51. Jahrgang Nr. 3 / Mai 2021
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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. Ngô-dinh-Thuc - Part 2
 
As I explained in the first pages of "Misericordias", Mgr. Dumortier, apostolic vicar (curate) of Saigon, was charged by the Holy See with recruiting the personnel for the new Apostolic Vicariate of Vinhlong. He took the best clergy from Cochin-china and withdrew all of his French missionaries. I entered the city of Vinhlong, the bishop's seat, without a house for the bishop, and without a priest to receive me because Vinhlong’s priest, a missionary, had gone back to France on vacation.

All of the new Vicariate’s priests received me in Vinhlong’s church for the Obedience Ceremony. We then ate lunch together with Mgr. Dumortier and then everyone returned to his Christians (congregation). I remained alone and had no one to prepare the evening meal! I still had the flu and had my two older brothers Khôi and Diêm with me. There was only a single bed in the small parsonage without priests. I took my two brothers along to the head of the parish, a big Croesus (moneybag) named Nuôi. Rich does not always mean charitable; he showed my brothers two bare wood benches. My brothers with empty stomachs, yet tired from the long trip from Central Vietnam up to West Cochin-china, flung themselves, completely dressed, onto the benches and fell into a deep sleep.

After returning to the vicarage, I stretched out on my bed, a single mat. This is how my first contact with my diocese seat was. I was 41 years old. I was far removed from seeing that Vinhlong would become my solace, and that its clergy would support me wholeheartedly in organizing this no man’s land and that our relationship would be very brotherly, and finally that I would work on the foundation of the University of Dalat with bare hands and an empty purse: a miracle of God's kindness toward the descendants of three centuries of martyrs.

My beginnings in Vinhlong were very simple: find a cook. My family sent me the cook Vinh from Hué, a very good kitchen chef, but he was a big friend of rice alcohol, the French soldiers’ Chum-chum. My mother then sacrificed the small cook, a former goat herder, whom she, herself, had trained. His name was An. His father had also been Father Stoeffer’s cook. Father Stoeffer was an Alsatian and Mgr. Ally’s successor in the Phûcam Parish. An was a good cook and intelligent, but had a grumpy nature. From time to time I had to slip him some drinks so that a small smile would appear on his lips. I also had a young boy named Tri. He was my mother’s nephew. Tri was extremely lazy. His father, my uncle, was the most patient person in the world. In his small family he was harassed by his wife and not respected by his children, of which he had many. Due to the laziness of Tri, his oldest, he was at the end of his strength. The only way to get rid of him was by entrusting him to me. Tri swept the Chancellery once a week; the exception to this weekly cleaning being a visit from the President of the Republic, my brother Diêm. This time I practically swept the house daily myself, so that cleanliness would prevail at the Chancellery. Tri locked himself in his small room where there was an indescribable chaos.

According to church law and mission custom, the mission Bishop gives the already well organized part of the former Vicariate away, which also has a seminary, a cathedral and a Bishop’s palace. This is done if the Holy See, i.e. the Holy Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, decides to form a new Apostolic Vicariate, whose administration is entrusted to a native priest. The liquid assets in the cash box are also divided.

In the case of the Vinhlong Vicariate, split off from Saigon, which had once been entrusted to the Parisian foreign missionaries and led by the saintly Mgr. Dumortier, the opposite occurred. Mgr. Dumortier retained the organized part and left me with the idle part: I had neither cathedral, nor Chancellery, nor seminary. Since the Holy See had given the task of organizing two Vicariates to the same bishop, Mgr. Dumortier placed the best priests in his Saigon diocese and placed the inferior ones, and even some of doubtful virtue, in Vinhlong. As to money matters: Saigon, which owned Hevea plantations and rice paddies, had a lot. Mgr. Dumortier – true to the saying “look after number one first”, required only one year to spend all of the diocese’s money for works in the parishes, which would belong to his future diocese. The result: Only 30,000 piasters remained in the Saigon mission’s safe, the leftover of millions which the Main Mission had before its separation into two missions. And Mgr. Dumortier pursued this division principle further: The money must be divided according to the surface area (land mass) of each mission.

Although I knew little about the exact size of the two missions, I was sure that the Saigon Mission’s was at least three times as large as the Vinhlong Mission’s. Certain that that this was true, I told Mgr. Dumortier that according to his criteria I would not get a penny of the 30,000 piasters but would have to give him money back. I, however, did not have a penny in my pocket because the Vinhlong Mission started without a red cent. In my opinion it would be fairer to share the financial means according to the number of Christians.

The case was taken to Rome and Rome decided that my criterion was correct. Therefore I got 10,000 piasters. The mission began with this paltry reserve. Mgr. Dumortier had to purchase housing for me, a one-story house in a small garden, as Chancellery. It was now my responsibility to find the means to build a minor seminary and later a major seminary. In the meantime I was allowed to send our main seminarians to Saigon.

