When planning for the Diocese of Orange’s first ever Our Lady of La Vang Marian Days celebration, the planning committee concluded that including a full schedule of activities for youth and young adults was essential, said Laura Schuberg, coordinator of youth ministry and confirmation for the Diocese.
PAUL J. KIM, AN INSPIRATIONAL CATHOLIC SPEAKER FROM TEXAS, TALKS TO THE YOUTH ATTENDEES OF THE INAUGURAL MARIAN DAYS CELEBRATION AT THE CHRIST CATHEDRAL CAMPUS. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIERNAN COLIFLORES/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
Judging by the enthusiasm displayed by attendees at the youth and young adult sessions, the Diocese made the right call.
Six sessions geared towards the under-30 age group drew hundreds of participants over the two days of the festival, which was held at Christ Cathedral on July 1 and 2.
Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics turned out to celebrate the Virgin Mary, who is said to have appeared in the Forest of La Vang in Vietnam in 1798, a time when Catholics were being persecuted and killed.
“The committee was really forward- thinking in realizing that if we really want to continue to pass along our faith, we need to make sure that there is a place for (youth and young adults) to be known and to be loved and for people to speak their language and get to know them at a place just for them,” Schuberg said. “For me, what I was really excited about especially, was that this is a place for all youth, but in a particular way, we wanted the Vietnamese youth to feel like they are home.”
Father Ben Tran and Sister Kimberly Nguyen kicked off the first youth workshop in the gymnasium on Friday, July 1 with ice-breaking activities that included games titled “Anti-Boomer Trivia,” “Stuff Teens Know but Adults Do Not” and “All About Mary.”
Fr. Tran, who serves at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in San Clemente, then shared his thoughts on Mary’s significance in the Catholic faith.
“The beautiful thing about Mary and Jesus is they are always connected,” Fr. Tran said. “It’s said that behind every good man is an amazing woman. With Jesus, behind him from the very beginning was Mary. Jesus is part of her very flesh.”
Paul J. Kim, a noted youth and young adult Catholic speaker, author and musician, gave talks on Friday and Saturday, sharing about his own transformational experiences as a hard partying but conflicted college student at UCLA before one day feeling the “the presence of Mary” guiding him to become closer to Jesus.
Kim then began a regular routine of prayer and reflection.
A FULL SCHEDULE OF ACTIVITIES AND WORKSHOPS GEARED TOWARDS YOUTH AND YOUNG ADULTS WAS OFFERED DURING MARIAN DAYS, JULY 1 AND 2 AT CHRIST CATHEDRAL CAMPUS. PHOTO COURTESY OF DREW KELLEY/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“I felt more peace, joy and purpose from 25 minutes of prayer than from than a whole month’s worth of screwing around,” Kim said. “She was leading me closer to Christ. She led me to confession. She led me closer to the Eucharist. She led me to Mass. It was all through this motherly, gentle, beautiful, silent presence of Our Lady.”
Joseph Nguyen, age 18 from Garden Grove, came with members of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, a group of youngsters from churches throughout the county.
“I never really thought about venerating Mary, but (Kim) gave me a different view,” Nguyen said. “There is a younger way of looking at things. I liked his enthusiasm.”
Nicholas Dang, 14, from Garden Grove, said he’d been a bit distant from the church recently and came to Marian Days wanting to reconnect with his faith.
“After the first session, I was really into it,” Dang said.
In a Saturday session titled “Vice to Virtue,” young adults heard candid testimonies from Kenny Nguyen and Christine Vu, a young couple who each shared about using a variety of spiritual tools to emerge from addictive, soul-crushing lifestyles.
Vu talked about being in a destructive, sinful relationship which she kept secret from her family and friends.
“Deep down, I knew it was wrong,” Vu said.
After finally ending the relationship, healing was more painful than the relationship itself, she said.
“Inside I felt that shame, that regret,” Vu said. “All the lies. All the sins. They were still part of my wounds. I still felt the emptiness, and like I was a disgrace.”
A friend suggested a Catholic You- Tube video, which then led Vu to more Catholic social networking sites and apps, which she continues to use daily.
“I learned that God doesn’t love me just because I do things that are not sinful versus sinful,” Vu said. “He loves me whether I deserve it or not. So now I stand here before you, not just as Christina, but ‘Christ-ina,’ not just because Christ is in me, but that he has been with me all along.”
One participant spoke openly about his long-time addiction issues. He said he and a friend then visited Lourdes, a town in southern France where a Marian apparition – an appearance by Mary – is said to have occurred in 1858.
Catholics make pilgrimages to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes with hopes of healing from addictions and illness.
He said he went home and after a week or so, for the first time in his life, felt a desire to come clean. So, he went to confession and forged a close bond with a priest who told him to pray the Hail Mary whenever he feels tempted to sin.
After the coronavirus kept her isolated, Emily Dang, 18, from Garden Grove, said reconnecting with friends in the youth movement in such a large gathering was invigorating.
“I think it was nice to have something to reflect and refresh my relationship with God and deepen my faith again,” Dang said.