An annual Marian event in St. Clair is important to Vietnamese Catholics as a way to be closer to God, pray for peace and to witness the strength of their community.
They appreciate the message of Our Lady of Fatima to love and to serve Jesus through promotion of devotion to Mary by praying the Rosary and offering prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Teddy Cao, a seventh-grader from Minneapolis, attended with eight family members, including a 95-year-old woman, in a group of about 100 people setting up camp under a tent about a fourth of the size of a football field.
What drew Cao’s family and more than 1,000 mostly Vietnamese Catholics to a 20-acre site in a rural area off Interstate 44 just north of St. Clair was the Third Annual Fatima Days, hosted by the Congregation Messengers of Fatima. The community was inaugurated in the archdiocese in October and given permission to gather companions in hope of forming a new religious community.
“I get to spend time away from the city and noises,” Teddy said. “It’s peaceful. I’m looking forward to having a great time here spending time with my family.”
Father Joseph Diep, CMF, a Kenrick-Glennon Seminary graduate who came to the United States after the fall of Saigon to the Communists in 1975, is the founder of the fledgling community. He said the visitors for the June 20-23 celebration came from states as far ranging as California to Florida and from Vietnam, Canada and Australia. Saturday’s events, which included a talk and Mass celebrated by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, attracted many people from parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis as well.
The celebration included talks, youth activities, processions and entertainment. Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso celebrated Mass in honor of 117 Vietnamese martyrs.
“We are very happy because people come to celebrate the Eucharist and Fatima. They pray for peace and sacrifice their time to come here,” Father Diep said. “They work hard to help us.”
The message of Fatima — to pray the Rosary for peace in the world — is dear to the community’s hearts, Father Diep said. “We don’t have enough people praying the Rosary.”
An opening Mass under a tent on June 20 in honor of the Blessed Sacrament included a choir with upbeat music, petitions for peace and justice and a candlelight procession afterward to a chapel on the grounds for adoration. A statue of Our Lady of Fatima was adorned with white roses, tiger lilies and red gladiolas.
Orderly Organizers of the Annual Fatima Days in St. Clair posted a friendly reminder to visitors with seven regulations. Included were the obvious for many family-friendly church groups: No liquor, drugs, gambling, weapons, littering, loud music, noisy activities or unmodest dress. But the last regulation, #7, adds a less expected yet positive note: “Please be nice to each other.”
“This is a big event for Vietnamese Catholics,” said Tyler Nguyen of O’Fallon, a parishioner of Resurrection Parish in St. Louis who served as director of the event.
It’s similar to another Marian event in Carthage, Mo., that attracts thousands of people. “It’s a time when we all share with friends and family all over the U.S. and learn about our Mother Mary,” Nguyen said.
Tu Tran of St. Paul, Minn., looked forward to meeting Archbishop Carlson, who as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis helped the Vietnamese community purchase a church for their growing community. That parish is now St. Joseph Hien. “He’s our favorite bishop. He’s a good bishop. Tell him that,” Tran said.
Michael Hoa of Houston, Texas, said people come to the Fatima Days as a pilgrimage. “It’s our obligation as Catholics to spread the message of peace and unity. Slowly people are getting to know what the Fatima message is all about,” Hoa said.
He noted that Vietnamese Catholics appreciate the freedom they enjoy in the United States to practice their religion. A law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, in Vietnam regulates legal procedures and conditions regarding people’s beliefs. Faith groups are required to register with authorities and inform them of their activities, with authorities having the right to approve or refuse. Religious activities banned include those that infringe on national defense, harm social ethics and disunite the nation. Democracy.web reports that the Communist government set out to co-opt and control religious institutions and has generally repressed independent religious practices and religious freedom as a whole. The U.S. Commission on International Freedom’s 2018 annual report also found abuses against freedom of religion.
“They feel religion controls people,” Hoa said of the leaders of the Southeast Asia nation.
