54. Jahrgang Nr. 4 / Juni 2024
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1. The Autobiography of Mgr. Pierre Martin Ngô-dinh-Thuc - Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo
2. The Autobiography of Mgr. Ngô-dinh-Thuc - Part 2
3. The Autobiography of Mgr. Ngô-dinh-Thuc - Part 3
4. The Autobiography of Mgr. Ngô-dinh-Thuc - Part 4
The Autobiography of Mgr. Pierre Martin Ngô-dinh-Thuc - Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo
"Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo"
The Autobiography of Mgr. Pierre Martin Ngô-dinh-Thuc,
Archbishop of Hué

Translated from French to German by Elisabeth Meurer
Translated from German to English by Mr. Statz

"Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo". With this praise of the Prophet, I begin the story of my soul. May these memories stimulate other souls to resort to His infinite mercy to convert and be sanctified.

My insignificant spiritual life resembles a fabric whose threads are the rays of mercy which permeate the material. The mercy of God has descended from all of eternity to cast a glance at this atom that is my soul. God decided to come to this nothingness to surround me with his mercy, ceaselessly embracing me more closely and tightly, even when this miserable nothing attempts to escape the so gentle bonds of my soul's Bridegroom.

Other souls may rightfully turn to God's love in order to love and worship Him: virgin souls, contemplative souls, souls according to the models of the cherubs and the seraphs smelling of sanctity, souls like the ones of the two Theresas from the Carmelite order, and souls such as John of the Cross, Aloysius of Gonzaga, and Padre Pio. They have that right. However, the things concerning my sinful soul: It only has tears to offer the Lord, like Magdalene, and wants only to sing the praises of God’s mercy in this and the next world.

Dear God, the very merciful, you have given me a lifespan and health, that do not lie within my family, so that I have time to repent. I have lived more than 80 years without being seriously ill, equipped with an intelligence that made me a rival in the primary seminary, through Roman-Catholic institutions, and at the Sorbonne in secular and religious knowledge as well as the worldly—given to me by God’s mercy and which helped me with my conversion.

I am Vietnamese. This origin explains my character. It is like being French explains the holiness of the holy little Theresa of Lisieux – and that of Castilian characterizes the great Teresa of Avila. Where does the Vietnamese race come from? If one can believe the millennium of Chinese annals, who have always been our rivals, the Viet occupied the region that the great Yellow River flows through and is now called Peking (Beijing). The Chinese pushed into this very fertile country where the Vietnamese earned their comfortable living. The infinitely less numerous Viet started an unequal fatal battle and lost against these opponents, whose numbers rapidly increased. However the Viet would offer incessant resistance—whence they would be pushed to the south—their last capitol city in present Chinese territory was Canton.

When Canton was occupied by the “heavenly ones”, the Viet found an area favourable for defence, “a secret path”, which, as a result, was named the Gates of Annam (because they blocked the path of the Chinese). The Chinese later were able to breach the gates and occupy the Red River Delta upon which Hanoi was built—and that for almost a thousand years. The Viet never lost courage and finally succeeded in expelling the Chinese, thanks to the heroism of the two sisters Trung-truc and Trung-nhi. The story is these two sisters lost their lives in a valiant battle, but the example of these two Vietnamese Sisters encouraged the Viet to complete their work of driving the Chinese out of Vietnam definitively. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese tried politically and diplomatically to accept a type of vassal state under the Chinese rulers by presenting at various times gifts characteristic of our country, e.g., elephant tusks.

But we must also acknowledge that the 1000 years of Chinese occupation has been beneficial to Vietnam. These advantages were the following: the division of state territory in provinces, prefectures, villages—just as the middle kingdom was—with specific difference pertaining to the village. Since a Viet village is a small republic, it deals with the state as if they were two separate states. If the state imposed a contribution to war on the village both financially and personally, the village leaders split up the contribution of every villager monetarily and specify which young people should be recruited for the royal army. There was a proverb which expressed the relationship between the state and the village: The king’s decrees bow to the customs of the village. The mayor (Ly-trûô) was not the village head, but the village council representative to the higher authorities. The strokes of the cane struck him if the authorities were dissatisfied with the village. The members of village council were, firstly, village inhabitants who had a mandarin title (former mandarins), then the intelligentsia (those who had completed the third year examinations for the bachelor's degree, the Licencié, and a doctorate), and lastly the most wealthy influential citizens. This council, in which intelligence, not wealth was pre-eminent, distributed the rice-paddies in equal shares to the citizens. This distribution was carried out every three years from lots with same size but of varying fertility. The citizens owned only the fields that they had cleared themselves while the municipal fields had been cleared by an entrepreneur during the village’s establishment. After the acquisition of "No man’s land" he recruited volunteers in order to work with them and set up a new village.

This is a social fact that illustrates the Viet spirit of independence toward higher authorities, whereby the prior maintains friendly relationships with the latter at the same time - as between two states. It is evident that all this was swept away by the modern, egalitarian levelling. Was that better or worse? At least the old system was quite equal to the modern one, because we have two kinds of ownership: communal and private. We had redistribution every three years without the intrusion of a totalitarian state.