The only medium of transportation that I had in order to make a trip through my mission or to contact my priests was my bicycle. The bicycle was a solid, yet heavy, machine from the Manufacture des Armes et Cycles de St. Etienne. Despite this, with Vinhlong’s mission comprised of two provinces and one third of another, it could not be comfortably visited on the bicycle. I was already taking flight lesson in front of our temporary cathedral with my bicycle. I organized the flight on my bike starting in front of church door, where the priest stood with his choirboys, the aspergil in hand to receive me. But this incident was sent by divine providence, because this Episcopal flight became known in Saigon. The former students of the Brothers, who have a wonderful lecture course in Saigon, pooled money to offer me an old jalopy, a Citroen, as a former student of the Hué Collége Pellerin.

Where was I to get a Chauffeur? And what was he to be paid with? Where was he to be housed? I found a single solution for these three questions: If I go for a visit, the priests feed me and give me a place to sleep. Then my cook has nothing to do. Why not make him into my chauffeur? The Procurator Father of Vinhlong, the good Father Dang, a French citizen and a very pious man who knew how to help himself, lent me his chauffeur to initiate my cook An into the secrets of the car. An got his driver's license without an examination since the examiners released him from it, due to the Bishop’s assurance that he would take over all future responsibility.

An drove well and was proud to be both chauffeur and kitchen chef. He was especially proud when the Bishop of Vinhlong got his Mercedes, his Versailles and his Jeep: both of the later cars were gifts from benefactors. I acquired the Mercedes myself with hard foreign currency that our government had approved for my trips abroad, particularly so I could accept the Holy See’s invitation during Vatican II.

Now I had a small apartment, yet large enough for me, my secretary and my two domestics, with a few small rooms for visiting guests. I nevertheless needed a priest for the Vinhlong parish. I had to write Mgr. Dumortier and ask him for a priest. He had the kindness - or maybe the luck - to get rid of a doubtful priest by sending me Father H., who resembled Holy Aloysius of Gonzaga but in reality was sexually disturbed and a major thief. I discovered it too late. He has since died, may his soul rest in peace!

I was once forced to send a young Vicar back to Mgr. Dumortier. The Vicar was young, but had been depraved for years. Mgr. Dumortier could only accept this. By the way, this poor boy left the priesthood shortly thereafter. It was better that way. He earned his livelihood as a school master thanks to the training he had received in the primary seminary.

Mgr. Dumortier expected me to return further candidates, but these cases, although they were certainly unfortunate, did not become public. I restricted myself to privately admonishing the guilty parties or sending them to spiritual exercises. Since I come from central Vietnam, where such cases were extremely rare, I was puzzled when I discovered so many weaknesses. I spoke to Mgr. Dumortier about it. His answer: "This happens because it is too hot in Cochin-china." Maybe he was right. The permanent humid heat saps all of the energy. It is impossible not to fall without refuge to constant and humble prayer or without real dedication to our purest Mother Mary. But my faithful loved their priests dearly and often turned a blind eye to this.

As a countermeasure to this state of affairs, I immediately began to summon my priests once a month to the District Deacon for earnest spiritual exercises from 7 o'clock in the morning until noon; I was the preacher. The exercise ended with lunch and afterwards I examined the cases which were to be solved, gave the necessary recommendations and answered questions or difficulties brought forth by the fellow clergymen. I applied this program to each of the four deaneries. These regular rounds promoted mutual charity (understanding), trust in the Bishop, and one found out the news directly from our mission (mission means Apostolic Vicariate). Therefore I could immediately intervene if it was necessary. My priests also began to know their bishop. Although he came from central Vietnam he quickly adapted to the mentality of the south. I never had a dispute with my priests, they trusted me, particularly my discretion. The Bishop can never show prejudice against any of his fellow clergy. Reproaches must be made in private. A bishop's face must always be cheerful, pleased with everything: gaudete cum gaudentibus, flete cum flentibus. I sincerely loved all my priests and believe that the opposite was also true.

The main quality of the priests from Cochin-china (those from my Vicariate) was and I hope still is, not to worry about the others. If you ask one of them what he thinks about brother so and so, he will answer: "Monsignor, I know nothing about that". He is sincere about this; he does not try to see his brothers' failures. Apparently, there are cases of public aggravation. Then the Bishop does not need to ask them but must supervise his subordinates with love. Sometimes I received anonymous letters. One cannot immediately believe them; patience and forbearance bear fruit. But if the accusation is justified, I summoned the accused brother and confidentially investigated the accusations brought against him and ask him to defend himself, because the priest in a parish is greatly envied. After hearing his denials, I show him the evidence that his accuser or accusers sent me. An example of this: a handwritten letter he himself wrote. He can no longer deny the facts. Therefore I admonish him and cite the spiritual reasons: Insult of God, sacrilege due to Mass being read while in state of mortal sin, scandal, and fruitless use of the church service. I do so without displaying anger; rather, I show great pity. Finally I ask him to name the spiritual penalty that he has coming: for example, one week or one month of spiritual exercises in a monastery or a transfer. This procedure was very successful for me.

