Thai Binh Province: Thousands of Thai Binh’s Catholics on Feb 2 had flooded the diocese’s Cathedral in celebrating The Cherry Blossom Holy Year. Miraculously, the weather had warmed up considerably after days of heavy rains and wind-chills.

Earlier in the afternoon, people started to arrive, cherry blossom branches in hands. The Cathedral’s courtyard instantly became animated with all the commotion from scores of vehicles and people coming from suburban parishes throughout the diocese. Coming to this holy event besides the religious groups from the Cathedral, also were the presence of brass bands from parishes around the area, making the event even more festive and meaningful.

It was understood that this day was also for the gathering of everyone in the diocese, from the priests, monks and nuns, seminarians, to the parish’s councils of as many as 90 parishes in the diocese, in order to come offer their well wishes to His Excellency Bishop Francisco Xavier Nguyen Van Sang, the beloved shepherd of the diocese.

Following the reading of good wishes to the Bishop from Monsignor Nguyen Phuc Hanh and the representative from all parishes’ councils, the whole family of the diocese had joined one another in a feast marking the end of the lunar year at the bishop’s residence.

As planned by the organizing committee, the congregation would gather at the Cathedral’s square at 6:45 pm for the cherry blossoms to be blessed by the Bishop. The morale was high when the Bishop solemnly announced the beginning of the Cherry Blossom Holy Year, highlighted by the thunderous clapping from a joyous congregation.

After the Bishop’s remark, a procession was to follow in a sea of cherry blossoms and candle light. This large body was formed by all walks of life, from the priests to the monks or nuns; from the seminarians to the parishioners. All had gathered around their shepherd at the holiest moment of the year. As sincere as it can be for the people from the farmland of Thai Binh, the faithful had poured out their hearts and souls in a Holy Year’s thanksgiving prayer to God which read as follows:

“Our father in heaven,

The source of all our blessings

You loved us so much

That you had sent your only son to be among us, and to save us.

Your love for Thai Binh diocese is so unique

That you would shower us with your grace during the 3 holy years

Let each one of us be the recipient of your kindness

Your love is upon us

When you bless us with 3 Cherry Blossom Holy Years

So that each one among us

Will become more Christian like Jesus

The older we get

The more faithful and blessed we’ll become!”

Present in the procession were 4 vehicles which according to the letter of diocese’s superiors to the whole Christian community symbolized the 4 Great Carriages each member of the diocese has to cling to in their road to heaven. Each of these vehicles was a symbol of resolutions in which Thai Binh’s diocesans would carry out in the up-coming Cherry Blossom Holy Year:

-The diocese would encourage veneration of the Sacred Heart, the source of God’s blessing upon us, which strengthened us spiritually and materially.

-Encourage veneration of Holy Mother of Lavang through celebrating mass on first Saturdays of the months at shrine of Holy Mother of Lavang at the Cathedral. Besides, Thai Binh’s diocesans can show their respect for the Holy Mother of Lavang right at home when attending mass is impossible, by gathering for prayers at home with family members or with other families.

-Promote social and charitable works. Every parish would participate in this project by observing and making a list of families in need. Subsequently a visit to these families will be made in order to provide them with material and or spiritual assistance they truly need. Also being highly encouraged is participation in movements beneficial to social welfare such as building houses for the needy, aiding the flood victims, visiting patients with HIV or Agent Orange.

-Promote the popularity of catechism or bible study. Also build or expand buildings to accommodate bible study as part of the greater plan in training catechists or bible instructors of all ages. Encourage everyone to participate in training courses offered by the diocese or local parish appropriate to their age and or level of education.

As the procession continued in the misty air of a springtime evening in Northern Vietnam, accented by the beauty of flowers and the sound of music, the crowd started to sing “Welcome the Cherry Blossom Holy Year” written by Nam Phuong instead of the psalm “Go to the Temple” as the Jews used to sing. Their joyfulness was openly expressed on their faces, as they were marching with enthusiasm toward a new year full of blessings God has just bestowed upon them

In his homily, the Bishop had offered words of thanksgiving to God. He also reminded his flocks to keep trying to achieve the goals during the Holy Year which include venerating the Sacred Heart of Jesus as well as of Holy Mother of Lavang, studying the words of God, and doing more for social justice.

At the end of his homily, the Bishop had wished everyone in the congregation would become just like the Cherry Blossom Jesus: the older they get, the wiser they will become with the grace of God.

The celebration had ended with everyone leaving with branches of cherry blossoms in their hands as proof of their determination in carrying out the bishop’s instruction:

“Jump higher, run faster and advance further on your way home to heaven”