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Christians have been martyred throughout the entire history of the Church and continue to face martyrdom today. Alongside the story of persecution, though, is the greater story of God’s grace.
One such account is that of Our Lady of La Vang, a beloved advocation for the Virgin Mary in Vietnam.
A vicious persecution started in Vietnam in 1798. The faithful fled for their lives, and many sought refuge by hiding in the rainforest of La Vang. The situation was dire, and many fell ill. But they clung to their faith for strength, specifically by joining together to pray the Rosary.
It was while they were huddled in prayer that an apparition surprised them: A beautiful woman wearing the long tunic typical of the people could be seen standing on the branches of the tree. She was holding a child in her arms and was accompanied by angels.
Not only did Our Lady console and encourage them, but she also told them how to treat their sickness with a certain leaf.
When Catholics were able to return to their villages some four years later, the story of the apparition continued to spread. In 1820, a first chapel was built at the site. The chapel was destroyed in another wave of persecution.
In 1886, a new chapel was begun, and throughout the 1900s, Our Lady of La Vang enjoyed both the love of the local faithful and honor from Rome. (The chapel was again destroyed during the Vietnam War, but another was built in 2012, with the endorsement of the government).
Some 200 years after the apparition, Pope John Paul II sent this message to the faithful:
In going to the Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang, so dear to the hearts of the Vietnamese faithful, pilgrims entrust to her their joys and their sorrows, their hopes and their sufferings. In this way they turn to God and make themselves intercessors for their families and for their entire people asking the Lord to instill sentiments of peace, brotherhood and solidarity in the hearts of all men and women, so that all the Vietnamese will be every day more closely united, in order to build a world in which it is pleasant to live, based on the essential spiritual and moral values and where each person can be recognized in his dignity as a child of God, and turn freely and with filial love to his Father in heaven who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
The basilica of Our Lady of La Vang is the central shrine of Vietnam. She is celebrated in August, on the feast of the Assumption, and also on November 22.