CARTHAGE, Mo. – Imagine this: A normal 2020. No COVID-19. August 6 comes around, and 60,000 or more people crowd the streets of the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer. The 43rd year of Marian Days, a religious festival that brings thousands of Vietnamese Catholic pilgrims to town, has begun. Reverend Timothy Tran, a priest at the monastery, says unfortunately, that couldn’t happen.
“When the pandemic seemed to get worse and worse, we had a meeting with our council,” Tran said.
Around late April or early May, Tran said the council spoke with food vendors and the City of Carthage. All sides came to an agreement.
“This is the first time we’ve had to cancel it,” Tran said. “It was hard to make that decision. We couldn’t just wait any longer. We just wanted everyone to know as early as possible. People make their plans early also. They rent hotels, and leave vacation time during that time too.”
As a result of this decision, Mark Elliff, President and CEO of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce, says the city could lose more than $150,000 in sales tax revenue.
“It’ll be a little bump in the road – I guess is a good way to put it,” Elliff said. “But, Carthage is very resilient. We’ll recover from that very well. Our local businesses are doing very well, considering the situation.”
Regardless of the city’s economic outlook, Tran says it was still tough to hear people express their disappointment about the decision.
“It’s understandable, but we couldn’t do it because of this pandemic,” Tran said. “There’s no way that we could’ve done it with all the guidelines that the CDC came out with.”
As a replacement for the festival next week, Tran says people can check out the monastery’s website. The Congregation plans to post videos of previous speeches from speakers at past festivals. Videos posted for adults will focus on family, and how to build better relationships. There will also be videos for younger kids to watch. Those will focus on “undivided.” This includes topics like racial inequality, coming together during a pandemic and faith.
“We wanted to provide [festivalgoers] with something,” Tran said. “Even though they couldn’t be there in person, we wanted to remind them that even though we’re separated, we’re not alone. We still can connect with each other virtually. We wanted to give them a little something to strengthen their faith, and strengthen their relationships with each other.”
Team policing officer Chad Dininger with the Carthage Police Department says he still keeps in touch with Marian Days attendees. Dininger has worked the festival for more than 20 years – a large portion with the Joplin Police Department.
“I’ve got a lot of friends, family friends that I’ve made while working those festivals,” Dininger said. “People that I stay in contact with throughout the entire year. A lot of them will call me and ask about the weather, ask if there’s anything they need to know, and just making those relationships.”
Dininger knows some long-time eventgoers. Some go for worship, others go for family reunions and lastly, tradition.
“One of the guys I spoke to last year, it’s like his 30-something year that he’s been coming,” Dininger said. “I asked him, ‘this is a lot of stuff to go through: Camping outside in the heat, the rain, the people. Why do you do it?’ He’s like, ‘it’s tradition. I wouldn’t miss it, and I don’t want my kids to ever miss it.’”
David Wermuth from the Joplin area likely can’t compare to that guy. Wermuth has gone to the festival for the last five or six years with his family and friends.
“It’s kind of like going to a different country without having to go to a different country,” Wermuth said. “It’s fun to kind of see the different people, hear the different languages and then also taste the different foods.”
The Joplin Family Worship Center youth pastor also takes his teenage youth group to the festival.
“To experience a different culture, to fully emerge in this different environment,” Wermuth said. “Getting them to try different things, learn about different traditions and cultures. So, not being able to take a youth group out there this year is really disappointing. But, I also understand the importance of safety and health. I think they made the right judgment call in canceling it this year.”
Tran says he hopes he doesn’t have to consider canceling the event again next year.
“We’re just going to keep on praying for a quick end to this pandemic,” Tran said. “So, next year, we will have a chance to gather in person again.”