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7/6/2011 12:07:00 PM
Freedom Mass: Refugees celebrate this gift from God
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Liturgical dancers at the Freedom Mass.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Liturgical dancers at the Freedom Mass.
+ view more photos
Archbishop John Vlazny surrounded by priests of the diocese celebrated the 36th annual Freedom Mass at The Portland Grotto.

Under the shadowy pines of outdoor National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, people filled every available space, lining paths and even setting up lawn chairs out of sight of the altar area– it’s enough for many of these visitors to hear the enchanting voices in song that filter through The Grotto.

Rony Nguyen, who moved from Vietnam in 1982, comes to Portland’s Freedom Mass every year and sees families and friends from his parish, Our Lady of Lavang.

“We like how everybody comes together for this,” Rony said, as he sat July 3 with his wife, Lieu and children, Cynthia, 13, and Christopher, 9.

Theirs is a big family, so they often come in support of relatives who dance and sing  during the Mass. The Freedom Mass is known for the liturgical dances performed by the Youth Liturgical Dancers of Our Lady of Lavang. The girls, draped in traditional Vietnamese dresses, began the Mass with a dance in honor of Mary, offering her flowers and gifts.

Thousands of worshipers come from all over the Pacific Northwest and California for this annual Mass and pilgrimage, the largest regular Catholic gathering in Oregon.

Redemptorist priests from the Southeast Asian Vicariate and refugees were the organizers of the first Freedom Masses in 1976. Attendance increases as more and more Catholics come to give thanks to God for having escaped their war-torn nation and its communist overlords.

People from Filipino, Croatian, Eritrean, Laotian, Korean, Hmong and Polish cultures are represented. A majority of worshipers are Vietnamese who come from Our Lady of LaVang Parish, where the vicariate is located.

Linda Rooke, from Sherwood, and Florence Morris, from Hillsboro, took a break just to watch the hundreds of people stream in before the Mass, celebrated by Archbishop John Vlazny.

Rooke’s husband Michael and Morris’ son Duane are both Knights of Columbus faithful navigators who were there Sunday to participate in the Color Guard.

“The costumes are absolutely beautiful,” Rooke said. “I’m amazed by how much culture has been preserved and maintained.”

She wore a camera around her neck, capturing images of the many different people who visited the Grotto.

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