The priest is much endangered because he is very alone. If the love of God does not rule his heart, he must prepare himself for falls, because the opportunities are so vast. The people trust their priest greatly and like him very much. Finally, there is the oppressive heat that bothers everyone and the devil, who plays his game very well. Priests are almost always tempted with the sixth and ninth commandments. It is rarely the seventh, but this happens also, most frequently, to have the means to satisfy depraved inclinations.

In the north there is a vice that tries the priest. This is the rice alcohol (Chum-chum). One soaks cinnamon or other roots in it to make it stronger and that is the hideous vice of drinking. This vice also attacks the missionaries much more often than indecency. This is said in praise of our fathers in faith.

The religious politics of the Vatican corresponded to the origin of new nations in Africa and Asia. These nations guarded their newly gained independence jealously, often with the price of their blood. They saw with quite a malevolent eye compatriots subordinated to foreigners who belonged to the nations of their former rulers. Countries like Burma closed their borders to the new white missionaries. Setting up the native episcopacy was imperative, but with someone capable of becoming bishop: white, yellow or black. The Holy Spirit does not intervene as at the time of the Apostles. Although the Apostles could only speak Aramaic, yet after Pentecost they could make themselves understood to the foreigners present in Jerusalem. Peter, an uneducated fisherman spoke like a Rabbi and quoted the Holy Scriptures like the most eloquent scribe. It was a heroic time. One needed rousing arguments and miracles—miracles as Jesus had predicted—in order to rise up against and breach the wall of Judaism and paganism. And the miracles were even more amazing than the ones performed by the Master.

Our era is not this way any longer. The Church educates its future bishops in Catholic universities in Rome, France, the United States and other places, such as the famous Salamanca in Spain. After a year as bishop for a year I sent two young priests from our Vicariate, Fathers Quang and Thiên, to Europe so they could complete their secondary and university studies. I myself, as a former student of Roman and French universities, came upon this basic principle: Do not send young seminarians to Europe, but rather young priests with intelligence, judgement and serious behaviour, and who had been introduced to the apostolate for some years. A very young seminarian who is catapulted into this European or American world is completely overwhelmed, because they are materially so different than the Third World to which Vietnam belonged to during my time, especially where the material culture was involved. The luxury, the prosperity and the comfort which the Asian or African is submersed in unbalance him if he returns (for he may not want to return anymore as many other Asians and Africans that clung to the foreign country so that they did not lack this western comfort) and has to become re-accustomed to the frugal food, the tropical climate, the bicycle and the straw hut.

This poor priest who refuses to return to his country ruins the efforts of the Holy See and the hopes of his countrymen. Certainly one cannot cast any stones on this failure, but measures must be taken in order to keep the losses at a minimum. As a result I believe that the Holy Congregation for spreading the faith in Rome had to agree to the closing of a department for seminarians from mission countries and to the opening of lecture courses for the young priests from the missions, who prepared themselves for their graduation by visiting the various Roman departments. This basic principle substantiated itself in the inauguration of the course of studies at St. Peter at the Small Gate. These studies had already given a great number of bishops to the mission countries. My nephew, the Archbishop Coadjutor of Saigon, Mgr. F. X. Nguyên-vân-Thuân, graduated from these lectures and is currently Christ’s witness in the Communist prisons.

The two priests I sent to Europe are currently Bishops in Mytho (Mgr. Joseph Thien) and in Cantho (Mgr. Quang). I had to build a minor seminary because the mother mission in Saigon could not accept all of my seminarians anymore. But how should one build at this moment? We were in World War II. There was no chance to get material from France or somewhere else because the Japanese fleet blockaded the warm seas. We were only producers of raw materials. For example, the French exporter sent the Cochin-china Hevea plantation rubber to his native country France. This rubber which was processed in France, at Michelin for example, returned to us as tires for the cars (made in France) or for the bicycles like one which I had acquired from the manufacturer of St.-Etienne. We did not even have a nail factory. Our limestone was used for our road construction but there no factory that made cement from it. We had a lot of wood but no sawmills. All this wood had to be cut by carpenters with their long saws and the strength of their arms.

In any case my seminarians needed a roof over their heads: almost 200 were registered. I had never built anything… But I had the luck to have a Vietnamese labourer, the father of three priests and a nun, who helped his own priest, the one from Vinhlong, with various construction projects. His priest, Father Hang of Bêxtre, who had loaned me his driver to give my cook driving lessons, mentioned him to me.

