Vietnamese Catholics work hard to rebuild after Katrina

May 22, 2006

Advocate staff photographer
Published: May 20, 2006

(Page 1 of 2)
NEW ORLEANS — A thousand voices recited the rosary in Vietnamese as  they paraded debris-littered streets, past gutted homes
and FEMA trailers.

Their shoulders bore flower-adorned statues of Mary through a devastated neighborhood near the University  of New Orleans on the way to Our Lady of La Vang Mission.

Inside the church, the scent of freshly laid carpet lingered as Tran Dinh Truong knelt before a statue of the Virgin Mother.

Truong had come from New York City for last weekend’s annual convention honoring Mary — an event he has never missed since its inception in 1992.

Each May, thousands of Vietnamese pilgrims, from as far away as New York and California, come for the sacred festival — a celebration made perhaps more special this time because of obstacles overcome since Hurricane Katrina.

Though the crowd was about a fourth its usual size, the celebration was needed to demonstrate the resilience of the congregation and its commitment to faith, participants said.

Simon Dinh, a youth group leader from St. Petersburg, Fla., who has attended all 14 conventions, explained that Mary holds a special place for Vietnamese Catholics.

According to tradition, Mary appeared to believers in Vietnam on multiple occasions to offer healing and encouragement.

So, soon after the hurricane, Dinh contacted the Rev. Dominic Huyen Nguyen, pastor of Our Lady of La Vang, and learned the annual event would go on no matter what.

“My reaction right away was, we have to do it,” Dinh said.

But more than eight months ago, the church was a mess, much like most of the homes around it remain today.

The Rev. Anton Ba Phan, a parish priest, first saw the extent of the damage a month after Katrina made landfall.

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