Each year, the Vietnamese Redemptorists of Extra-Patriam host a Conference to commemorate Our Mother of Perpetual Help. These Conferences are usually held from Friday to Sunday, on the weekend that falls closest to June 27, the feast day of our Mother. In this year’s case, the Conference was held from June 24 to June 26, 2016. Usually, the central focus of the Conferences is a series of talks given by a guest speaker who teaches the faithful, inspires them, and leads them into a deeper relationship with the Virgin Mary. This year’s speaker was Fr. Anthony Dung Van Nguyen, CSsR, a priest of the Province of Saigon, Vietnam. He expanded upon 5 topics: “Mary: Mother of all peoples,” “Mary: Mother of the Church,” “Mary: Mother of Mercy,” “Mary: Mother of Life,” and “Mary: Mother of Hope.” During these talks, the Fr. Anthony used the Bible and the symbolic images found in the icon in order to expand upon each topic—such as Mary’s eyes that always look towards us; or her hands which hold Jesus and at the same time point us toward Him.
Apart from these talks given by the guest speaker, the Vice-Province also usually hosts an event on Saturday for the Vietnamese-American youths, which lasts from 9 AM to 8 PM. In this event, the youths participate in Praise and Worship songs, engage in activities to build community and faith, listen to talks by various speakers, and are reconciled with God through the sacraments. The ministry to the youth is made possible through the teamwork of various parishes and communities, including the Vietnamese Dominican Sisters and, of course, our own Vice-Province. Thanks to all of the hard work to each community, this ministry is very successful in creating a fun and prayerful atmosphere. This year, the two keynote speakers were our very own Fr. Thomas Dzung Ha, CSsR, and Gabriel Castillo, who showed us what it means to have a healthy relationship.
As this year contained two Jubilees at once—it was both the Year of Mercy and the 150th anniversary of when the Redemptorists received the Icon—the celebration was special, not only in the sense of its preparation, but also in the sense that the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary were very active in our community in these past three days.
The first reason why this year’s Conference was special is because of the presence of a first-class relic of St. Faustina, the mystic whom God chose to become His apostle of Mercy. During the days of the Conference, our community gave the faithful the opportunity to visit the Saint and to kiss her relic. During that time, our community would pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and sing Vietnamese songs of mercy. The music and prayer helped create a mood of trust and healing in the mercy of God.
The second reason why this year was special is because of the many priests who helped the faithful to be reconciled with God through the Sacrament of Penance. Our community was blessed to have at least two priests always available in the confessional at every hour of the conference, save for the times when we had mass. Because of this, the faithful were able to easily receive the sacrament at any time that they were ready.
The third reason was because the choirs from the Houston area gave their all to prepare for this event. Instead of the normal piano-organ instruments that the Vietnamese community is used to hearing, the faithful were blessed to have a multitude of instruments—strings, woodwinds, brass, violin, and percussions— to help lift their souls to God in a most awe-inspiring manner.
The fourth and final reason why this year was special is because of the amount of people who have travelled from all over America—and even from Vietnam—to attend this event. At each day of the Conference, the faithful overflowed the Shrine with their presence, which showed the love the Vietnamese people have towards Mary.
The concluding Mass on Sunday was celebrated by His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston. In his homily, he stressed the importance and meaning of the miraculous Icon and how it was so attached to the Redemptorists. He thanked the Redemptorists for making every effort in spreading this popular devotion. At the end of Mass, a special gift of the Jubilee, a handmade wood-carved Icon of OMPH made in Peru, was presented to His Eminence.
As the Jubilee Year of Our Mother of Perpetual Help comes to a close, we, the Extra Patriam, truly believe that we have been blessed by the Virgin Mary, and that she had transferred much grace upon the Vietnamese community during these three days. It is our hope that all who attended this Conference will continue to have the love of God and Mary in their hearts, so that they may always live with hope and joy.
by Thomas To-Kha, CSsR