I seized opportunity and summoned him. After we had agreed on his wage, I went looking for a piece of property. Luck allowed me to find a large plot near my diocesan seat. It was a little swampy, but was easily filled up with refuse from the city of Vinhlong. Since the waste contained various fruit tree and pumpkin seeds, my seminary got a beautiful garden where vegetables grew well. I tipped the cart drivers that the city employed to dispose of house waste. The cart drivers disposed of their loads within the seminary’s enclosure instead of having to drive out of the city to scatter them. But the first thing to be done was the construction of a brick wall (there was a factory in Vinhlong) of mortar from native lime and good sand in order to avoid pilfering. This lime is extracted from sea mussels, of which there are massive amounts in Cochin-china. Straw huts were the workers’ and my foreman’s first housing and also served as a warehouse for the carpenters’ wood. All the furniture had to be made out of wood: Podiums, desks, beds, timber flooring, all framework and so forth. I was at the construction site every morning. In the evening I would return from there. It distracted me from my spiritual work and the burning worries of a Bishop who was still in training and who faced apparently unsolvable problems, for example the manufacturing of nails. Before the war everything came from France and sold to the Vietnamese by the "uncles". [This name was given to the Chinese, who are everywhere where a market exists. They took Vietnamese concubines – since the Chinese, usually Cantonese, left their first wife in China. When the Chinese marries a Vietnamese (or rather purchases a wife to be the mother of a pile of half-breeds), the very practical Chinese finds a companion for the bed, a good cook, a sales aid and even an interpreter if he can speak Vietnamese only poorly.] At this time, all metal or iron supplies having been exhausted, someone came up with the idea to go to the seashore and to pick up the iron wires there. These iron wires were what fishermen used to secure their nets and then threw away after long use. My faithful therefore sent me these pieces of wire and they were carefully cut and processed into pins.

***

After the seminary’s construction was finished, I had the Sisters of the Caimon Cross come [Caimon is the name of the Christian congregation (parish) where these nuns’ convent is.] They had to run the seminary’s kitchen.

It is not a problem for us to fill the minor seminary, because the Vietnamese Christians have a deep reverence for the priesthood. They sacrifice one or two, even three boys for the class with pleasure. They pay what they can for the keep of their children. We take them in, because even if they do not achieve the highest goal, the priesthood, they received a good secondary education in Latin and French. They can be a valuable aid to the priest in their parish as a chief of Acción Catholique (Catholic Action) or can enter into civil service. A scholarly apostolic Catholic can also be helpful in this environment when the clergy has dealings with the government. Therefore the church has nothing to lose if it opens up the seminary gates widely.

The communists are convinced of this. Therefore they set a maximum for entry into the seminary: no more than two people per year, of who they are certain that they are not against their Marxist dogmas yet. They believe they can suffocate the Catholic faith little by little with this system, but our ancestors did not have any priests for more than 200 years and the Vietnamese Catholic faith was able to survive and spread.

The religion survived in Tonkin where they used this method against the education of the priest candidates for more than 10 years. This harassment only increases the animosity of everyone toward the Marxist system: the pagans due to the shortage of all types of food and clothing and the propagandistic treatment every evening after a miserably paid and exhausting working day for which one gets just enough not to starve. The only class that lives well is the one of the minor and major leaders.

Due to the lack of priests, our Catholics travel kilometres by foot (or by bicycle if they own one), on Saturday evenings where there is no longer a priest anymore, back to a parish where Sunday Mass occurs. This exodus is a method to preach the religion to the pagans along the way.

A young Bishop came from my primary seminary in Vinhlong, the auxiliary Bishop to Vinhlong’s Bishop, my second successor. He came from a parish that was converted more than one hundred years ago by sons of Saint Frances of Assisi. Cáínhum, namely, is the oldest parish in my diocese and perhaps one of the oldest Christian congregations in Cochin-china. There is a Holy Virgin in its church who is dressed in a Spanish fashion, i.e. the clothing of the statue is changed according to the celebration. Cáínhum has an order of The Sisters of the Cross. This is the second one in the diocese with the one in Caimon already being mentioned. The current auxiliary Bishop to Vinhlong’s Bishop has two paternal aunts who are nuns in this order.

I digress here and report about my stay in Cáínhum. It was after the Japanese troop’s invasion of Indochina, after the Second World War, and the ensuing communist rebellion that occurred when the troops from Japan had to surrender to Chang-Kai-Chek’s Chinese (who later fled to Formosa).

I had left my seat in Vinhlong and had to flee to Cáínhum. If I had stayed in Vinhlong which was occupied by French troops, it would have become impossible for me to visit the other parishes in my diocese. The French only occupied the cities along the shore of the Mekong: Vinhlong and Bente, while the hinterland was controlled by the Communists.

At the time Saigon’s major seminary also retreated to Cáínhum and occupied the order’s catechist convent. I took an apartment in Cáínhum’s parsonage which was vacant because the priest and his Vicar had fled somewhere else. The two professors from the major seminary did not dare to leave their apartments. I gave catechism lessons to the children in the parsonage, held religion classes for the nunnery, visited the ill and brought them Communion. Mass was read before six o’clock in the morning while it was still dark. The church was only half filled with faithful and I wondered why it was not better visited, because during peacetime Mass was as well visited during the week as during Sunday Mass.

Here is the answer: the shortage of material (cotton). Every family did not have enough pants and dresses for everyone. Consequently everyone took his turn going to Mass in the communal trousers.

An amusing thing happened to me because of this trouser shortage. An old Christian lady had her grandson get me because she was ill. When I went to her I expressed my astonishment to her that it was the first time in a month I had served as a priest for her. However she had been in bed for only about ten days. Here her answer: “I had no pants for myself. The only trousers were needed by my sons and grandsons.” I said to myself: You are Martin, because your name patron is St. Martin who gave half of his coat to a beggar trembling from the cold. Make a sacrifice however; give the grandmother your second pair of trousers because you have two.

