The Canadian Redemptorist Missionaries “made Her known” among Vietnamese

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On April 26, 1866, Pope Pius IX, when giving the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help to Father Superior General Nicolas Mauron, appointed the Redemptorist congregation to the task: “Make Her known throughout the world”. Since then, Redemptorists from all over the world have “welcome her into their homes”, and in various ways, they have wholeheartedly honoured her and worked together to “make the world know her”.

The devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Vietnam in the early 20th century

Vietnamese Catholics, right from the beginning, have had a special devotion to Our Lady. However, according to the Canadian missionaries, until 1925, the year the first missionaries arrived in Hue, it was quite sure that “the title of Mother of Perpetual Help has not been publicly worshipped” [1] in Vietnam.

Yet, about 20 years later, in 1946, from Saigon, Father Marcel Bélanger was able to affirm: “Of all the churches I have visited, there is not a church without an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help”. Father Louis Roy even declared: “I believe that there is not a Catholic church in Vietnam that does not have an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This shows how widespread the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is.” [2]

Talking about the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, surely no one can forget the photo of two women on the way of fleeing from the communist-controlled zone in 1954. Apart from the meagre possessions they carried, their most prominent belongings is an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that they hold in their hands. This photo shows the love towards the Mother of God among the Vietnamese people and shows how deep the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is. During his lifetime, after many trials happened to the Church in the North of Vietnam, the first Cardinal of Vietnam, Joseph Trinh Nhu Khue, once remarked: “In the North, since 1954, only two outstanding activities remain: Eucharistic Youth Movement and the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help”.

So, how, in just about 20 years, the early Vietnamese Redemptorist missionaries made it happen: “there is not a single Catholic church in Vietnam that does not have an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help?”

How did missionaries promote the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help?

Before discussing how the missionaries promoted devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, it is essential to know that: shortly after the founding of the Vice-Province of Vietnam (June 4, 1930), on September 15, 1930, Father Edmond Dionne, vice-provincial, has “consecrated the Vice-Province of Vietnam to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, along with the apostolic works as well as the present and future confreres who will dedicate their lives for the mission they generously undertake.” [3] That included, of course, the mission of making the Vietnamese know Her.

The Parish Mission

The parish mission was the first activity through which Our Mother of Perpetual Help was widely introduced to ordinary people. It was also one of the main elements of the mission that the Holy See entrusted to the Congregation when inviting the Redemptorists to Vietnam. It is through these missions that Vietnamese people not only know her with the title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, patroness of the parish missions, but also “experience the strong protection of the wonderful Mother, who is always ready to help those in need.” [4]

Pilgrimage centres

According to the Canadian missionaries, the establishment of pilgrimage centres, especially in the three major regions of Vietnam:  the North, Central and South regions, right from the early years, was also a decisive factor for the success of the Redemptorist mission to spread the love of God through the intercession of the Mother of Perpetual Help, attracting not only devout Catholics but even non-Catholics to come to implore Her.

The Novena to Our Lady in Thai Ha was first held on December 3, 1932, with about 20 people attending. However, just a few months later, attendance had grown to thousands; specifically: on February 11, 1933; there were 600 people; February 18, 1933; there were 800 people; March 11 increased to 1600 people; on March 18, there were 1900 people; On April 2, 2200, people attended and on April 22, 1933; the attendance increased to 2575 people.[5] The soar in attendance caused Bishop Gendreau, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Hanoi, to advise: “Do not rush, it is just a straw fire, it won’t last!” [6] By 1946, there were about 300 thanksgiving stone boards mounted around the wall of Thai Ha church.[7] These thanksgiving boards are not only of Vietnamese Catholics but of many French people, not only of the poor but of the rich. They came from all over Tonkin (the old name of the Northern Region of Vietnam). Every Saturday, thousands of people came to Thai Ha; some walked a long way of 50 kilometres. Every Saturday, there were five Novenas to venerate Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

1932 was also when the first novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help was held at the Hue Redemptorist Chapel every Saturday. A large number of faithful attended these celebrations, among them even non-Catholic people.