The citizen’s independence found a territory in which he could breathe, without however, completely declining the advantages of a centralized state. This thirst for independence lies in the Vietnamese blood and explains this millennial battle against the Chinese, and then against the French, while simultaneously profiting from the advantages of Chinese institutions and the French culture. Our family was always for the British dominion system between Viet Nam and France. We could not realize this dream that would have made France into a leading state, such as England for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and had enabled the USA, Soviet Russia and Great Britain to be treated as equals.

The Viet is therefore a supporter of personal independence, guaranteed by a dependence on other states. Above all; the Viet is a patriot, whether communist or anti-communist. Ho-chi-Minh and Ngô-dinh-Diém were Viêt through and through. From a Christian perspective, we are obedient to the Roman Church, especially the class of the simple faithful; but in the intellectual class, though we admit unanimity in the area of the dogmas of faith, we accept diversity in areas that do not affect the dogma.

In a certain fashion this explains my aversion to the intrusive undertakings of the Vatican to impose liturgical elements as canon law. In a word, aversion to the removal of every special feature that exists in each culture. Culture, by the way, is the work of the dear Lord, Who found favour in uniformity but also diversity. Even God is one and threefold. Every human being has his own face. Variety is the decoration of the universe. Why should one prescribe only one way to celebrate Holy Mass, which is solely made up of the consecration? And prescribe it under punishment of suspension and even excommunication? Is that not an abuse of power? In fact, would a Paul of Tarsus have been excommunicated by Peter, since he had consecrated bishops without reporting this to Peter? The Vatican devises rules in order to suppress every liturgical or canonical particular feature of the local churches. It wants uniformity everywhere without considering that the liturgical peculiarities of the Oriental churches go back to the time of the apostles, without considering that every nation has its characteristics that are just as noteworthy as those of Rome. Here are some examples: For the Roman, one stands up as a sign of respect; in Vietnam, one kneels. The Roman extends his arms when praying; the Vietnamese folds his hands in order to pray. The Europeans shake hands as a sign of friendship or as a greeting; the Asians, Chinese and Vietnamese, fold their hands and incline their heads. The more respect accorded to the one who is greeted, the deeper the bow.

Holy Mass consists primarily of the transubstantiation of the species (of bread and wine). If worst comes to worst or in an absolute emergency, the other parts (of the Mass) can be left out. This is the case with captured priests, who celebrate Mass in the darkness of a cell, in order to administer communion to themselves and their fellow prisoners. Jesus consecrated for Passover at the Last Supper according to the Jewish custom. Today, the priest consecrates while standing and bowing, in order to communicate. The Japanese eat while sitting on their heels; the Hindus sit on the floor while eating, the meal spread out on banana leaves; the Chinese and Viet eat with chopsticks. One might be logically surprised that Paul VI condemns those who celebrate in another fashion, according to the liturgy of St. Pius V, for example. With this logic he could have condemned the first Mass celebrated by Jesus.
After Vatican II, however, diversity for trivial matters and uniformity only for essential things is officially done away with. Japanese and Indian hierarchies are strengthened in the adaptation of Mass to their national characteristics. The "Halali" is only for Holy Pius V.’s Mass!

I have spoken extensively about this particular case - not only because of the injustice of the condemnation, but particularly because of the unsuitability of the measure, especially because one does not dare apply the same prohibition upon the Oriental liturgies, or the Milan liturgies of St. Ambrose, or Dominican, Mozarabic and Lyon liturgy. Perhaps I was instinctively driven to this respectful observation by the Viet addiction to independence? Let's close this case and study the environment that was crucial for my future.

The family is the first sphere in this environment, a Viet family by race, but a Catholic in a Vietnamese way, which consists of settling problems without waiting for help from others. This is how the Vietnamese church survived when the persecution of the kings robbed her of the foreign priests. Some that had fled into the forests were supported the by Christians who, at the time, thought they were privileged if they could go to the sacraments two or three times in their lives.

The small Vietnamese Christian communities (parishes) were scattered around Viet-territory from the gate of Annam to "Pointe den Camaní". Here, their organization was planned for survival. The older Christians, who knew the dogmas of faith better than the others, were named catechists by the missionaries, and chosen to form the upper tier of the parish. The leader controlled the actions that were necessary for the survival and progress of the groups responsible in the Christian community. One was entrusted with the religious instruction of the children and prepared them for communion (if it could take place). Another dealt with visiting the ill and their preparation for death. Still another would prepared the songs, prayers, reading of the epistles and gospel and lead the faithful in Mass prayers without priests, as we do at spiritual Communion.

How should one find the necessary money for worship? to build the small straw chapel? for the trips and the reception of the missionary? To nourish the priest candidates, who were chosen by the Christian community council? The seminary, in the beginning, consisted of a junk in which the only professor lived in. The missionary taught some Latin at night, sufficient enough to speak the words of transubstantiation and the formulas for the Sacraments while during the day the seminarians became fishermen in order to feed the congregation.

When this training was completed they were sent abroad, either to Siam or to Ponlo-Pinang, the general seminary of the Paris Foreign Missions, so that they could be consecrated there. This is how the native secular priests were equipped with their sponsor being the Viet who were driven by their independent instinct, by their craving to manage, - far da se -, without waiting for generous foreign help.

