Marian Days!

Despite growing up in Missouri, I had not until very recently learned that one of the US’ largest Catholic events takes place in my home state. Turns out, sleepy Carthage, Missouri (2000 Census population: 12,668) is home every year to a three-day Vietnamese-American Catholic bonanza called Marian Days in early August. The event averages 50-70,000 people a year, and is believed to have drawn about 80,000 this year.

This seemed pretty surreal to me at first. If you were to ask me to draw up a mental image of summer festivals in southern Missouri, Vietnamese Catholic outdoors Masses in honor of Mary probably wouldn’t have been the first thing to pop into my head.

The event certainly has its annoyances and areas of concern. I could have lived without the thousands of balloons being paraded during Mass, and there’s always a risk with events like these that they become more about celebrating your ethnic identity than anything religious: call it St. Patrick’s Day Syndrome. But it’s hard to argue that the event doesn’t radiate a profound reverence even amidst all the fun and festivities:

One of the first questions I had when I heard about this was what the town’s reaction was. After all, Carthage is a small, largely white, largely Protestant town, and yet for 72 hours a year, it’s overwhelmingly Catholic, and largely Vietnamese-American. Turns out, relations are apparently quite good. That’s according to both event organizers and city officials. Marian Days brings in tourist dollars, and the city takes care of its guests with classic Midwestern hospitality:

Marian Days also involves a year’s worth of planning for city officials such as Carthage Police Capt. Randee Kaiser.

With six police agencies involved, planning and preparing the community for Marian Days takes meetings and the pooling of resources. Roadblocks must be manned, cameras set up on the grounds and refreshments and communications between officers arranged.

That’s pretty standard-fare, I suppose, but I was struck by what the article mentioned next. Given that the town has a population of upwards of 15 thousand people, it doesn’t quite have the hotel space for 70 thousand visitors arriving at once, so the vast majority of the pilgrims sleep outside in tents. Turns out, the city of Carthage works with the townspeople to determine who is, and who isn’t, willing to let people camp out on their front lawns. That’s hospitality right there.

In any case, the festival itself looks amazing. Outdoor Masses, long processions, food, music, family, camping, etc. To draw tens of thousands of pilgrims to such an event speaks well of the Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American Catholic culture, which (along with many other immigrant enclaves) are doing their fair share to reawaken American Catholicism. Anyways, Whispers in the Loggia and the Catholic Key both have good coverage of these years event, and both blogs have incredible pictures and/or video which are alone worth the visit.

7 Comments

  1. I’ve been to Marian days. It shows such amazing reverence. Once during Mass there was a storm, all the lights went out. Everyone remained silent and still in revering the Eucharist. That is not something you would see just any place. In most places people would talk….but not there, they just sat and prayed for 15 minutes until the lights came back on.

  2. Nice! It’s so heartening to see a massive group of Catholics who know how to praise and worship God. The ability to balance celebration (of which I understand Marian days has quite a lot) with the kind of quiet reverence and awe you’re describing is something that isn’t always well-cultivated. It’s great to hear that they’re doing well on both fronts.

  3. On the practical side, those people re those who camp in tents – There must be thousands of Port a Potty’s to accommodate them. If someone offers there front lawn, does the city provide these. To the campers on those lawns or backyards pay the home owner’s anything (minimal of course) or do the homeowner’s do it for free. My daughter lives in Carthage on High Street near Garrison and they have a humungous grassy field in the back of their house. If the city of Carthage were willing to install a Portable Toilet there for those people as well as remove it of course at the end of the festival, maybe those living in that house (she does not own it) would welcome the temporary guests. My daughter and those others are pretty poor so of course a small camping fee would also help them out. I guess I should contact City of Carthage re this?

      1. We have a yard on highland less than a block away. We would accept donation for a nightly tent space including an indoor bathroom with shower. Has anyone reading this allowed camping for donation in prior years? If yes, how much was the average nightly donation? Thank you for any info you can provide .Want to help would rather work with crowd than just clean up trash on my yard again this year.

  4. “there’s always a risk with events like these that they become more about celebrating your ethnic identity than anything religious”. You first should learn about the history why Vietnamese American Catholic come to this place to worship their faith. Nothing about ethnic identity. We are not white and we are always second class citizens I always teach my kid this unwritten classification.We know that. We don’t try to be Americans and we don’t have to. Our country history is 4000 years old compared to US only 200 years. USA always is our refugee home and never will be our true home. One day when the communists in Vietnam come apart you will see. We return to build our country.

  5. Agree with Nguyen, to a point. The Vietnamese Catholics are the most humble and reverent people I know. However, many of them, certainly most that were born here, consider themselves Americans and will not return to Vietnam when the communists fall. And that is America’s gain.

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