The old woman became well quickly and I saw her at morning Mass, proud of wearing the Bishop’s former pants. But after a few days the Grandma completely disappeared. During catechism instruction I asked one of the little fellows about the absence of the grandmother. Is she ill once again and in bed? Her grandson in his innocence: “My grandmother lost her pants in a game…” The Vietnamese admittedly, are big players because to fill their leisure time they did not have many diversions then. What should I do now? I only have one pair of trousers now! The Holy Spirit (I believe it was he) gave me a great idea: In the church’s sacristy there was enough material to give Cáínhum’s Christian men shorts and the Christian women somewhat longer trousers!

I asked the nuns to remove the linings from the liturgical vestments and choir capes (we will mend them again when France sends us material). We will sacrifice all French flags for this work of charity, (hidden because of the Communists). Did Jesus not say: “I was naked and you clothed me?” “But Monsignor, these flags and these linings have different colours!” Now with us Vietnamese the pants are black for the women and white for the men. I answered them. “No so bad, war is war! You nuns, do you want to sacrifice your black veils in order to make pants for the women and the white veils of your novices for men’s pants?”

The entire parish approved of this judgement, which was worthy of Salomon. The red section of the French flag benefited the small boys with their dressy red trousers. The blue section was used for the small girls, the white section for the men and the black lining for the women. If there was not enough, the remaining pieces were dyed black and everyone was satisfied. Everyone visited the morning Mass.

I preformed an ordination during my stay in Cáínhum because I had a Deacon there named Quyên, whose ordination had been indefinitely postponed since it was suspected that he had leprosy. He was from Saigon and came to me as the “Refugium peccatorum”. He was a good fellow, a little nervous yet well mannered. Since I needed priests I had him examined by Vietnamese doctors who practiced their ancestor’s medicine: Poultice from various plants. They assured me that Deacon Quyên displayed no symptoms of leprosy. I had him begin a week of spiritual exercises. During Mass the following Sunday Cáínhum experienced an ordination with a Bishop. His (the bishop) episcopal staff (crozier) was a reed covered with tinfoil and he had a paper mitre on his head. This priest, who was ordained during the communist regime, is still alive and well.

I assigned him to an exceptional task a few days after the ordination. He was to assist a chap, who was doomed to be shot by French troops, in his final hour. They had a raid in Cáínhum and he was arrested because it was known that he had denounced Francophile Vietnamese, who had been killed for this reason. The poor new priest could not turn this duty down. He heard the condemned’s confession (a former clergyman), gave him Communion, and even closed his eyes when he heard the squad’s leader shouting: “Attention, fire!” It was also the beginning of a career for him.

From Cáínhum I visited all the corners in my diocese, not over the mountains and valleys, but everywhere by barge. I went to the eating and sleeping places and to where the Christians row day and night through this network of rivers, tributaries of the great Mekong that flows through my entire diocese. My priests received me at the jetty. But this absence left a bad impression on the nuns. They regarded me as a Communist.

As France succeeded in pacifying Cochin-china by forcing the Communists back into their hiding places – they only had sharp sabres and pointed bamboo stalks as lances and very few rifles – I returned to Vinhlong. The poor nuns did not want to go to the seat of the diocese in order to welcome me. Little by little however that died down when they saw that I did not hold any grudge against them, especially when they found out that my actions had saved the lives of their fellow sisters, the ones who worked out in the country, while they themselves (a minority) lived peacefully in Vinhlong and Bente. The Communists respected their fellow sisters though, at least those who belonged to my diocese. But those in Saigon and were under a French Bishop were banished into the forests and died a thousand deaths there because they had neither food nor living quarters. They were without priests and any solace at all.

I casually spoke about the Sisters of the Cross from the Caimon monastery with more than 200 nuns; the one in Cáínhum has about 100. Where did these nuns come from? After the first conversions to Christianity by the Jesuit missionaries, a great number of women dedicated themselves to the Lord. The women were not only from the middle class but also from the emperor’s court. This consecration had already been practiced by the female Moguls. As the first Apostolic Curates in Vietnam, Mgr. De Lamothe-Lambert from the Seminary of Foreign Missions in Paris, appeared among them and gathered these virgins into a community and gave them a maxim. But he underestimated the value of these new converts and therefore did not allow them to take the order’s three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, although these souls practiced material poverty more strictly than the nuns in the old Christian communities, along with chastity and obedience toward their superiors. They even had a noviciate period.

This lifestyle lasted three centuries and ceased shortly before Vatican II. I had the privilege of introducing these vow to the Sisters of the Cross in my Archdiocese of Hué after an earnest noviciate period under the direction of Augustinians from Dalat. Certainly the bishop could entrust them all types of tasks if they remained without vows, but they were then, strictly understood, no brides of Christ.

