“Pointing to Mary…” At LA Religious Education Congress

By Fr. Vien Nguyen, SDB

“How will we bring this huge statue of Mary Helps of Christians to the LA Congress at the Anaheim Convention?” It was the question when we first saw the seven feet tall statue of the Blessed Mother Mary, which is located in the rectory at Saint Mary Parish in East LA. The presence of the statue of Mary throughout the weekend was promised, but we did not expect any trouble. And what happened at the Salesian booth during the LA Congress amazed many. It was initiated to express our gratitude to God.

Around 11:00 am on Thursday, 23rd of 2023, My car and two other vans arrived at the parking lot on the west side of the Convention, which was closest to the exhibit. Unfortunately, there was no chance to park close to the entrance, and instead, we ended up parking in the upstairs section. It gave us so much trouble to transfer all the stuff to set up the booth from the parking lot to our respective location in the exhibit. But, it could not stop our excitement about being at the LA Religious Congress this year. It took a couple of hours to set up the booth, even though we had planned how it would look. The statue of Mary Helps of Christians and the picture of Saint John Bosco were placed in the center, symbolizing the spiritual component of our booth. It also turned out to be our presence’s focal point this year, bringing many people to the booth. Prayer became a starting point for people to explore the other booth components: Salesian resources and merchandise. With these three components, we hoped that the Salesian presence at the LA Religious Congress would address the audiences’ needs and become a more active presence in the community.

“The Virgin Mary has done everything, Don Bosco once said!” He felt a strong presence of Mary in his mission to the young, and things happened because of her. We had planned how we wanted to be recognized at the LA Congress this year, we had talked about our objective goals, we imagined what could be a contribution to the universal Church in accompanying the community of believers. As a result, we could say that we achieved what we planned for, and it even happened beyond what we could expect. She brought her children to herself. She introduced them to Don Bosco and the Salesian family. People began to gather around the statue of Mary, and it became an opportunity to start many fruitful conversations. A statement from someone at the booth made me think about what I have been doing to animate vocations in the province. “It seems that Don Bosco is telling us to stop pointing at him but start pointing at Mary. She is doing all the work.”

As a vocation director, I have been traveling from place to place, trying to animate vocations, particularly the vocation to the consecrated life. I have been talking a lot about who we are as the Salesians; How great Don Bosco was as a Father, a Teacher, and a Friend of the young; how we continue the mission to the young in different ministries. I realized that I was missing something important, and that was Mary. The phrase “Pointing at Mary” reminded me of my vocation. I believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary brought me to the Salesian family. She has been accompanying me in my journey, she took my hand to my ordination as a Salesian priest, and she is protecting me day by day.

The experience did not only remind me about my journey to become a Salesian and a priest for young people, but it also brought me to the stage of being more aware of the presence of our Blessed Mother Mary in our Salesian ministry, particularly the ministry of vocation. She has brought many of us to the Salesian family, and she will continue to introduce many other young people into this family, following Christ in the footsteps of Don Bosco.

Thank you, LA Congress 2023! Thank you for the presence of many Salesians, Brothers, Sisters, Priests, and lay cooperators. Your presence truly made a difference at Congress and the Salesian booth. Thank you, Mother Mary! Let us continue to trust the intercession of Mary Help of Christians. May our prayer rise up to the Lord our God and be accepted through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.