Such was the lay organization of the Vietnamese parish that had been robbed of a priest. Rome called it "Catholic action" and boasted to have created it during Pius IX’s and Pius XII’s pontificates. The apostleship among the heathens was known, practiced and was not only embraced by priests, deacons and Bishops, but also by laity, men and women, for 300 years before its resurgence through the two Pius-Popes. The same applies for the founding of a native clergy. These two buttresses of evangelization, invented by the Viet, are an example of the intelligence of this people (the Viet), which the Holy See has treated like an insignificant component of the Church and went so far as to concede them an official hierarchy and a cardinal only after they had received these awards from other countries. With regard to faith, the number of the clerics and the native martyrs, Catholic Vietnam far surpassed theirs. I, however, was somewhat astonished when the “good Pope” John XXIII asked me, while I, the dean, introduced ten Vietnamese Ordinaries to him: "Where is Vietnam?" And John XXIII was the pastor of the church that had declared 2000 years ago: "I know my sheep, and my sheep know me." Therefore, one cannot be surprised about Paul's VI animosity toward our family and particularly toward me, which went so far as to impose my resignation as Archbishop of Hue before the required retirement age for Bishops. He then appointed one of his minions, who was more inclined toward the politics of "opening for the East". Shortly thereafter this bishop was treated by his old Communist friends as a persona non grata, because he dared to raise his voice against the barriers set up by the Communists against going to Sunday Mass. The Communists did this by imposing public menial tasks on the Catholics during Mass time. And, to let him feel the split even more, the Communists did not allow him to take part in the 1977 Synod with the other Vietnamese Archbishops.

Another Vietnamese Archbishop who was condemned by the communists was my nephew, the Archbishop F. X. Nguyên-vân-Thuân, co-adjutor of Saigon. He spends a convict's life in a corner of the southern forest because he helped refugees settle in the south which the Holy See had entrusted him. Catholics aid protests against Brazil’s government, but they are silent in my nephew’s case!

Reared from my birth in this Vietnamese atmosphere of militant Catholicism, I assumed the priesthood as my battle station in this world without hesitation, regardless of the work, regardless of death. Therefore I do not have any right to "complain" that I am an Archbishop today, an ex-excommunicated one at that, who can celebrate Holy Mass everyday, but “illogically" does not have permission to hear the confessions of the Vietnamese refugees who are unable to confess in French.

This is the racial and religious environment—and family atmosphere—with which providence has encompassed me. I am a Ngô. Ngô is one of the family names in Vietnam. I believe that I am not mistaken, when I claim that the number of Viêt family names does not exceed one hundred. The name with the most descendants is Nguyên, with the most prolific branch being the royal family. The one with the least family members is mine. According to legend, the Ngô descendants were the first native royal family in an independent Vietnam. Perhaps this explains our patriotism and devotion to our country a little. Beyond the legend of our royal descent, no other Ngô was evident in Vietnam's history until the brilliant, yet tragic, appearance of our family.

No Vietnamese will ever forget the name Ngô-dinh-Khâ. It is my father’s name. He died a thousand deaths. Why? Because he had not voted for the deposition of the Emperor Thanh-Thai with the other court dignitaries who had been illegally imposed upon us by France's representative in Annam (central Vietnam). The name of our eldest brother was Ngô-dinh-Khôi who was buried alive with his only son because he had refused to become a minister in the Communist Premier government will not be forgotten. He regarded it as irreconcilable to be Catholic and a Communist official. Rather die than to soil oneself. After all, everyone knows and respects the Vietnamese name Ngô-dinh-Diêm, father of the Republic of Vietnam, and those of Ngô-dinh-Nhu and Ngô-dinh-Cân, presidential employees, all three were killed by the CIA. Two Ngô’s escaped this organized slaughtering by Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, a Freemason. The first is my brother Ngô-dinh-Luyên, who was at the time ambassador in London and was not in Vietnam at the time. He graduated from the Ecole Centrale des Ingénieurs (Paris). The other is myself. I was called to Rome to participate in Vatican Council II. Luyên has 13 children and Nhu had 4 children. I hope that despite their distance away from home, since they live in Europe, they will not forget the family tradition: to dedicate oneself completely to the service of God and homeland.

Here a little insertion: What does this word “dinh” mean, squeezed in between Ngô and the first name, such as Diêm and Thuc? This word indicates the branch of the family, since Ngô-dûc exists, without the "insertion”, as with King Ngô Guyên.

My father Ngô-dinh-Khâ, whose childhood and personal background was illustrated in “Doce me” (the abbreviated biography), deserves to remain in memory, as the first one who worked to introduce the French language into central Vietnam. He did it out of patriotism. At the time the French practically ruled Annam. According to the agreements between France as victors and the defeated emperor of Vietnam, however, Annam should have "enjoyed" the status of a protectorate and not just a colony. That was not the lot for wealthy Cochinchina, whose inhabitants became "subjects" and not French "citizens." Annam, then, was actually ruled by a French Governor, and who as a minister of the king forced French upon his domestics. They spoke a French “gibberish" that they had learned in their master's kitchen service. Therefore my father devised a plan to first teach the educated Vietnamese “correct French”, and then the young Vietnamese of royal origin. For that reason he established the Collège National in Vietnam: Quöo-hoo. A somewhat mad adventure. At his request, the "noble" fathers gave him only their concubine’s children and he had to "pay" these students! But later many of these would become government officials! So, the sons of the concubines from the lowest class of the royal offspring became doctors of medicine, lawyers, high officials, dentists, the intellects of “French culture”. My brothers, the eldest Ngô-dinh-Khôi, and the future first president of the Republic of South Vietnam were patronized and ascended the ranks of the mandarinates with ease, thanks to these men instructed by my father. My father was chosen to be young King Thânh-Thâi´s, teacher and later became a royal minister. These honours were the cause of dreadful trials for my father when the Governor General in central Vietnam, Mr. Levêque decided to dethrone Thân-Thâi under the pretext of insanity. This was an infringement of the authorization contained in the French-Vietnamese treaty. This occurred because this young king, intelligent and active, would not be content with only the prerogative of naming brilliant forces for the villages' protection, and had the idea to "militarize" his numerous concubines by teaching them to march and manoeuvre with wooden guns. All this transpired in the Forbidden City and was therefore not visible to the average people.