Particularly in Saigon, the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help soon developed due to the dynamism in the practice of devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Since 1946, in the Chapel of Ky Dong Monastery, the novena took place twice a week: Wednesday and Saturday. The Wednesday novena was dedicated to Indian women and is conducted in Tamil. These Indians, mostly from French-colonized cities in India such as Pondichéry, Chandernager, Mahé, etc. They went to Vietnam to serve the French government. Saturday was the novena day, with four novenas, three in Vietnamese and one in French.[8]

The Association of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Saint Alphonsus

In parallel with the establishment of Pilgrimage Centers in three major cities, another activity that contributed significantly to the popularization of Marian devotion was the establishment of the Association of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Saint Alphonsus. On December 8, 1932, at the Redemptorist Monastery of Hue, the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was officially established according to Canon Law, with the first 1467 registered members, including the couple Nguyen Huu Bai and his wife. Nguyen Huu Bai was a high official in the royal court.  He died on July 28, 1935, in Hue.[9]

In 1934, the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was established in Thai Ha, Hanoi. In the North, the number of members reached 20,000.[10] The number of members continued to increase rapidly in the following years due to the willingness of missionaries to go to all parishes in the North to establish branches. In 1939 alone, dozens of branches were established in many parishes of dioceses: on May 15, 1939, the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was established in Ha Thach parish, Hung Hoa diocese;[ 11] on September 14, 1939, it was the turn of Ton Dao parish, Phat Diem Diocese;[12] on November 15, 1939, at Chau Nhai parish, Thai Binh Diocese, with the first 400 members; Trung Luong parish, Hanoi Diocese, in 1939;[13] the same year, on May 18, the Association was established in Dong Xa parish, Hai Phong Diocese. and Tho Ninh parish, Vinh Diocese…[14]

According to the Canadian missionaries, in addition to the parish mission and pilgrimage centres, the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been a wonderful means of making Our Lady of Perpetual Help known and loved in families. Vietnamese family.

Here, it should also be added, the reason why the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help thrives, contributing to the popularization of Marian devotion, especially in the North, is due to the enthusiasm of the missionaries, the support of the parish priests, especially enthusiastic members, those with a high position in society. In the years of the 30s and 40s, in order to accompany its members, the vice-province appointed spiritual directors, ready to be present at parishes with members when required, to regularly organize Triduum for the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in parishes, especially on the occasion of the establishment of branches of the Association. The presence of the Redemptorist Fathers both showed the vice province’s concern for its members, and at the same time, thanks to the regular organization of the Marian Triduum, solemn processions of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual from Thai Ha Monastery the parishes where had the newly-established branches of the Association,  made the parishioners more and more understanding and lovingly attached to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

The Magazine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Another effective means of promoting the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was the monthly magazine bearing her name. The magazine was conceived after the Thai Ha Community started celebrating the Novena on Saturdays (December 3, 1932), especially after the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was established on the feast of Mother of Perpetual Help in 1934 in Thai Ha. Therefore, from the first issue on June 23, 1935, until the magazine was suspended in 1944, the Monthly Magazine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was considered the official voice of the Association, with its goals: proclaiming the Word of God to the poor; renew the life of faith and arouse missionary spirit; contribute to preserving and developing Vietnamese culture and especially promote the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.[15] It can be seen that, during the first ten years, in addition to articles about Our Lady, the Monthly magazine had always shared articles from the chaplain of the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, especially in the issues that always had the list of those who asked for prayers, those who gave thanks, especially the testimonies of witnesses who had received grace through the intercession of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Among the testimonies must be mentioned the testimonies of priests, religious, lay brothers and sisters, especially those of bishops, including that of Bishop Ho Ngoc Can… thanksgiving, asking for prayers, testimonies, especially the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help printed on the cover, unchanged for ten years, partly shows how the missionaries had done to promote Marian devotion and to bring the Blessed Mother into every family.