***

    The plot acquired for the primary seminary was large enough to build a single floored hospital and a house for the doctor.  The doctor’s name was Dr. Lesage.  He had served with the French troops that had been sent to restore the French supremacy which had been toppled by the Japanese.  Lesage was not a practicing Catholic but was very charitable.  Instead of returning to France he preferred to remain in Vietnam.  As a doctor he was a gift from providence for the inhabitants.  We had only an infirmary in Vinhlong.  Lesage contacted me and I was very pleased to get him.  That is why the hospital and the small house for the doctor were constructed.   Lesage only required payment from those who were able to pay.  He looked after the needy for free.  He liked Vietnam so well that he acquired the Vietnamese citizenship.  Poor doctor, he had neither foreseen the communist triumph nor his dispatch to the retraining camp….Since he was Vietnamese, France could not acknowledge him as a native and free him from the Marxists!

    When Hanoi in Tonkin had fallen under the Communist yoke, the seminary of St. Sulpice had to be evacuated and moved to Cochin-china with its more than 50 seminarians. I offered them this hospital as a provisional seminary in light of their lack of housing and difficulty to continue training.  I remembered that I had been a guest at St. Sulpice in Paris as I prepared for my Licentiate at the institute Catholique and lived in the parsonage at rue Cassette. The Fathers of St. Sulpice were very careful.  When they were able to go to Saigon with their seminarians where they could settle, our contacts were severed.  They thought that connections to the President of the Republic’s brother would not be well received by Paul VI’s representatives..   They were deceived by the Freemason Cabot-Lodge and were convinced that our family persecuted the Buddhist Moguls. A strange error, since the Vietnamese Buddhists publicly stated that no other government had helped their cause as much as the government of Ngô-dinh-Diêm.  This same Freemason was involved with the murders of my three brothers Diêm, Nhu and Cân.

    Since the students of the primary seminary had finished their eight years of secondary education: Latin, French and Vietnamese, I had to construct a major seminary for Vinhlong.  Providence helped me.  I found a property that had been a rice paddy before.  It was larger than 3 hectares at the gates of Vinhlong on the main street that leads to the ferry from Mw-Thuân.  This ferry goes to the other shore where the large road leads to Mytho and Saigon.

    The first thing that needed be done was to backfill the piece of ground so that there would be sufficient surface to support the solid buildings of the big seminary.  In order to do this the construction site had to be fenced off, and then ponds had to be dug on the other part of the purchased grounds.  The dirt from these excavations served as filling material and the created ponds served as habitat for the fish farm.  The fish were fed with table scraps from the seminarians and especially (I am somewhat ashamed to say it!) with human waste, which they eagerly consumed.  The seminary’s bathrooms were built above these ponds.

    This type of fish farming is typical in Cochin-china.  Junks come from Cambodia loaded with very small young fish.  The fish are so small that the nets needed to catch them are like very fine mosquito nets.  The content of several junks is purchased and the fish fry are poured into the ponds.  These fish grow very quickly and weigh several kilograms after about two years, especially if they have been fed with human waste.  The fish are starved for one month before their sale and the meat is excellent.  The parish schools all have fishponds.  The ponds help pay for the teachers.  Why should anyone be repulsed by this?  Our plants and our lettuce are nourished from animal waste, i.e. from the dung. Now, none of us had money to purchase synthetic and chemical fertilizers - these often produce tasteless vegetables and fruits. The Bible tells us on Ash Wednesday: "Remember, oh, human being, you are dust, and to dust you will return."

    This seminary will have a rather flattering fate since it was transformed from Vinhlong’s major seminary to Central-Cochin-china’s regional seminary and would finally be confiscated by the Communists.

***

    When I was told about my "secession" to Cáínhum, I said that the Saigon’s major seminary retreated there also in order to escape Communist pressure, which prevailed in the south’s capital.  The buildings which accommodated the seminary at this time belonged to a community of catechists belonging to an Order  who had pledged the three vows. The founder of this order, whose members served in the dioceses Saigon and Vinhlong, was a pious man, Father Boismery of the Foreign Missions from Paris.  When I met him he was paralyzed by the rheumatism and was almost blind. He would die soon. His successor was an old Vietnamese Father Superior from the order, without any further authority to give the novices instructions other than to read the daily Mass.  As soon as the novices swore their oaths they went everywhere they were called in order to teach the catechism to new converts. However, this Father Superior was not familiar with the characteristics of a monk's life. Because members of the order require things where they work, they are often given a dispensation from poverty.  Therefore they had to write to the Father Superior and explain the reasons why they asked for a dispensation.  Now there was the postal service which existed in the cities but not in the rural areas, and one had to take advantage of opportunities: of travellers from Cáínhum, a very small place.  Therefore the Father Superior devised this solution: The people from the order, who came back to the mother house during the months of the summer vacation, should get an abundance of dispensations from the vow of poverty through the Father Superior.  They were to do this before returning back to the mission.  They would get about 20 dispensations and if these were used up during the course of the year they would need to request additional ones.  To train people to belong to an order, without knowing the characteristics of this life and not having lived it, was madness.  This situation really should be remedied.