Governor Leveque had the court mandarins called together illegally and ordered them to unanimously vote for the sovereign's deposition. With exception of my father, these mandarins obeyed slavishly. Sentenced to the stripping of all his mandarin titles, my father was put into prison and the king banished to Madagascar. In light of this abuse of power and the cowardice of the court, the Vietnamese people announced that Ngô-dinh-Khâ was the only one who opposed the deposition of the king. My father's banishment was rescinded only at Emperor Duy-tân’s majority. He was one of Thân-Thâi’s sons and he restored my father's titles and his old-age pension.

Here I believe I must report how the Governor from France chose the new king. He let Thân-Thâi’s numerous male offspring get into a line, ordered them run, and promised the winner a reward. The one, who finished last, was selected by the Governor to be king because he thought that he was the least intelligent. Here however, he was greatly mistaken, because this boy was the future Duy-tân, a confirmed enemy of France, who almost drove the French out with help of the "volunteers" who were destined to fight in France. Though, thanks to my brother Ngô-dinh-Khôi, this plot failed.

My father, released from the prison after a long illness, had to think about finding the daily rice for his large family: six boys and two girls. He was a mandarin of strict honesty, and the illness devoured his meagre savings. He therefore decided to cultivate some slopes that he owned in the village of Ancûn, which is not far from Hué. I can still see my father, accompanied by one of his sons or daughters, walking the six kilometres to his rice paddies in a pair of self-made clogs. There he would supervise the transplanting of the rice and irrigate with help of a pedal-driven machine, and then the reaping. If he was tired, our father stopped in the shadow of a bamboo thicket along the way and told us interesting stories taken from the Bible or a treasured books, while smoking a self rolled cigarette passed out by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Thanks to the gift of being a natural storyteller, my father earned something to smoke since while he was a seminarian in Anninh. Back then his comrades would ask him to tell a story or to make one up. For doing this he would request some cigarettes as payment and would then delight the listeners with stories originating from his imagination.

We may have lived poorly, but decently. I do not know how my father succeeded in providing us a one-story house surrounded by a large garden. A one-story house was a rarity in Vietnam at this time. My father, who suffered from acute rheumatism caused by the moist climate of Hue, had a deck that was not too high built on to the ground floor. He let us sleep on a mat spread out on the floor of the deck to protect us from the moisture. So, all of the young family grew up healthy.

The weekday schedule was always the same. We got up at six o'clock in the morning to the sound of our Phûcam parish church bell. The boys and girls stormed into the kitchen to wash themselves and to put on the clothes reaching to their knees (our ceremonial garb), and followed father to Holy Mass. The children all kneeled beside him. Our father participated with closed eyes and folded hands. The hands, though, were always ready to shake the boys if they appeared distracted. Father went to the Lord’s Table daily, accompanied by his children who had received First Communion. He was practically never absent from the daily Mass. Not even a storm would stop him. He also awakened a deep devotion in us for this renewal of the sacrifice on the cross by often telling us a story, which seems to me to be one of the golden legends and which I repeat here: A man had two pages, one of whom was his favourite. The other had made a mistake and the man decided that he was worthy of death. He, however, decided to let him die in a secret manner. With this intent he had a man come, one devoted to his interests, who owned a lime oven and ordered him to throw into the oven the page who brought him a message on the next morning. On the next day he called the doomed page and gave him an envelope with the order to hand it over to the lime baker. The page hurried to do his errand; but halfway there, he heard ringing in the chapel for Mass. Because he remembered his parent’s recommendation never to miss a Mass, he entered the chapel and participated devoutly in the Holy Sacrifice. Meanwhile the man, who absolutely wanted to know whether the murderer had completed his job, sent his favourite page to inquire about it. As the torturer saw the messenger coming, he grabbed the page and threw him into the oven.

After Mass we went home for breakfast—prepared by our mother—for a bowl of rice seasoned with salt. Afterwards we went to school with a pack on our backs. Lunch was richer, but also simple: rice instead of bread, a normal soup with fish (meat was reserved for Sundays and holidays), vegetables, and from time to time a fruit as dessert—a fruit from the garden: Pineapples, plums, and carambolas. Dinner consisted of a single course, but if there often was a lack of quality and number of courses, there never was a lack of quantity. My mother, an outstanding cook, accomplished true miracles to nourish us and to vary the menu. My father was strict on this point: Everything that came on the table was eaten. My brother Diêm, who could not stand fish, was forced to eat it like the others, though shaken by nausea. To his great regret, this fish allergy—particularly to salted fish—, was the reason why he gave up the novitiate with the Brothers of the Christian Schools, because the brother superior of the novitiate explained that he did not have a spiritual calling since he could not submit himself to the common food. After supper at 8 o'clock in the evening, we, both girls and boys, said the evening prayers on our knees. Then we fell asleep on our floor, sung into sleep by the Lord's Prayer and Ave Maria from our father and mother!

