CARTHAGE, Mo. (AP) — Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics from across the U.S. are traveling to southwestern Missouri for an annual religious gathering.
The Marian Days celebration in Carthage begins Thursday, kicking off a four-day festival that reunites families and friends separated after the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Joplin Globe Reported. The event is held at the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer as a way to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Peter Chau Le attended the inaugural festival about 40 years ago and has been honoring the tradition ever since.
Le is one of many refugees who fled Vietnam in the mid-1970s after North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam. Le traveled with his wife from their home in Van Buren, Arkansas, to the Carthage festival this year. They plan to camp out on a local resident’s lawn.
“We love to be here enjoying nature, talking to people and looking for friends,” Le said. “It’s peaceful for your mind.”
Carthage has welcomed the yearly religious gathering ever since a group of Vietnamese priests and brothers came to the city in the late 1970s and established a monastery.
“This is like a reunion,” Le said. “Sometimes you don’t see your friends and family for a long time, and this is the time when you get to do that.”
The festival saw more than 100,000 visitors last year, according to the Carthage Police Department. Police project even more festival-goers to attend this year. Vendors from as far as Corona, California, and Raleigh, North Carolina have already set up food tents near the site.
The campground was nearing maximum capacity Tuesday with 750 cars and an estimated 3,300 campers, said Police Chief Greg Dagnan.
Vietnamese Catholics that travel to Carthage have built a strong relationship with the city over the years, Le said.
“We feel like we have brought something to the city,” he said.
Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com