    The religious from the Order must be able to guide their novices; one or two of them should be ordained as priests in order to guarantee the celebration of Mass and to hear his Brothers’ confessions.  I got started on this need. I chose three who had been selected by the community to best fill the role of Father Superior. The balloting had been done secretly. I made myself their professor of theology, and was therefore able to ordain the Cáínhum community’s first priest from among the Brothers.  Young people from the order were later sent to France to study literature, natural sciences, philosophy and theology to secure the survival of this so necessary and deserving congregation. The Holy See approved my methods.

***

    After I had remedied the problems which apparently plagued the new diocese of Vinhlong, I directed my attention to the material side. Yes, we possessed paddies, particularly on the island of Cô-chien and in the Bentre province delta.  Some parishes had good rice paddies, but most had nothing. It seemed to me however, that I must solve this problem: Each parish should be self-sufficient for its normal needs.

The priest should not ask the bishop for support or have to beg the Christians in order to have the means to pay the sisters in the schools.  The bishop or public charity must help only under exceptional circumstances; for example, the founding of a new Christian Congregation or the construction of a school destroyed by typhoon or fire. In this case the priest is not forced to become a beggar.

    In our locations there are few revenue sources other than from the paddy harvest (rice). Therefore the poor parishes should be given paddies. Where should the money come from in order to purchase them?  In West - Cochin-china, the revenue source consists of settling unused areas, but there is no more "no man's land" in our old provinces of Vinhlong, Bentre, or Sadec.

    After a long consideration I noticed that we had a revenue source: the annual endowment that the Holy Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith gave the mission areas.  My diocese received 3 million Piasters annually.  What do the bishops usually do with this sum? They distribute it to the priests they need without looking after the needs of the diocese, such as the seminaries or the construction of a cathedral.

    In Vinhlong I decided to give a good portion of the Holy See's annual allowance to the poor parishes so that they could buy rice paddies. The priests would borrow a sum from the diocese and would repay it little by little until the debt was settled.  By time I left Vinhlong all the parishes were "self-sufficient."

    The prerequisite for this is a rather long Bishop's residency in a diocese. I could help Vinhlong only because I stayed here for more than 25 years. It is natural that a Bishop has ideas and that his ideas are not those of his predecessor.

    The dear Lord favoured me by forgetting me in Vinhlong—from 1938 to 1960. My two successors found a diocese that was equipped with all the elements necessary for its existence and even with means that the other missions do not possess: Each parish had the indispensable resources to continue its existence. And the Bishop even had the means for new developments, because I had the chance to get a good piece of land in Saigon.  It was along the most travelled road in the capital, on the street that was formerly named Chasseloup-Laubat. I was able to build a house on the property for our travelling priest who had to remain in Saigon for some time. I also built a clinic named St. Pierre, from which the resources for our mission are delivered.  Two rooms are reserved for the bishop in this two-story clinic:  one is a bedroom with a desk for the Bishop to work at and another room is furnished as a small chapel.

    On the portion of the property along the street there were apartments owned and rented by private individuals. The construction plan for these apartments had been approved by the Bishop. After 13 years of use, the property’s ownership would revert back to the Vinhlong mission.  How was it possible for me to acquire this wonderful property in the middle of Saigon with almost one hectare surface area? It is a rather long and somewhat tragic story. While Mgr. Dumortiers was still alive I stayed at his Episcopal palace when I had business in Saigon. After awhile I saw that this was not very practical because Saigon's Episcopal palace had only one little room for guests passing through.  Sometimes, I did not know where I should stay because the priests do not stay in hotels.  Therefore it was necessary to have accommodations for me and my priests. The Bishop of Saigon, Mgr. Dumortier's successor at the time, was the young Mgr. Cassaigne. I introduced myself to him and asked him to sell me a lot here in the capital, of the property that belonged to the Saigon mission. Monsignor told me that this was difficult since this property was occupied by Christian tenants. They would need to be thrown out and this would be unpopular with the people.

    After I had said goodbye to the Bishop I went to the important parish of Choí-quan to visit a Father there, a priest who I knew and explained my difficulties to him. The priest told me: "Perhaps there is a possibility to find a property in the city in a good location, but it is an old cemetery and there are a dozen graves there. This graveyard which is more than a hundred years old is now lies beneath the level of the city and during the six rain months it turns into a small lake full of mosquitoes. Surrounded by a solid but low wall, it now serves as a latrine for by passers-by, who have an urgent need—because there are no public restrooms in Saigon.  If one succeeds in filling in this area and moving the graves to a new cemetery, you will have a wonderful downtown property on streets like the rue Chasseloup-Laubat, which is very busy.”

    I went to the bishop's palace and asked the bishop to let me have this graveyard. Mgr. Cassaigne started to laugh and told me: "Take over the reburying of the dead; that will be a big problem. Fill in this lake and I will give to you this piece for free. I thanked him heartily and asked him to give me deed documenting the gift after I had examined the location.  Monsignor replied:  "It is not necessary to go there. There are only cadavers there." "Write me a deed since you are a doctor of canon law and I will sign it immediately for you."
 
