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Vietnamese devotion to the Blessed Mother

The Vietnamese Catholic community in Vermont has a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother.
 
“We were taught that when we have a hard time with something, you come to her,” explained Thao Vu, a native of Saigon who has lived in Vermont for 15 years. “She helps.”
 
Vu, now an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and religious education teacher at St. Mark Church in Burlington, said most Catholic churches in Vietnam have statues of Our Lady outside with a prayer garden: “Everybody is welcome to sit there and pray and be peaceful.”
 
About 150 members of the Vietnamese Catholic community gather monthly at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington for Mass celebrated by a Vietnamese priest from Canada who also hears confessions.
 
Vu, the mother of two daughters, said in Vietnamese culture mothers are highly respected. “She takes care of the whole family: Mom is the best!”
 
So it makes sense that Vietnamese Catholics revere the Blessed Mother. “The first prayer we have to learn is ‘Hail Mary,’” Vu said, adding that the rosary is a particularly important devotion as is praying the ‘Hail Mary’ for safe travels before taking a trip.
 
Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics from throughout the United States attend the annual Marian Days in Carthage, Mo., each August to celebrate faith and fellowship in honor of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary and in memory of their homeland.
 
Vu has never attended the event that has taken place since 1978 on the campus of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix, but she hopes to someday.
 
“If you want something, you ask your mother,” she said, explaining why she asks in prayer for Mary’s intercession. “In my heart my mother has a special place. In [Jesus’] heart He has a special place for His mother. He cannot say no to her, hopefully.”
 
Originally published in the Summer 2017 Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Mary's mantle

Superman has his red power cape. Elijah wore a cape to manifest his divine authority. Most famously, the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed wearing a cape-like garment known as a mantle, often blue and sometimes adorned with stars, to highlight her extraordinary role in history.
 
In the Church’s oldest Marian prayer we say, “Beneath your mantle we take refuge, O Mother of God.”
 
Medieval artists often depicted Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mercy, with her arms outstretched to reveal a crowd of tiny suppliants huddled in the folds of her mantle. All kinds of people found a place at Mary’s feet – from princes and pious nuns to slaves and peasants.
 
In The Virgin of the Navigators, a Spanish work, Our Lady’s mantle is full enough to envelope a whole armada of ships!
 
Through these paintings, whether they were seeking refuge from pirates or the
plague, medieval women and men expressed their faith in Mary’s motherly protection and powerful intercession.
 
Our Lady’s mantle had a special significance in the New World too. As Mary appeared to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, she assured him, “Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. … Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? … Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?”
 
Mary explained to Juan Diego that a sanctuary should be built on the hill of Tepeyac so that she could demonstrate her merciful concern for God’s people: “I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection,” she told him. “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
 
The foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Jeanne Jugan, was also known for her mantle, a black hooded cape that billowed in the Breton winds and under which she fingered her rosary beads as she traveled on foot seeking alms for the elderly poor to whom she had given a home. Perhaps finding inspiration in the traditional images of Our Lady of Mercy, several artists have portrayed Jeanne Jugan gathering the elderly under her mantle and holding them tightly to her breast.
 
I find solace imagining those I love and care for sheltered in the folds of Mary’s mantle or nestled close to the heart of St. Jeanne Jugan. But I also sense a challenge, and I believe that is why God has inspired me to contemplate these images, which manifest the powerful yet gentle and merciful love of God himself.
 
I believe that God is calling the Church today, and each of us, to open our arms, reach out and draw all those on the peripheries of society into our circle of love. “We are called to bring to everyone the embrace of God, who bends with a mother’s tenderness over us … stooped down in a gesture of consolation,” our Holy Father once said to consecrated women and men.
 
These words of Pope Francis can motivate all of us. This is how we will be missionary disciples who bring the joy of the Gospel to the field hospital of today’s world.
 
St. Jeanne Jugan’s feast day is celebrated on Aug. 30, and during these last weeks of summer we celebrate Mary’s Assumption and queenship, as well as her birthday. On these special days let’s ask Our Lady and St. Jeanne Jugan to teach us how to extend a mantle of compassion over wounded souls, creating – and becoming ourselves – sanctuaries of that powerful yet gentle love which animates the heart of Christ.
 
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 

Mary: a model for every stage of life

By Mary Morrell

When my first granddaughter was about two years old, she loved to climb, jump and swing – always from the highest point she could manage. Anything a worried grandma like me would fear she loved to do, and my son happily obliged her.
 
One day he had her by the ankles and was spinning her around as fast as he could. She was screaming and laughing, and I was just plain screaming, “Stop!”
 
I was worried that his hands would slip or he would trip over his own feet or some other catastrophe would happen. My granddaughter, on the other hand, wanted one thing: “Do it again, Daddy!”
 
While I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, she wasn’t the least bit afraid. She had complete faith in her father. How like Mary and her unfailing trust in God, I thought.
 
Mary could have easily thought her life was beginning to spin out of control when the Angel Gabriel visited her to tell her she was going to have a child and not just any child: God’s child.
 
Just think of the circumstances: She was a teenager, engaged but not married, having to tell her future husband about her pregnancy. How would he respond? Would there be a wedding or would she be ostracized or maybe stoned to death? If, like so many other young women, Mary had imagined her future, this probably wasn’t how she saw her life unfolding.
 
Then there was the prophecy of Simeon shared when Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the temple: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many may be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
 
These words warn a very young Mary that she will suffer along with her son as He fulfills God’s work.
 
It has not always been easy for me to relate to Mary. Every image of her I had ever seen was one of youthful, radiant beauty, and holiness far beyond my reach. For us, time quickly takes away the bloom of youth, and our imperfect nature sometimes makes holiness seem inaccessible.
 
Then, as an adult, I discovered an image that resonated with me and my relationship with Mary blossomed.
 
On a visit to one of our Catholic schools, I saw a life-size bronze statue of an aged Mary -- as she might have looked as she stood at the foot of the cross, watching her son die a painful death.
 
She was seated in a chair. Her face had aged, her hair was pulled back in a bun, her hands reflected a life of hard work, but she emanated a beauty that came from wisdom and the experience of living life with all its joys and sorrows.
 
This is the Mary who persisted, who was resilient in the face of circumstances that she could not control. The Mary I saw before me was a woman of grace who must have gotten tired as we all do when we age, who probably had aching bones and muscles and who sometimes felt overcome with weariness.
 
Finally, I had found the Mary I could truly relate to.
 
As I began to see my life in line with Mary’s, I began to see that Mary’s holiness can be our holiness as we try to live our ordinary lives with extraordinary faith.

Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic.
 
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