CARTHAGE, Mo. — The crowds, the hustle, the prayers and the foods are all back as Marian Days returns for the first time since 2019.

The annual celebration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, held on the 20-acre campus of the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer seminary, 1900 Grand Ave., is back after being canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands of people, primarily Vietnamese Catholics, have traveled from across the nation and around the world to what many call a giant family reunion for the refugees from the Communist nation in Southeast Asia.

Many said they missed Marian Days.

“This is not only the place for us to gather and practice our religion, but it’s also the main place for Vietnamese people to gather to see each other,” said Randy Dieu, of Seattle. “First, I would say I come to pray. Second, I love to see Vietnamese people and I love to enjoy Vietnamese food, and also I can see a lot of my people from my village, from my town.”

The event officially kicked off Thursday and lasts through Sunday morning, with the highlight being a procession of the statue of Our Lady of Fátima and a Mass in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The procession starts at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, and the Mass starts soon after the thousands of people who participate in the procession get back to the main campus.

Carthage police officials say Marian Days traditionally draws 40,000 to 70,000 people to Carthage, a community of 15,000. Some years that feature big anniversaries, like the 40th Marian Days held in 2017, have attracted an estimated 100,000 people.

Campers have been gathering on the church grounds and surrounding areas for more than a week.

The Rev. Timothy Tran, a spokesman for the church, said the group isn’t sure what to expect as far as attendance.

“One of the things we’ve heard from the people and one of the things that was kind of pushing people away from this was the worry about COVID,” Tran said. “The second thing was the cost. Everyone was complaining about how trying to rent a bus, trying to rent an RV, or just getting here itself was so expensive.”

Tran said churches from across the country will rent large communal tents on the grounds for people arriving in tour buses, but the number of tents reserved is down from the Marian Days in 2019.

“We’re not expecting big crowds this year,” Tran said. “But for us, 30,000 or 40,000 people is big enough.”

On Wednesday, Carthage city officials and business leaders took a tour of the Marian Days grounds. Greg Dagnan, city administrator, highlighted the planning and preparation that has gone into providing police, fire and ambulance services for the massive tent city sprouting up in the middle of Carthage.

The emergency services are based in the parking lot of the former Salvation Army church at Grand and Fairview.

“Everyone is in one place, so if something happens, you have unified command,” Dagnan said. “The leaders can all get together and make decisions without having to talk over radio or without having to communicate over cellphones.”

Dagnan said there have been some infrastructure improvements since the 2019 Marian Days, including improved drainage on the grounds, the resurfacing and installation of new roads and sidewalks, and the placement of street names on the main campus.

Missing Marian Days

Those attending the event from Carthage and from outside the area said they definitely missed Marian Days when it was canceled.

Carthage City Council member Brandi Ensor has lived her whole life around Marian Days and said its cancellation left a hole.

“It’s huge; it does bring in some tax revenue to the city because they’re spending money in our stores, staying in our hotels. Hopefully they’re getting out and shopping in our small businesses as well as the national chains,” Ensor said. “But it just brings the community together because when I go out and eat dinner, I’m seeing my neighbors out there eating dinner. Maybe I didn’t see them most of the summer because it was so hot (and) we’ve been inside, but we’re all there hanging out and visiting and eating delicious Vietnamese food.”

Tien Nguyen, from the Christ the King Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Texas, was working in a tent preparing and selling bobas, smoothie-style drinks with tapioca balls in them. He said Marian Days is an important annual fundraiser for his church.

“About 40 to 50 people come here from our church every year,” Nguyen said. “The money we raise helps the whole church. We have a big church, so we have a lot of maintenance. It’s a pilgrimage, so we come here just to serve people and help out. There are thousands of people here, so we come to serve drinks.”

That Nguyen, from Orange, Texas, said the event is a chance to get together with people from across the country that they see only in Carthage.

“My first time here, it was back in 1987, and it was so wonderful to see,” she said. “Back then, there were not a lot of Vietnamese yet, and when you came here you felt like you were back in Vietnam because you see all your family members here. We have lots of family members that live out of state, and it’s so easy to find them here. It’s almost like a family reunion.”

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