The young Carthage professionals who make up the Carthage Chamber of Commerce Emerging Leaders got a detailed tour of the massive festival that tens of thousands of people to Carthage every August in one of the largest religious pilgrimages in North America.
More than 25 members of the Emerging Leaders toured Marian Days Thursday at the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix (CMC) complex at Fairview and Grand avenues.
Father Thomas Vu, with the CMC, served as the tour guide and took the group through the Vietnam Martyrs Auditorium, a building that serves as a gathering place and memorial to the Vietnamese Catholics who died in service to the church in Vietnam.
Carthage Chamber President Mark Elliff said he saw parts of the CMC complex that he’d never been in during the tour.
“This was my first time the martyrs' room and I was amazed at the torture treatments shown,” Elliff said after the tour. “It's hard to imagine these things happening, and the fact that they still happen today. From that room to the massive auditorium was impressive.”
Another CEL member, Jake Heisten, said he enjoyed the tour and learned quite a bit from it.
“The tour was great,” he said. “What I was most impressed with was the hall of martyrs and the relics. The descriptions of how they died with the pictures put a face behind the history. It was really neat to see how this campus evolved into what it is today.”
For many in the group, who's ages range in the 30s, the Marian Days Celebration has been around for as long as they can remember. This year marked the 35th gathering.
“I love it,” Elliff said. “It's great that we have a central location for all these people to come and reunite. It's not only great for them, but great for us to see and learn, and experience a different culture here in Carthage.”
Vu told the group about the history of Marian Days, which is in its 35th year.
Accurate counts are not kept anymore, but CMC Fathers and officials estimate that between 50,000 and 60,000 people form a tent city in the blocks around the complex.
Vu said the 35-year milestone anniversary may draw more people to Marian Days than in a normal year.
“In any event when you have a significant anniversary there usually will be a little bit more people than normal,” Vu said. But annually, we believe we’re around that number, roughly around 50,000 to 60,000 people. We’re guessing from past experience.”
With record high temperatures rising to 105 or higher in the middle of the day, dealing with the heat is a challenge, but Vu said the pilgrims that come to Carthage are used to the heat.
Page 2 of 2 - “People who come to this pilgrimage, they come and they know its going to be hot,” he said “They accept the hot, it doesn’t matter what the weather is, they still come here with a heart wanting to pray and lift up their soul to God and Mary. If it’s hot, they take more showers and there is also lots of stations where there is water if they need it. Water is provided in many places. People go along with the weather.”
Marian Days opened on Thursday with opening ceremonies and a Mass at the Garden of Prayer for those whose names are inscribed in the Garden on the north side of the main building in the complex.
Several events are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, with events running from 7:30 a.m. to midnight both days. The festival wraps up on Sunday morning.