United Methodist churches in the California-Nevada Annual Conference will hold candlelight vigils in memory of the late General Vang Pao on the three remaining Saturdays of this month. The Committee on Hmong Ministry reports that the vigils are to be a time of prayer for the Hmong-American communities and larger communities within the Conference.
Candlelight vigils will take place:
1. Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Oroville
2. Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. at Memorial United Methodist Church, Clovis
3. Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 12:00 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sacramento
"It is our hope that all Hmong United Methodist fellowships will send their representatives to attend all three vigils," said the Rev. Paul Joseph T. Khamdy Yang, chair of the Committee on Hmong Ministry and pastor of First United Methodist Church of Roseville, which held its own vigil last Saturday. He said it is important to pray especially for the older adults (first generation Hmong) and for the general's family, along with the surrounding Hmong communities. "Our United Methodist Hmong brothers and sisters are mourning and hurting because of General Vang Pao's passing," he said.
Vang was a leader of the Royal Army of Laos who fought alongside U.S. forces in Southeast Asia and is credited with helping thousands of Hmong immigrate to the United States. His esteem within the Hmong community is impossible to overstate; his followers revere him, comparing him to George Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King. Candlelight vigils have been held across the country every night since his death from heart failure last Thursday (Jan. 6) in Clovis, at age 81.
His funeral has been scheduled for February 4 at the Fresno Convention Center and is expected to continue for six days – two days longer than a standard Hmong funeral, because of the general's stature. 40,000 mourners are expected. His body then will travel to Minnesota and perhaps to Wisconsin for public viewings.
Several members of the House of Representatives have petitioned the Obama Administration for a waiver which would allow Vang to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which usually is reserved for those who have served in the U.S. military. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said, "Major General Vang Pao and the Royal Lao Army served in support of the United States with passion, dedication, and honor," in letters to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, quoted in the Sacramento Bee. Under Vang's leadership, the Hmong are credited with saving tens of thousands of American lives.