From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

St. Charles pastor directs National Basilica’s Vietnamese chapel project

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the July 4, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

The dedication date is far into the future, but in time, Vietnamese Catholics in the United States will have a chapel in the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Directing the project is Father Joachim Le Quang Hiên, pastor of St. Charles Parish in Spokane.

Sponsors of the chapel’s construction, which is expected to be completed in 2004, are the Community of the Vietnamese Clergy and Religious and the Federation of the Vietnamese Catholics in the United States of America. The chapel will be dedicated to Our Lady of Lavang, a Marian apparition which took place in Vietnam.

While most Catholics may know about the Basilica in Washington, many may not be aware that it contains over 60 chapels on its two levels. The chapels have been built by different ethnic communities in the United States, dedicated to manifestations of Mary or to saints special to that ethnic group. The many chapels reflect the immigrant heritage of the United States as well as the universality of the Catholic Church.

Designing the Vietnamese chapel is architect Le Quang Tuan of Berkeley, Calif. Tuan, 30, came to the United States in 1994. He was in Spokane recently to “take a little break,” said Father Hiên, who planned to show him the city.

The chapel will be built on the lower level of the Shrine in what is called the Crypt Church. The space is a small, narrow rectangle, but Tuan skillfully and creatively “simplified the geometry” to make effective use of it. One important consideration was that people be able “to move easily” in and out of the chapel, he said.

Tuan incorporated several elements into the chapel that reflect the heritage of his people. One element is water; the chapel will be the first one in the Shrine to have an illuminated, symbolic pool of water. Many Vietnamese left their war-torn country by boat and said Tuan, “came (to this country) by boat.”

The pool will be situated under the statue of Our Lady of Lavang. The statue itself will hang on the narrow end of the rectangular space. The statue and pool will be illuminated with special lighting arrangements.

Another element is the chapel’s shape. Curved bronze panels will be installed on the long side of the chapel, giving it a rounded shape, like the coastline of central Vietnam.

The project began almost two years ago when Vietnamese clergy began seeking permission to build the chapel. This was followed by a two-day Vietnamese pilgrimage to the National Shrine on Aug. 22, 1998, the 200th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Lavang. The pilgrimage drew 12,000 people, the largest such group to come to the Shrine up until that time.

The next step for the chapel is fund-raising, expected to take about a year. The Vietnamese people will pay the chapel’s estimated $2 million price.

There are approximately 350,000 Vietnamese in the United States. About 500 live in the Spokane Diocese.

The Basilica is the patronal church for Catholics in the United States. This beautiful structure on the campus of The Catholic University of America was started by Bishop John Shahan in the 1920s to honor the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the patroness of the United States. Pope St. Pius X gave the project his blessing and its first donation. There is a chapel dedicated to St. Pius in the Shrine.

Thousands of people from the U.S. and foreign countries visit the Shrine each year. It also has a website.


Our Lady of Lavang

In August 1798, the king in Vietnam began a terrible persecution of the country’s Catholics. Catholics in the city of Quang Tri hid in a nearby forest at Lavang, about 55 miles northwest of Hue, in central Vietnam. On Aug. 22, 1798, it is said, the Blessed Mother appeared to the group of frightened, exhausted people, offering them comfort and solace. She was holding a baby; two angels stood at her side. The Lady appeared there many times during the 88 years of persecution.

People continued to come and pray at the site at Lavang. A church was built at Lavang in 1915 and a second, larger church in 1928. It became a Vietnamese national shrine in 1961and in 1962 Blessed Pope John XXIII made it a basilica.

Ten years later the building was destroyed during the Vietnamese war.

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