If our father was integrity itself, like a steel bar, then our mother was gentleness and softness itself, but also without the least concession to the evil. She was personified charity and Christian modesty itself. She did not tend to idle talk, as one says, but rather her virtues were the most convincing illustration of Christianity's kindliness. Our family had numerous domestics, all of them converted and remained good Christians.

My mother belonged to a lower middle class family that came from Quang-ngâi, on the other side of Tourane in the south. Coming from a large family, two boys and three daughters, she had the role of the mistress of the house while our dear grandmother was still alive. This role was transferred to her particularly because of her gentleness and intelligence. Her siblings were very attached to her. Father Allys, our Phû-cam parish priest, knew her, and as my father, widower from a previous marriage, asked this Father to suggest a wife, the priest suggested our mother. Her skilfulness made her into a worthy wife of a court minister, and mother of the first president of the republic of South Vietnam. The Christian virtues of our parents were the only inheritance left us, yet an infinitely more valuable inheritance than titles and money, since it brought us into the possession of heaven—"haeredes et cohaeredes Christi."

In her last years, our mother was afflicted by an illness that left her mental powers, but took the mobility away from her lower limbs. She was forced to vegetate on a bed for about ten years, but it gave her enough time to prepare for death. At this time I had become Hué’s Bishop, therefore my mother’s Bishop. I had the privilege of administering Holy Communion to her at about 7 o'clock every morning. She died in the house of my sister, the mother of the Archbishop Coadjutor of Saigon. My mother did not hear anything about my brothers' murders. She went to heaven one morning after she had received Holy Communion as usual, caused by a brain haemorrhage, at more than 96 years of age. A great number of guests, whom she had valued in life, came to her burial.

Together with my siblings, we lived in this atmosphere of "Nazareth", which means the "faith" in a "golden" mediocrity. The eldest was Ngô-dinh-Khôi, who later became governor of the very important province Quang-nam on the border to Danang, named Tourane by the French. It is a province of revolutionaries and renowned educated people. Phamvân Dông, the prime minister of the Socialistic-Communist republic of the north, comes from Quang-nam, like the famous national poet.

My sister Ngô-thi-Giao and two boys, Trae and then Quynh, who died early, were between my eldest brother and me: This explains the little contact between the two of us. Especially as an adolescent I was seldom together with my oldest brother. While I was a seminarian and later a student in Rome, my eldest brother was climbing the ladder of the various mandarinate steps, from the ninth up to the top, as provincial Governor. His race of honours took place outside of Hué, since tradition prohibited a Mandarin to be administrator of his province of birth.

After my return to Vietnam and my ordination, the two of us were together more frequently. I began to think highly of my eldest brother who became our second father, according to Vietnamese custom, and took care of our mother, his sisters and little brothers. Outwardly, he was a very handsome tall man. My oldest brother was respected and regarded as a prince. He was married to a daughter of the duke of Phuôc-môn. The duke was chairman of the ministerial council for many years and the most prominent politician during the last Emperor of Annam’s reign. My brother ascended the steps of the Mandarinates by his own merit and was favoured by the Mandarins, former students of my father, without owing anything to his father-in-law, Ngyên-hûn-Bû. The duke of Phuôc-môn was a former student of my father, and whom my father assisted early in his career; but he was very careful not to give aid my brother because the duke was only occupied with himself. Therefore he passed away lonely, with only my assistance, being his godchild. I escorted him to the grave, I, who had never received even a Sapek from my godfather (Note: Sapek is a coin of little value in Indochina).

My oldest brother’s Mandarin career ended through a misfortune. The Governor General, Mr. Pasquier at the time—if I am not mistaken—was annoyed that the governor of Quang-nam did not appear at the railway station near the town square to demonstrate his respect to him (because my brother was not informed about the governor's train passing through). He retired with dignity, without recrimination, to our village Phûcam, two steps away from our family's home. He ended his career as a "Christian", "buried alive with his only son", since he had refused, to cooperate with the atheistic communists who had offered him a place in the Council of Ministers.

My eldest sister, Ngô-thi-Giao, married Trûong-dinh-Tung. She was a woman of a very lively character, who loved a joke and innocent teasing. This outer appearance hid a deep charity. Therefore, God made her the mother of four religious Sisters, three nuns of the order St. Paul's Daughter’s of Charity, and a missionary of the order the Love of the Cross. These four sisters were true nuns, treasured by the mission's Bishops, whom they had as co-workers. My nieces were energetic and heroic women, who withstood exhaustion and death to obey their Bishops. Mgr. Seitz, Bishop of Kontum, could provide witness for the praise that I just gave. Two of my nieces supported him effectively during Kontum’s Red occupation. The youngest of my nieces, who joined the order, died with the reputation of holiness in France. She rests with her religious sisters in the crypt belonging to them in Nice’s main cemetery.

