Catholic Sentinel photos by Jon DeBellis
Adorer of the Holy Cross Sister Bich Diep helps Regina Chu with her hair before the procession.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Jon DeBellis
Adorer of the Holy Cross Sister Bich Diep helps Regina Chu with her hair before the procession.
Archbishop Alexander Sample urged Catholics gathered at this year's annual Freedom Mass to be stalwarts for religious liberty.

"The greatest liberty that we enjoy is religious liberty," said the archbishop during his homily. "It is something we should never take for granted."

The archbishop told the more than 5,000 at the Mass to "remain vigilant" and attentive in their understanding of religious liberty and to fight for the right "to live out and practice our faith in our daily lives as well as in our churches."

For the 39th year, former refugees and their families gathered at The Grotto in Northeast Portland to give thanks for their freedom here in the United States and Canada.

The annual Freedom Mass, held near Independence Day, is organized by Portland’s Vietnamese Catholics. Many in the older generation escaped persecution in their native land because of the communist regime’s antipathy toward Catholicism in the post-war years. Representatives from the Laotian/Hmong, Filipino, Polish and Eritrean communities also attend the Mass.

"We've held this Mass every year since 1975 and we are excited for our 40th anniversary next year," said Father Dat Pham, pastor at Our Lady of Lavang Parish in Northeast Portland. "We give thanks to Mary at the Mass for bringing us to this great country, and to celebrate and pray for religious freedom — the ability to be a free person in Christ."

The Freedom Mass is largely organized and led by lay Catholics. The Adorers of the Holy Cross, a Vietnamese women’s Religious community, teach children the liturgical dances that precede Mass.

"A lot of hard work from parishioners and others goes into the Mass," said Francis Pham, a member of the pastoral council at Our Lady of Lavang. "We prepare for it all year as a family."

Pham noted that the whole celebration would never be possible without donations from parishioners and the volunteers in the cafeteria who spent hours preparing snacks and refreshments. There were events at Our Lady of Lavang parish all weekend in addition to the Mass at The Grotto on Sunday.

Worshipers were called to prayer with beating of drums and gongs. Incense burned on a shrine to Our Lady of Lavang near the front of the altar. A procession with the shrine began at 10:30 a.m. around The Grotto grounds.

Organ music accompanied a large choir that sang Vietnamese hymns and stood just below the massive cliff face and in front of the cave that gives the Grotto its name. A large video screen was set up in the Grotto's chapel for viewers as a test run for the almost 10,000 expected for next year's 40th anniversary Freedom Mass.

During his homily, Archbishop Sample spoke about the recent Health and Human Services mandate and the defense of traditional marriage as examples of religious liberty causes to fight for. He also spoke of a change in the language of a test for naturalization into the United States.

"The test speaks not of freedom of religion, not of religious liberty, but simply 'freedom to worship,'" he said. "And there is a difference. It is a very subtle change in language that we see happening that we must pay attention to. There are those who would seek to restrict our religious liberty simply to freedom to worship as we wish within the walls of our own churches, but outside of those walls to be restrained in the living out fully and with clear consciences our religious rights and our moral obligations."

He asked Mass goers to give thanks for the gift of freedom, not because the government says it is a gift, but because every one is created in the image and likeness of God.

"Freedom is a God-given right simply because we are human," said the archbishop.