Skip to comments.Vietnam: Dreams and Reality
Posted on 03/29/2014 3:59:22 PM PDT by NYer
“While the promises of the false prophets of this earth melt away in blood and tears, the great apocalyptic prophecy of the Redeemer shines forth in heavenly splendor: ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” – Divini Redemptoris (On Atheistic Communism)
When Saigon fell to the Viet Cong on April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War ended, and a typically Communist, systematic program of depopulation, re-education, and redistribution of wealth ensued. In the next two years, a million people left the city for the countryside – or for farther shores.
I had been born nine months earlier in a Saigon hospital. By April, my mother was already pregnant with her third child. My father – an engineer and bank chairman – had done well for himself. Although he had grown up dirt poor (literally: he and his ten siblings lived in a rural house with a dirt floor), he had excelled at school, often studying by candlelight late into the night. He was valedictorian of his high school, won a college scholarship, and embarked on a successful career in civil engineering.
His intelligence, success, and good looks – coupled with a lack of moral guidance from an absentee father – led to some years of self-indulgence. But at thirty-one, he met a girl half French, half Vietnamese. With the black hair and eyes of an Asian and the aquiline nose and sculpted face of a European, she was a knockout. He proposed, she said yes, and they settled down and started a family.
We were affluent and lacked for nothing. In that spring of 1975, my father switched careers, hoping to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming a doctor. A motorcycle accident several years earlier had left him hemorrhaging internally, many of his bones broken, half-dead at the side of a provincial road. But as coincidence – or, rather, Providence – would have it, a military ambulance happened by within minutes and spotted the bleeding man. He was rushed to a hospital, where recovery would take place over several long weeks. Doctors told him that if that ambulance had not chanced by, he would have died within an hour.
This miracle was not lost on him. He spent time rethinking the course of his life, regretting his past, and resolving to pursue a more meaningful vocation – one that would bring healing to others. Once recovered, he entered medical school.
I was too young to remember, but my family tells me the Communists seized everything we had. After some agonizing months, seeing the many souls who fled the city, knowing we had no future there, my father made the difficult decision to leave his homeland, and all that he knew and loved, to begin anew in France.
The author, left, with her mother and brother, 1974
We were fortunate. French citizenship, passed down from my mother, whose father had been a colonel in 1950s Indochina, meant plane tickets out for all of us. Other Vietnamese were less lucky. Stuck in a country that had suddenly become strange and terrifying, many became refugees, exchanging gold on the black market for passage to Singapore or the Philippines. They fled under cover of night to flimsy sampans awaiting them at the docks of what was now called Ho Chi Minh City.
Horrors took place in the South China Sea, as roaming bandits overtook the boats, thieving and raping. My cousin, whom my parents had sponsored and who roomed with me on her arrival in the United States, told me in hushed tones, her voice trembling with shame, how one night, after several weeks of aimless floating and growing starvation, she and the surviving “boat people” had taken part in cannibalism of the corpses on board.
Vietnam is a much different place today than it was in the post-war period, when the corrupt regime took power. A period of rapid decline followed: people were forced to live on meager government rations; roadways, once beautifully maintained, crumbled into disrepair; beggars and the homeless – the many casualties of war – proliferated in the streets; and Catholic clergy, once free to practice the faith in a land consecrated to Our Lady in 1959, where the Vatican Flag once flew at public events, where universities once fostered Catholic orthodoxy, now became a hunted and persecuted minority.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that Vietnam opened itself up to foreign investment. Today’s Saigon, as I prefer to call it – with its high rises and skyscrapers, Internet cafés and expensive hotels – little resembles the city the Viet Cong had hoped to re-shape in its own image.
The Vatican, in continuing hope of establishing diplomatic relations, sends delegates annually to the country, but Vietnam’s insistence on nominating bishops without input from the Holy See remains an obstacle, as do the continuing restrictions on the practice of the faith. The opening of the beatification process for Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, imprisoned by the Communist regime from 1975 until 1988, serves as an encouragement to the country’s faithful.
Thousands have marched in peaceful protest to the former apostolic nunciature in Hanoi, confiscated by the Communists in 1959. Promises made that the building would be returned to the Vatican have so far not been honored, and relations with the Holy See remain tense.
My father returns to Vietnam each year, where he spends weeks teaching, visiting charities, and traveling. The visits are always bittersweet. He dreams of spending his remaining years in the place of his birth, the place from which he was driven out by the scourge of Communism. My mother, whose adopted home is America, would never agree. But in his heart, he continues to dream.
It is filled with daily inspirations. Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was a political prisoner of the Communist regime in Vietnam for 13 years, 9 of which he spent in solitary confinement. His remarkable faith sustained him during those long years when he would celebrate mass in secret with three drops of wine in the palm of his hand and the host smuggled inside a flashlight by his faithful. His spiritual writings, penned on the back of old calendars, have spread throughout the world inspiring millions. Here is an example, from the book.
The storms which blow past will sweep away dry and rotten branches, but they can never uproot the cross planted deep in the earth. Do not regret the loss of those dead branches: even if no wind had come by, they would have fallen by themselves or been cut away since their presence is harmful to the entire tree.
The cross he’s holding in this photo is unusual.
Have you seen the dvd?
“Road of Hope: The Spiritual Journey of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan is an original Salt and Light documentary exploring the man and his message. This powerful film traces the history of Thuan from his privileged upbringing in a powerful political family to decades of war, betrayal and suffering all experiences which helped form his singular conviction that Love Conquers All.
Featuring interviews with those who knew him best, never before seen family videos, and rare archival footage of Thuan sharing his most revealing insights, Road of Hope offers an unprecedented glimpse into the life of a modern day martyr and saint.”
from dvd description
He taught his warders pidgin French and English, and persuaded them to give him a strip of electric wire and piece of wood, which he fashioned into a pectoral cross and chain that he concealed in a sliver of soap. On his release Thuan wore it openly, proclaiming the cross a sign of "the love of Jesus".
Last year, the full length production was featured on EWTN. I was so moved by his example that I went looking for his book, The Road of Hope. At that time, it was out of production and the only copies available were being sold privately at exaggerated prices. The book was reprinted and released in the summer. I picked up a copy and have drawn from its inspiration. Throughout Lent, I have been publishing a meditation each week. Here is another:
Even though you may not be forced to deny our Lord explicitly, you may come under pressure to act in opposition to his teaching and will be tempted to do so, thinking: "I still preserve my faith inside." Do not be so deceived. A faith that recoils from death, suffering, or hardships will surely die.
For those who have never seen the Salt & Light film on Van Thuan's life, here is a 5 minute preview.
God bless the Vietnamese. We tried our best.
I stand corrected.
Thanks 98, God bless America!
When will there be a Vietnamese Spring?
“..Democrat Media Complex sold you down the river and left you for dead.”
Amen, brother. No ammo, right.
As soon as we go back. Still have my ‘14, just in case.
I knew that there had to be a story behind that. Thanks, NYer.