600 sisters lend a hand at Our Lady of La Vang congress

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Novices and other women in ao dai, national Vietnamese dress, prepare to give offerings to the celebrants at the Aug. 13 opening Mass of the Marian Congress at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in the Hai Lang District of Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)

Hai Lang District, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam — Some 600 sisters from various congregations volunteered to provide support and essential services for crowds of pilgrims attending the 31st anniversary of the Marian Congress here. The gathering was held on Assumption weekend in mid-August at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in the Hai Lang District of Quang Tri Province, central Vietnam.

Lovers of the Holy Cross of Hue Sr. Catherine Nguyen Thi Hong Gam (second from left) and other sisters decorated an altar of Our Lady of La Vang, which was used in a procession around the shrine. About 200 Lovers of the Holy Cross sisters sang in a choir, served Masses, provided food for bishops and priests, or arranged flowers at the altars. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
Tam Hiep Dominican Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Que and youth perform actions to a song at the shrine. Que gave a talk on marriage, titled "Together with Mother Mary, young people confidently enter into married life," to 6,000 youths in the Martyrs Hall at the shrine on Aug. 13. Vietnamese bishops declared 2017 the Year of Preparations for Young Couples to Enter into Married Life, part of a three-year action plan to strengthen family values among young couples. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)

More than 200,000 pilgrims, including people of other faiths from inside and outside Vietnam, attended the triennial "Living the Spirit of Fatima's Message" congress to celebrate the feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15. During the congress, which ran Aug. 13-15 this year, pilgrims attended Masses, joined a eucharistic adoration procession, went to confession, prayed the rosary and watched cultural performances.

Some 120 nuns dance at the opening ceremony of the 31st anniversary of the Marian Congress Aug. 13. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
Pilgrims pray under the statue of Our Lady of La Vang. The Blessed Mother is believed to have appeared in forests now called La Vang in 1798 to console Catholics seeking to avoid persecution by authorities. In 1961, the bishops of Vietnam declared the site the national Marian shrine. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)

Sisters offered health care to those who fell ill, worked with volunteers to clean up the shrine, gave prayerful and cultural performances, served at the Eucharist procession, sold Catholic items to pilgrims and helped record people's prayer requests for the clergy.

Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Dung, of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, leads a group of 130 volunteers to clean up the shrine. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
"Our work is to collect and remove garbage from the shrine," said Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Dung, who led 130 volunteers in cleanup. "Elderly people and children could not go to put rubbish into trash cans because the site is full of people and the weather is hot. We work hard for love of Mother Mary." (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
Daughter of Mary Immaculate Sr. Mary Tran Thi Tuyet and health workers look after people who have fevers and other minor illnesses. Tuyet, who is a doctor, said that, during the three-day celebration, more than 300 people with headaches, high blood pressure, fevers, sunstroke, appendicitis or diabetes were treated at the shrine or sent to local hospitals. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
Daughter of Mary Immaculate Sr. Cecilia Nguyen Thi Huong helps pilgrims write down their prayer requests to priests and receives their Mass stipends. "Offering money to Mass intentions is an indispensable need of pilgrims who visit Our Lady of La Vang," Huong said. People give money, gold and flowers to support prayers for souls, aborted fetuses, family unity, and to thank the Mother for curing them of diseases and answering their prayers. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
Nuns and novices from the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Thanh Hoa, northern Vietnam, pose on the main stage Aug. 15. Sr. Mary Vu Thi Thanh Nhung (second row, fourth from right) said they were visiting the shrine for the first time and gave a prayerful performance during the eucharistic procession on the evening of Aug. 13. "Our performance aimed to help pilgrims recognize their sins against God's love and Mother and go to confession," she said. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
Visitation Sr. Anna Nguyen Thi Hanh sells medical oil to visitors. Hanh was also one of 120 religious dancers who performed at the congress. Pilgrims bought rosaries, Catholic statues, medical oil and paper fans made by nuns. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)

The 219-year-old shrine was ruined in a battle in 1972 during the Vietnam War. After 1975, the communist government confiscated most of the 21 hectares, or 52 acres, of land at the shrine site.

After the government returned about 32 acres of the land in 2008, construction began on a new basilica with a 5,000-person capacity.

The bell tower of the old basilica remains standing at the shrine. The basilica, built in 1924, collapsed in a battle in 1972 during the Vietnam War. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)
Pilgrims attend a Mass Aug. 14 to celebrate the feast of the Assumption. Hue archdiocesan officials estimated more than 200,000 people attended the three-day Marian Congress to mark the Assumption. (GSR photo / Joachim Pham)

[Joachim Pham is a correspondent for Global Sisters Report based in Vietnam.]