Ngô-thi-Giao died of tuberculosis, which she caught while caring for my brother-in-law and who also suffered from this illness. Certainly it is due to her that her husband died a good Christian. God alone knows her list of kindness that she carefully hid. This list of charities was expensive for her since she was a widow and not wealthy with many mouths to feed. My brother Diêm was unique as a Christian and as an autodidact. Since I was not his confessor, I could not make any judgment based on the sacramental confession, but from outward appearances I have never noticed anything in his behaviour contrary to God's law. Surely he had his small weaknesses and small faults; he had to really pull himself together in order to control his rage. He fulfilled his state obligations according to the most severe monk’s pattern, even with the negligent behaviour of his subordinate officials in front of him. His outstanding virtue was chastity with never an inappropriate word or an inappropriate glance; neither did his eyes fall on a doubtful novel. He was satisfied with good books. His leisure time was dedicated to learning. As an autodidact he had had regular instruction only for some years with the Brothers of the Christian Schools. This was crowned by a supplementary diploma, which he achieved with "maxima cum laude" and the congratulations of the jury at the early age of 16 and while shivering with a fever during the examination.

He could write the Chinese letters and could correspond with the Chinese and Japanese in Chinese. Maybe he over-emphasized when he wished to be understood, though he knew all the fine points of the French language. Emphasized enthusiasm! Emphasization due to perfection! His large cot was surrounded by a palisade of all types of books, but that were always respectable. While still a small schoolboy, he had a candle at his bedside. He got up early in the morning, lit his candle and began to learn his lessons. And at night he would light to do his homework. He was always the best, the best in each subject. At the end of each school year, a man was needed to bring his harvest of laurels and large prize books home.

I have never seen where he wasted his time. When he became a Great Mandarin and with better pay, his pastimes became photography and hunting. Yet, these harmless diversions never hampered his work hours for the state.

As seminarian, I came back home for the two summer months and was together with the family, with dad, mom, my brothers and small sisters. My eldest brother was a Minor Mandarin outside of Hué; my eldest sister did not eat with us, but rather in the kitchen where she prepared the meals for us.

During these vacations, my brother Diêm, not yet a Mandarin, amused himself by forcing my two small sisters and my two small brothers to play "war". First, he drew moustaches above their lips with a piece of charred cork, and the rifles were made from the stalk of large banana leaves. That was funny! But for Diêm it was quite serious, and he led this army that consisted of two small boy soldiers and two small girl soldiers, and they trudged on the ground with their bare feet: one-two, one-two! Mercy to the distracted soldier: A sabre blow on the rear end called him/her to attention again. Diêm soon employed his siblings with laying out a small garden.

All the children knelt together in the evening, after dinner, on a low deck and hummed our evening prayers. Diêm strolled around the deck and mercy to him or her, if he or she was not praying or if their head wobbled, overcome by sleep. When the prayers were finished the boys laid down on the deck, the girls went to the middle building with their older sister to sleep. Our residence consisted of three main buildings. The middle building, a Vietnamese style house, was where the women slept. The right wing was a building with several stories, our father lived downstairs, and Diêm and I, upstairs. The left wing included the rice storage area and the kitchen where the domestics slept. The pigsty was farther away and the haystacks were connected to it. We had a very large garden. Arequier-palms, fig trees, carambolas, and plum trees grew in it. Thanks to this very large garden, we did not play on the street or elsewhere. We left only for the daily Mass, to go to school, and the girls, to go to the market.

What I just told about my brother Diêm could lead the reader to believe, that my brother was always serious. Wrong by far! Diêm was the one of us, who had the finest sense of the eccentricities of others. He was also very skillful in imitating the walk and voice of people, which made one laugh. Our very gracious mother could not prevent herself from laughing, or rather smiling, when Diêm ran around with a stick in his hand, very stooped, and mimicked his godfather, doctor Thuyên, and imitated his speech. He looked very amusing on that occasion. In that, he was a genuine Vietnamese, who is the born satirist like the French, but a harmless satirist, skilful to observe and imitate the eccentricities of the others.

The child that came after Diêm was my little sister Hiêp. She was the gentlest of the family, the most devout and also the most patient. She was as beautiful as a Madonna. Everyone liked her. She was the one who helped our mother by taking care of the ones born last, Cân and Luyên. She carried them, gave them the bottle, and rocked them in the cradle, woven from willows in which all small Ngô-dinhs had lain. This cradle hung on a long rope from the centre building’s wooden ceiling. From the cradle the child could see a large picture of the eternal Father that was nailed on the partition, which separated our mother's little room, in which all small Ngôs had been born. That is where the cupboard with all types of jams that mother had produced was, as well as the blackberry wine and fruits that the people from our village of birth in Quâng-Binh offered us every year. Quâng-Binh is a province north of Hué that is bisected by this city.

I must work something in here to explain a Vietnamese tradition generis sui.

My siblings, as I, were all born in Hué, which is the mystic capital of Annam and the main city in the small province Thûa-Thiên, but we are all citizens of the village Dai-phong where our ancestors from the north, from Thanh-hûa and Tonkin, had lived. Their graves are in Dai-phong. The tablets of the great strength for the protection of the village, the protector that the emperor gave to every village, are in the big community centre which is also the temple. These protectors, similar to the saints, the protectors of the cities in the country of the Christianity, are selected from among Vietnamese heroes, generals, the well educated or Great
Mandarins. The village council met in the community centre. This Dai-phong building was well known because of its huge and very high columns.