Prayer intentions and thanksgiving section on the Monthly Magazine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Moreover, to understand why the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was soon widely accepted in Vietnam, it is necessary to mention God’s blessings through Her effective intercession, together with the painful history of the Vietnamese people and the loving support of bishops, parish priests and laity. It is thanks to the grace of God and the especially effective support of the diocesan bishops who gave Redemptorists the permission to proclaim the Good News in their dioceses and to establish the Association of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in parishes. The regular presence of bishops on the feasts of the Mother or on the great occasions of the Congregation have attracted many faithful to choose the Shrine of Our Mother as a place of pilgrimage; For example, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Saint Alphon’s canonization (1839-1939), Thai Ha Church was honoured to welcome Bishop Ho Ngoc Can, Bishop of Bui Chu, Vandael Van, Bishop of Hung Hoa, Francois Chaize, Bishop of Hanoi, Artaraz, Bishop of Bac Ninh,[16] or on the occasion of celebrating the centennial anniversary of the public restoration of devotion to the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (1866-1966), at the Redemptorist Church in Saigon, most of the bishops of the Archdiocese of Saigon attended, shared different themes about the Virgin Mary and presided over ceremonies celebrating her on this great occasion.

In addition, according to the Canadian missionaries, “in the rapid growth of devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we can discern a constant that helps us understand why Marian devotion grew so fast. It was the physical and, above all, spiritual suffering caused by years of war that determined the crowd’s devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The more critical it became, the more the war tore throughout the country, the more Vietnamese, guided by their religious sensibilities, gathered around the heavenly Mother. They knew that, with her, they had nothing to fear and that the truly miraculous protection they had received during the four years of war was an invitation to believe in the future.” 17 ]

Today’s Challenges

Statue No. 05 states: Redemptorists “revere Mary under the title of Mother of Perpetual Help, which the Holy See has entrusted to the Congregation with the task of spreading her devotion under that title”.

Father Superior General Michel Brehl, in his letter dated April 19, 2016, on the 150th anniversary of the restoration of public devotion to the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, also recalled this important mission: “as Redemptorist missionaries, we know that it is no coincidence that Our Mother of Perpetual Help has come to us through this wonderful icon. From before 1866, Mary accompanies us in all our missions and apostolates. Following in the footsteps of Saint Alphonsus, love for Mary, Mother of Mercy, has always been a hallmark of the Redemptorist Congregation.”

For nearly 100 years, since the Vice-Provincial Edmond Dionne consecrated the Vice-Province and all present and future Redemptorist confreres to Mother of Perpetual Help, on September 15, 1930, generations of Redemptorists, especially the early missionaries, diligently promoted devotion to the Mother. They were doing it by their own life of filial union with her, as well as by a vast apostolic plan with many different methods, in the same purpose is to make the Vietnamese people love the Mother of Perpetual Help.

Today, the mission that Pius IX gave to the Redemptorists: “Make her known”, continues to be one of the important missions of the Congregation in Vietnam. In fact, more than anyone else, it was Mother of Perpetual Help who made the Redemptorists known and loved in Vietnam. So, in the sense of responsibility and filial piety, what do we do when, it seems, devotion to the Mother is dwindling even in the very lives of the Redemptorist confreres?

Written by: Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong, CSsR
Translated by: Duc Trung Vu, CSsR 

(The original article in Vietnamese has been published on the webgpage dcctvn.org)

Footnotes:

[1] x. Voix des Nôtres: 25 ANS AU VIET NAM, p. 25-38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Voix des Nôtres: 25 ANS AU VIET NAM, p. 25-38.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Gérard Gagnon et A. Trépanier, Les Nôtres au Viêt Nam – Mission Accomplie, p. 81.

[7] x. Voix des Nôtres: 25 ANS AU VIET NAM, p. 25-38.

[8] Voix des Nôtres: 25 ANS AU VIET NAM, p. 25-38.

[9] Báo Đức Mẹ Hằng Cứu Giúp, số 3, tháng 9 năm 1935.

[10] Ibid, số 4 tháng 10 năm 1935.

[11] Ibid, số 49, tháng 8 năm 1939, tr. 238.

[12] Ibid, số 52, tháng 11 năm 1939, tr. 16.

[13] Ibid, số 54, tháng 01 năm 1940.

[14] Báo Đức Mẹ Hằng Cứu Giúp số 62, tháng 9 năm 1940.

[15] x. Báo Đức Bà Hằng Cứu Giúp, số 1, tháng 7 năm 1935.

[16] x. Báo Đức Mẹ Hằng Cứu Giúp, số 54, tháng 1 năm 1940.

[17] x. Voix des Nôtres: 25 ANS AU VIET NAM, p. 25 -38.

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