Almost everything about Marian Days 2018 is similar to past festivals, with one big exception. The Vietnamese Roman Catholic Congregation that hosts the massive pilgrimage in Carthage is hosting its first Marian Days under its new name, The Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer, or CMR.
Almost everything about Marian Days 2018 is similar to past festivals, with one big exception.
The Vietnamese Roman Catholic Congregation that hosts the massive pilgrimage in Carthage is hosting its first Marian Days under its new name, The Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer, or CMR.
Since it was founded in Vietnam in the 1950s, the order has been known as the Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix, or CMC, and it brought that name to Carthage when about 200 of the then-600 members escaped a crumbling South Vietnam by boat in 1975.
Father Paul Tran, current vice-director and soon-to-be director of the Carthage house of the CRM, said the name change was dictated by the Catholic Church in the Vatican, “ because people misunderstood the term Coredemptrix.”
“When we said Coredemptrix, they thought we wanted to put Mary on the same level as Jesus,” Tran, who joined the house in 1985 after escaping Vietnam by boat as a 9-year-old child in 1979, said. “For us it was just that she cooperated with him, coredemptrix means she cooperated with Jesus in his redeeming role, but people misunderstood this and that's why they wanted us to change the name. We don't want to go through every time to explain what that means.”
Tran said the name change became official in December 2017, but it has taken time to change letterhead, legal documents and signs, including the sign at Highland and Grand in Carthage.
“We want to have the sign on Grand changed pretty soon,” Tran said. “On paperwork we already change the name with all the letterhead. It took us a long time to go through the changing process. This will be the first Marian Days under the new name, the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer. It's the same significance, but it's different terms.”
Tran said the initials, CRM, may seem out of order, but they coincide with the Latin translation of the new name. Also, the initials CMR were already taken by a Vietnamese religious convent in Springfield.
Prior to Marian Days, the Fathers of the CRM hosted members of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce for a viewing of a video documentary called VietnAmerica.
Tran said the documentary speaks about the struggles of the “boat people,” refugees who fled Vietnam in rickety, small boats and braved rough seas, pirates, hunger, thirst and other dangers in a bid for freedom.
Between 1975 and the mid 1990s, about two million Vietnamese fled their home country for freedom abroad, and roughly half of them died in the attempt, according to the documentary.
Father Tran said he went through the same journey with his family as the people in the documentary in 1979, and he considers himself lucky to have survived.
“Everything they described, I went through in 1979, when I was 9 years old,” Tran told the Chamber members. “Except for my boat, we didn't get attacked by the Thailand pirates, the rest, it's all the same. Our boat went through almost a month at sea before we found a refugee camp. It was in Indonesia, we went into Malaysia, and we got put out. We went into Singapore and we got put out, and the second time we had no water, no food, anything, and no diesel for our boat. We just floated on the ocean, and somehow God brought us one of these islands and a fisherman brought us into land.”
Tran said his extended family, about 68 people, all rode in one of three boats that traveled together. One boat disappeared, and he still doesn't know what happened to it and the people on board.
“It was a small boat,” Tran said. “I remember my uncle he was on the side washing his clothes, that's how small it was. You could reach down to the water and wash your hands. You imagine floating on the ocean on a boat that small.”
Tran was in the refugee camp in Malaysia for about six months before he and his family found sponsors that brought them to California.
In 1986, he made the life-changing decision to join the Congregation in Carthage.
Congregation in Carthage
The founder of the Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix, the Most Rev. Dominic Maria Trần Đình Thủ, knew things would get bad if the communists overran South Vietnam, so just as events were unfolding in 1975, they sent about 200 priests and students out in boats to freedom.
At that time, the U.S. Navy had established a cordon of civilian and military ships outside Vietnamese territorial waters to collect the mass of people trying to flee communist rule.
The 200 priests were saved, but when they arrived in America, there was no place for them to stay as a congregation, so many were scattered two by two across the country to different sponsors.
In October 1975, about 40 members of the CMC were staying in a refugee camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, when a chaplain there notified Cardinal Bernard Law, who was then the leader of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese.
Law arranged for the group to be brought to Carthage to what was at that time a mostly abandoned home of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The Missionary Oblates had bought the former Ozark Wesleyan College building and grounds in 1944 and dedicated the Our Lady of the Ozarks College that year.
The college had graduated its last class in 1971 and the building sat under the care of one Father until Cardinal Law arranged for it to become the new home of the CMC Fathers and their students.
“In 1975, they had run out of members and they were about to close this place, give it up,” Tran said. “Cardinal Law learned about it and he said rent it to me, give it to me so I can bring this Vietnamese religious community here. The first group, about 40 of us, Cardinal Law brought us back here, then the Oblate Fathers continued to stay here to help us how to incorporate into American Life. Cardinal Law, through the national news or newspapers, he said anywhere there's a member of this community in the country, please send them back here. After several months, every one of our members congregated back here.”
Land of opportunity
Father Tran said many of the original 200 left the Congregation, facing pressure to provide for family facing crushing poverty in Vietnam.
So many of them left, but slowly, members like myself joined the community, and right now about half of us are from that group in 1975 and half of us are boat people who joined later,” Tran said. “This is a land of opportunity, back in Vietnam, I lived on a boat, my house was on a boat, so I have no education, so when I stepped my foot in America, I was 10 years old. My first school was when I was 10. I started from scratch. During the day I learned English and at night I went back home and self taught myself how to read and write in Vietnamese. I was lucky enough that I made it here and I started anew in the land of opportunity, I was able to have an education and if I had been left in Vietnam, I don't think I would be at this stage. I'd be either illiterate and I don't know what would happen to me.”
In September, Tran, who has served as vice director of the Carthage House of the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer for eight years, will take over as director, from Provincial Minister Louis Nhien, one of the original members.
“Father Louis, he's going to go to Sacramento to be pastor of one of the big parishes over there,” Tran said. “We're going to exchange offices on September 15. Right now we have about 120 members and during the year, we have about 60 who live here and take care of this place. We run this place by ourselves, we don't have many outside workers. We have some Hispanic workers who help us with the yard work. About 49 of us work in parishes around the nation, we have 23 locations around the nation helping out parishes, Vietnamese and American parishes.”