Once, before central Vietnam was very populated, pioneers, under a home village leader’s supervision, spread out into other communities where there was room and fertile soil. Once they arrived at the place that offered these advantages, the land was divided up according to the number of pioneers. The leader got a larger share to compensate him for his expenses and his initiative. Each pioneer divided his lot among his sons until these lots no longer sufficed in order to nourish its owners. Then, as bees do, a swarm left the hive and another village was founded somewhere else. All this explains the relationship between the villagers and the people that originally came from the village and lived elsewhere. Exactly like our father, who left Dai-phong to settle in Hué, but still kept his rice plot in Dai-phong.

He sacrificed the earnings from it to support the Catholic village school and for the upkeep of our ancestor's graves. Our village is in the area, named "the two sub-prefectures", - in Vietnamese: Hai huyên -, famous for the fertility of its rice paddies. The province Quang-Binh was famous for having produced outstanding citizens for the nation, ones who knew the depth of its rivers and the height of its mountains.

After having finished this digression into the originality of the Vietnamese community system, I now return to the members of my family. After my sister, gentle Hiêp, came my sister Hoâng, her opposite. Opposite with regard to character, but they loved each other dearly. Small, but well proportioned, a lively intelligence and very practical, she is the only one of us who accumulated a nice fortune. Her husband was a boy who belonged to a noted family in our parish, the same family that Hiêp´s husband came from. His name was Lê. He was a businessman like his father. He was energetic and earned money, but died relatively young from tuberculosis, leaving my sister Hoâng with a small daughter. The daughter later married Mr. Trân-trung-Dung, a law licentiate and one of my brother Diêm’s ministers.

My sister, Hoâng, became successful “businesswoman” to everyone’s astonishment. She died young, but not before witnessing the marriage of her daughter and seeing the birth of the first child, a granddaughter. I was with her during her final hours. She was courageous until the end.

My brother, Cân, is the only one of my brothers who does not have good luck. This is due to his very delicate health, which he has had since childhood. He represented the rural element among us brothers since we were almost all intellectuals and Mandarins. The Vietnamese farmer was smart, practical, and established like the French farmer. Cân could speak their language and make himself understood. Cân was the one who organized the powerful political party that supported the politics of my brothers Diêm and Nhu. He knew how to acquire the considerable financial means that is necessary for every political organization: the cinnamon trade. Cân succeeded in becoming the secret (de facto) governor of Central-Vietnam, even though he had no political mandate nor did he speak fluent French. He was never outside of the country. He rarely got to Saigon. He is not familiar with Tonkin, but he possessed ships and handled millions of Piasters. He was a power to be reckoned with. The official governors from Central-Vietnam consulted with him about the administration of the country.

His end was tragic yet heroic, as a worthy descendant of the Ngô. After the assassination of my brothers Diêm and Nhu by assassins paid for by the Americans, Cân vanished. He was discovered through the cunning of the American Consul in Hué—a Catholic by the way. Since he knew that Cân was good friends with Hué’s Canadian Redemptorist Fathers since Cân had donated millions for the construction of their beautiful church in Hué. The Consul contacted the order’s Father Superior and told him: “I do not why Mr. Cân is hiding. We do not have anything against him. If you know his hiding place, tell him, that an American aircraft will be at his disposal to take him to his brother, the Archbishop, in Rome.”

The Father Superior consulted his clergymen and contacted Cân. Cân agreed and requested a document in three languages from the Consul: in French, English and Vietnamese, which assured the Redemptorist Fathers and my brother that the American government would take him to Rome to meet me. But on the agreed day an American airplane landed at the Phû-Bâi airport near Hué, took my brother aboard, and flew in the direction of Saigon. It landed at the Tân-son-Nhûit airport in Saigon to hand my brother over to the rebel generals, my brother’s murderers. That is dirty American politics, the true face of the CIA - per fas et nefas.

My brother was hidden, guarded day and night in a cell. He was sentenced to die by firing squad. All that could happen by admission of God’s providence. Cân was, with regard to religion, the least Catholic of us. He fulfilled his Easter duties, and fell asleep only after having first said his rosary. He went to Mass every Sunday and holy day, and was charitable, but was not zealous and restricted himself to Easter Communion. God tolerated the ambush that the Americans had set up against him and allowed his unfair trial so that he could die as a Christian. He received Holy Communion every day for more than a month in his cell, through the assistance of a Vietnamese Redemptorist Father, a godchild of my brother Diêm. He died bravely, the rosary in one hand and with the other pointing to his heart for the execution squad, when he shouted: “Aim here! Long live Vietnam!” If he lived as a somewhat less than zealous Christian, he died as a true Catholic and Vietnamese without fear.

Thanks to the dedication of my brothers Khôi and Diêm our youngest brother Luyên was the one who received a careful and complete education. After the elementary school instruction from the brothers in Hué, he was sent to France at the age of 12. He entered sixth grade in the Oratorian Fathers’ College of Juilly. Luyên was very intelligent, always the best in his class. He skipped from the sixth grade into the fourth and then into the second. He received his high school diploma and succeeded in entering the Ecole Centrale des Ingénieurs in Paris and left it as an engineer. He returned to Vietnam and became the director of land registry (cadastral director), first in Vietnam, then in Cambodia, which was a French protectorate at the time.

When my brother Diêm was appointed governor of South Vietnam, Luyên led the South Vietnamese delegation to Geneva, Switzerland to discuss the fate of Vietnam. South Vietnam, which was isolated, could not avoid the separation from North Vietnam. North Vietnam included the central provinces other than Tonkin as far as to the river Cua-Tung.