Hoa called the start of the religious community in St. Clair a miracle involving the many benefactors such as the family that donated the land. Hoa attended the opening ceremonies of the congregation and cited the improvements since then — a large kitchen, restrooms and large, open-air shelter. Hoa pointed to the sky signifying God’s influence. “He did the work. He tells us what to do,” Hoa said.
Xuan Thi Nguyen was one of the visitors who traveled from Vietnam. She came, she said, “because of the love of Our Lady of Fatima.”
Among the young people there was 10-year-old Long Tran of St. Patrick Parish in Rolla, Mo., who took in the event with his mother, sister and brother. He said he enjoyed the music and added, “we come here to pray.”
Myan Huynh, 12, of O’Fallon, a parishioner of Resurrection in St. Louis, wore a dress with the image of Our Lady of Fatima. She was part of a dance group. “You get to meet a lot of new people here,” Myan said. “It’s really fun here.”
Kim Brobst of Tamaqua, Penn., said she lived through the Vietnam War and its trauma. Later, she came to know God, and that had a profound impact on her. She noted that “we all need Our Lady of Fatima for peace and love.”
Turning as she walked away, Brobst added, “Our Lady of Fatima rocks.”
Messengers of Fatima
October, the Congregation Messengers of Fatima were inaugurated in the
Archdiocese of St. Louis and given permission to gather companions in
hope of one day forming a new religious community.
Joseph Diep, a member of the Society of Charity and Social Services,
earlier moved to Franklin County, near St. Clair to gather members of
the Christian faithful to begin living out the proposed charism of the
congregation. A period of three to five years is envisioned as a time to
discern with the hope of one day forming the new religious institute
dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.
proposed charism of the religious institute is the promotion of the
messages of Our Lady of Fatima and service to the poor and marginalized.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will review the progress of the group and
evaluate whether it is time to take canonical steps toward the formation
of the new religious institute. The next step after the discernment is
status as a public association of the faithful.
work of serving people in poverty is expected to include collecting
items for families in need, visiting people living alone or in nursing
homes and cooperating with local hospice centers.
Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto
Feast Day: Feb. 20
of the three Fatima visionaries, a sister and brother, were beatified
in 2000 and canonized in 2017. With their cousin, Lúcia dos Santos, they
had monthly visions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal, from May to October
1917. Mary asked the shepherd children to promote devotion to her
Immaculate Heart and pray the Rosary daily.
Both Martos died of
influenza — Francisco at age 10 in 1919 and Jacinta at age 9 in 1920.
Their cousin Lúcia, who became a Carmelite nun, died in 2005 at age 97.
Fatima is among the world’s great Marian shrines and pilgrimage sites.
Francis canonized two shepherd children who saw Mary at Fatima, but
more importantly, he said, they heeded the call to pray for sinners and
trust in the Lord.
“We declare and define Blessed Francisco Marto
and Blessed Jacinta Marto as saints,” the pope said May 13, 2017, as
hundreds of thousands of pilgrims broke out in applause before he
The relics of the young shepherd children,
encased in two thin golden crosses, were placed in front of the famed
statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the “lady dressed in white” as the
siblings and their cousin described her.
The Marian apparitions
began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta,
along with their 10-year-old cousin Lucia, reported seeing the Virgin
Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and
later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.
The children became the youngest non-martyrs to be declared saints by the Catholic Church.
Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97. The diocesan phase of her sainthood cause is completed and other steps are underway.
his homily at the canonization Mass, the pope reflected on the brief
lives of the young sibling saints, who are often remembered more for the
apparitions rather than for their holy lives.
But it is Mary’s
message and example, rather than an apparition, is important, he told
the crowd, which Portuguese authorities estimated at about 500,000
“The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see
her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go
to heaven,” the pope said.
Instead, he continued, Mary’s messages
to the young children were a warning to all people about leading “a way
of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures.”
a life — frequently proposed and imposed — risks leading to hell. Mary
came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us,”
the pope said.
The hopeful message of Fatima, he said, is that men
and women have a mother and like children clinging to her, “we live in
the hope that rests on Jesus.”
— Catholic News Service