La Vang virgin are now thought to be as numerous in the United States as those dedicated to the apparitions at Fatima or Lourdes.
Now Nguyen and a group of Vietnamese-American Catholics in Orange County, Calif., home to the largest Vietnamese Catholic community outside Vietnam, are leading the development of the United States’ first major stand-alone shrine to Our Lady of La Vang.
The multi-million-dollar shrine, located at the Catholic Diocese of Orange’s Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, will offer the 100,000 Vietnamese-American Catholics in the diocese a gathering place and, its builders expect, an international pilgrimage site. The diocese broke ground on the project in October.
“To have a shrine here reminds them of the homeland, of how grateful they are to be here, and the fruits and blessings they’ve had since coming to this country,” said Nguyen, project manager for the La Vang Shrine Committee with the Diocese of Orange.
The 2-acre shrine, slated for completion in nine months, will feature a 12-foot statue of Our Lady of La Vang standing on a pedestal shaped like a cloud. Above her will be a glass canopy held up by treelike pillars and a stainless steel ribbon looping around it. The area will also include a plaza for celebrating Mass outdoors and four gardens for meditation and prayer.