Redemptorist missionaries made Our Lady known in Vietnam
The mission that Pope Pius IX gave to the Redemptorists in 1866 remains important today
Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong, CSsR
On April 26, 1866, Pope Pius IX, when giving an icon of Our 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 welcomed her into their homes and worked together to make the world know her.
Vietnamese Catholics have had a special devotion to Our Lady. However, according to Canadian missionaries, until 1925, the year the first missionaries arrived in Hue, it was quite certain that the title of Mother of Perpetual Help had not been publicly worshipped in Vietnam.
Yet, in 1946, Father Marcel Bélanger could affirm from Saigon: “Of all the churches I have visited, there is not a church without an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.”
Surely no one can forget the photo of two women fleeing Vietnam’s communist-controlled zone in 1954. Among the meager possessions they are carrying is an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
The first cardinal of Vietnam, Joseph Trinh Nhu Khue, once remarked: “In the north, since 1954, only two outstanding activities remain: the Eucharistic Youth Movement and the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.”
The establishment of pilgrimage centers was also a decisive factor in the success of the Redemptorist mission to spread the love of God through her intercession
Shortly after the founding of the Redemptorists’ Vice Province of Vietnam on June 4, 1930, Father Edmond Dionne consecrated the vice province to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
She was widely introduced to the common people by parish missions. The establishment of pilgrimage centers was also a decisive factor in the success of the Redemptorist mission to spread the love of God through her intercession, attracting even non-Catholics to implore her.
In Thai Ha, the first novena to Our Lady was held on Dec. 3, 1932, with about 20 people attending. However, just a few months later, attendances had grown to thousands. The soaring attendances 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!” Novenas at Hue Redemptorist Chapel also attracted large crowds.
Particularly in Saigon, the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help soon developed due to the dynamism in the practice of devotion. Since 1946, in the chapel of Ky Dong Monastery, the novena has taken place twice a week.
The establishment of the Association of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Saint Alphonsus contributed significantly to the popularization of Marian devotion. It was launched on Dec. 8, 1932, at the Redemptorist monastery in Hue.
In 1934, the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was established in Thai Ha, Hanoi. The number of members quickly reached 20,000. In 1939 alone, dozens of branches were established in many parishes of the dioceses of Hung Hoa, Phat Diem, Thai Binh, Hanoi, Hai Phong and Vinh.
In the ’30s and ’40s, the vice province appointed spiritual directors, ready to be present at parishes with members to organize the Marian Triduum.
Another effective means of promoting devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was a monthly magazine bearing her name. From its first issue on June 23, 1935, until it was suspended in 1944, the magazine was considered the official voice of the Association of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
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.
Diocesan bishops gave Redemptorists 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 Our Mother or on the great occasions of the congregation attracted many faithful to choose the Shrine of Our Mother as a place of pilgrimage.
For example, on the 100th anniversary of Saint Alphonsus’ canonization in 1939, Thai Ha Church welcomed Bishop Ho Ngoc Can of Bui Chu, Bishop Vandael Van of Hung Hoa, Bishop Francois Chaize of Hanoi, Bishop Eugenio Artaraz Emaldi of Bac Ninh.
On the centennial anniversary of the public restoration of devotion to the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in 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.
Spiritual suffering of years of war
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.”
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, generations of Redemptorists, especially the early missionaries, have diligently promoted devotion to Our Mother by their own lives of filial union with her as well as by a vast apostolic plan with many different methods.
Today, the mission that Pius IX gave to the Redemptorists to “make her known” continues to be one of the important missions of the congregation in Vietnam. In fact, more than anyone else, it was the Mother of Perpetual Help who made the Redemptorists known and loved in Vietnam. So, in a sense of responsibility and filial piety, what do we do when, as it seems, devotion to Our Mother is dwindling even in the very lives of Redemptorist confreres?
This article was translated from Vietnamese by Duc Trung Vu, CSsR.