Under the Luyên’s leadership, South Vietnam refused to sign the Geneva Conventions, but could do no more than resign itself to this defeat. Diêm directed all of his energy in preparations for revenge by a strong army, an exemplary administration, and the unification of South Vietnam. He accomplished this by eliminating all private armies when called upon by Bao-dai, the emperor, who had been restored to the throne by France. Saigon, the new capital and its immediate surroundings were the fiefdom of the bandit Bay Viên. The Tây-minh province was the Caodaists’ fief, and the Soetrang province was the Hoa-haôs’.

My brother Diêm confirmed Luyên in his role as ambassador, a role entrusted to him by Bao-dai. He resided in London and represented his country in Austria, Tunisia, Belgium and Holland. The connections between Bao-dai and Luyên had begun when both were in France. At that time my brother was a pupil of the College in Juilly and Bao-dai lived in Paris with Monsieur Charles, former supreme governor of Annam during the Khâi-dinh reign. Monsieur Charles had been entrusted with the Prince’s education by his parents. I was then at the Institute Catholique in Paris in order to acquire a licentiate for teaching, and took Luyên to the hereditary Prince on Sundays so that he could spend the day off with him. At this time the Prince’s name was Vinh-Thay, later his name as sovereign was Bao-dai. The two boys played with marbles and other games. These connections made it possible for Luyên to be recommend by my brother to Bao-dai for the task, and to oppose South Vietnam’s assimilation by the Communist north, governed by Ho-chi-Minh.

Due to his diplomatic role in Europe, Luyên escaped the fate of my three brothers who remained in Vietnam and were murdered by the rebel Generals who were paid by the
American CIA; while I was held back as a member of Vatican Council II in Rome and my life saved. I did my utmost though, through the government in the south and with Paul VI, to return to Hué to live or die with my flock. As the Archbishop I was their shepherd.

Today, Luyên is the head of a family with twelve children. The 13th, a daughter, died in a car accident in 1976. The oldest are married or earn their livings elsewhere. Luyên, aged and in frail health, is still faithful to our holy religion and participates in Communion every Sunday. He has a good memory and I try to convince him to write his political memoirs because he knows this topic perfectly, while I dealt exclusively with my tasks as a Bishop.

After these few pages that are dedicated to my parents and siblings I will return to the memories of my pitiful life. A life richly filled with the dear Lord’s merciful attention. I briefly detailed my studies in Rome and Paris and the beginnings of my duties as a priest in Hué, first as professor with the Vietnamese Brothers, (one of the congregations founded by my spiritual father, Mgr. Joseph Allys, the Apostolic Vicar of Hué), under Father Superior Hô-ngoc-Cân. He later became the first Bishop of Bnû-Chu in Tonkin. After being a professor at the major seminary in Hué and official director of the College secondaire de la Providence of Hué, I was named Apostolic Curate (Vicar) in Vinhlong. This Vicariate was made up of the provinces Vinhlong, Bentri and a small section of Sadec. This is an area separated from the Saigon Apostolic Vicariate, one formerly called the Vicariate of West-Cochin-china, whereas the Apostolic Vicariate Quin-hon was called the Eastern Apostolic Vicariate and Huè, the Northern Apostolic Vicariate.

When I took over my Vicariate in 1938, it had about 60 priests and less than 100,000 Catholics out of a population of more than 1,000,000 residents. It is a country of beautiful gardens, and above all, good rice paddies. Our priests from Cochin-china are affable and of simple character. They are not ceremonial and complicated like those from Tonkin, because the Cochinchinese were a race of settlers that were sent in to colonize South Vietnam, which had been snatched away from the Cambodians and the Cham, whereas the Central Vietnamese (to whom I belong) are an earnest and hard working people, because the central portion is not as fertile as the south: poor country, a courageous and contemplative race. Vietnam’s government and revolutionaries, such as Ho-chi-Minh come from central part of the country.

This also proved to be true with regard to the church. Three of the four first Vietnamese Bishops were from Central Vietnam: Mgr. Dominique Hô-ngo-Cân, Mgr. Le-hûû-Tû and I. Only one, Mgr. Nguyên-ba-Tong , the first, was from the south. Cochin-china was a very wealthy country, a French colony administrative at the time when I was promoted to Bishop of Vinhlong. The Cochin-Chinese were "French subjects" and many of them acquired the French citizenship, of which they were proud. Their fellow countrymen from Central Vietnam, only "French protectees" were viewed as second class citizens. They were mockingly referred to as "bân", i.e.: people of the junks, an allusion to the junk rowers from North and Central Vietnam, who came to trade in the south.

However, the Holy See cast a glance at a “bân”, the son of a junk driver, (although I was the son of an emperor’s minister and had a Doctorate from Rome’s universities). The French from Cochin-china were also surprised by this choice and a French newspaper from Cochin-china predicted a very sad future for the new diocese. They thought that because this diocese was entrusted to a son of new converts, it was in danger of losing the faith inherited from the French … I was not aware of this mentality of the people from the south and found myself alone as the only one of my type, without a friend, and without acquaintances again. Perhaps this ignorance saved me because I simply behaved like a brother among other brothers. Since I did not know any priests especially well, I treated them as friends.

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