A Promise Kept
A father nearing the end of his earthly journey looked back on his life with no regrets and with his son Tam sitting at his bedside he shared one last wish, the desire to complete the shrine that he helped start at Holy Cross Cemetery, Brookpark. A statue of our Blessed Mother was erected at the cemetery by several members of the local Vietnamese Catholic community but it was not yet completed when he got sick.
As a father's life was drawing to a close, a son with deep respect and adoration for his father, understood the importance of this dying wish and looking into his father's eyes made a promise that a shrine would be built. That promise commenced a journey of faith to honor a father and create a place of prayer for a community. Love was the foundation of the promise and that love was the last gift a family could give to their father.
Our Lady of La Vang statue in Vietnam
This promise made to a father who sacrificed so much for his family, who instilled in his children a strong Catholic faith and a dedication to the Blessed Mother, to Our Lady of LaVang, intensified the desire to create something unique. The process of building the shrine commenced. Each piece of the canopy was cut with uncompromising precision and every roof tile was separately welded into place.
The shrine took shape because of sacrifice in the name of something greater. With countless hours dedicated for love of family and guided by faith, a structure made of many parts became a shrine, a labor of love to honor the patroness of Vietnam.
To understand the importance of this shrine to the Vietnamese Catholics, one must only understand that Our Lady often appears when needed most, to provide comfort to those persecuted for their faith as she did in the forest of LaVang in 1798. As Vietnamese Catholics were escaping the onslaught of the communists seeking their destruction, it was their Catholic faith and their belief in Our Lady of LaVang that brought great comfort.
Tam and his brother Tri met with me to discuss the Catholic Cemeteries Association's rules and regulations regarding monuments and they explained the importance of having the monument placed within 100 days of the burial. After the cemetery issues were resolved, the brothers shared with me the history of the Pham family and the story of their lives in Vietnam.
I wanted to know everything about their family history, when they left Vietnam, how they ended up in Cleveland and what they experienced as they were leaving Saigon during the fall? As I shared some of my parents' experiences escaping communist Yugoslavia, a common thread began to weave our lives together. Despite the distance between our two native countries and the diversity of our cultures our stories were so similar and our faith brought us together.
Our paths crossed because of our Catholic faith and it is that common faith that became the foundation of a wonderful friendship. These refugees who escaped the takeover of their homeland by a group who sought the destruction of our faith found themselves in contact with me, the son of refugees who escaped the same destructive movement. In those moments standing at the grave of a beloved father, our experiences bound us and our Catholic faith made us brothers. Little did I know how the tapestry that is my life would be enriched by a meeting with the Pham family at the gravesite of their beloved husband and father.
It is because of my Catholic faith that I found myself in a position to be introduced to the Pham family and once again I was reminded of the beauty of my faith. At that moment the beauty was seen in a mutual devotion to the Blessed Mother. In that moment I became more aware of the power of my Catholic faith, a faith that transcends nationality and outward appearance and unifies us under one Catholic Apostolic Church.
Our Blessed Mother has many titles that connect her to each of us and through these many names we have given her we are reminded of the universal bond of our Catholic faith. Standing before the Shrine of Our Lady of LaVang located at Holy Cross Cemetery, I am given the opportunity to reflect on the journey that began at the gates of Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base and ended at the bedside of a good man whose earthly life was ending so his new life seated at the table of our Lord could begin and am reminded of a promise kept.
Andrej N. Lah
Catholic Cememteries Association
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