    Half an hour later I went to the governor of Cochin-china, whom I knew very well, armed with the property deed which bore Mgr. Cassaigne' s seal and joked with him: "Mr. Governor,  I am your subject in two ways since  this morning.  I just acquired a property in Saigon where you have your official residence. It is the Choí-quan cemetery on rue Chasseloup-Laubat."  The governor told me: "That is fine with me because this cemetery has turned into the least healthy place of our capital - into a public toilet. If you agree I will manage to have the dead moved.  You take care of filling in the property to the same level as the city." I said to him: "I will take care of the removal of the dead, but the order to remove them will come from you.  The Vietnamese are very sensitive if someone touches their predecessors." The governor let the elimination order be posted.  The bishop of Vinhlong let the remains of the unclaimed dead be collected and brought into a small chapel in the new cemetery.

    Therefore you will say: That is settled. The Bishop of Vinhlong became the owner of a completely cleared property that is worth millions of Piasters surrounded by solid buildings in the middle of the south's capital. But oh, it was not yet finished.  The property turned into an object of dispute between Mgr. Cassaigne and Mgr. Drapier, our apostolic delegate, and even me. The reason involves the Monsignor of Saigon: "You are", he wrote me, "doctor of the canon law.  You know very well that real estate with the value of millions cannot change ownership without the authorization of the Holy See.  Now the old Choí-quan graveyard is worth millions. Therefore my gift to you is invalid. I take the property back."

    The Apostolic Delegate who was asked by Mgr. Cassaigne to judge the litigation between the two bishops was dissatisfied with me for the following reason:  Despite his express command to send him my file about the graveyard affair and my arguments against returning it to Mgr. Cassaigne, and despite my respect and gratitude toward him, he, who had consecrated me bishop, I replied:  "Non possumus", because the delegate does not have any jurisdiction in the country that depends on his delegation, as well as over the bishops, the clergy  and the faithful.  He only has the duty to report to the Holy See about the condition of his delegation.  In addition, neither he nor I had time for this exchange of thoughts and even less to explain the arguments that favoured me.

    Therefore the two prelates had to appeal to the Holy Congregation for the Propagation of the faith. They were sure they would win their case. Mgr. Cassaigne informed the priests present at the annual clergy spiritual practice for Saigon and Vinhlong about it. They were gathered in the seminary near Saigon and he assured them that the Bishop of Vinhlong would lose the case badly. Unfortunately the spiritual practice finished before Christmas, and in the first days of the New Year the two prelates received a letter.  The letter, as New Year's Day gift from Rome, informed them that the Bishop of Vinhlong had been right: "If the graveyard has a present value, this value can be traced back to the astuteness of Vinhlong, the removal of the graves. In its former condition, it had no monetary value." This is only to determine how useful, even indispensable the knowledge of the canon law can be to a Bishop. Otherwise he can misuse these laws to the disadvantage of his subordinates unless he has a priest near him that has completed serious canonical studies and is advised by him.

    Mgr. Cassaigne did not take the matter tragically: He had wanted to defend the interests of Saigon and he had been mistaken. We remained friends as before. Mgr Drapier set this defeat aside to add into the file of his disagreements with me.

***

    Mgr. Drapier was a devout well educated Dominican; he had been sent as a missionary by Mossuls to Asia Minor. He was a capable missionary. He was spiritual father of the     Dominican Sisters there, who took care of the orphans in these oriental countries where hate—political or religious—sometimes erupted into massacres.  The children were therefore turned into orphans. Father Drapier, as a mission priest, did not live in a cloister (monastery) like his spiritual brothers in Europe.  He had a cook and house servants. His cook was a Lebanese orphan. Father Drapier married him to an orphan girl from the Sisters’ Orphanage and took the pair along when he became apostolic delegate in Vietnam.

    The apostolic delegation was in Hue at that time, which was still capital of Annam (central Vietnam). He treated this pair which he had known since childhood like his own children.  If he did not have any dining partners he took his meals with his two adopted children. They lived above the kitchen. The man, who had been given a car, took care of Monsignor’s purchases.  His wife kept the delegation's household and kept the building very clean. When the housekeeper became pregnant, Monsignor allowed her to move near him into the delegation's palace so that she would be more comfortable.  This was not consistent with canon law which forbids priests to live with members of the opposite sex, other than in the case of relatives (mother or sisters of the priest).

    In Vietnam, perhaps in France and elsewhere, there are no secrets.  At the time there were many French in the colonial administration. They took the opportunity to make jokes about this cohabitation.  The Apostolic Bishops heard about these rumours in Tonkin.  These prelates believed, due to their long years of experience in Vietnam, that they must speak to their religious brother. I do not know how Mgr. Drapier reacted to this intervention.  They turned to me and swore me to intervene.  After long thought, I believed in the need to speak with Monsignor privately about it.  He had been my Consecration Bishop and I needed to tell him about the talk from his countrymen in Hué.  In response Monsignor wrote me an alarming letter, in which he explained that if he had wanted to behave badly that he could have so during his military service.  After this stir, Monsignor no longer harboured any friendly feelings toward me.  The cemetery and the Bâo-dai affairs then ensued.

 
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