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Asian Catholic Directory

Vietnamese cathedral offered sanctuary to slain president

Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City Vietnamese cathedral offered sanctuary to slain president

St. Francis Xavier Church in the China town of former Vietnamese capital Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) lives the memory of Father Pierre D’Assou (Cha Tam in Vietnamese), a priest from China’s Macau Island who played a pivotal role in construction of the first church for local Chinese Catholics in 1900-1902.

Today, the church is mostly known as Cha Tam Church in an honor to contributions of the missionary priest. Vietnamese priest and architect Father John Baptist Huynh Tinh Huong designed the church complex that accommodates the church building, large compound, a house of charity, houses for rent, a kindergarten, a community house, a school, and a meeting hall.

The most remarkable incident in the history of the church occurred on Nov. 1, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic and his political advisor fled to the church and hid inside following a military coup. Unfortunately, both were captured the next day and assassinated by the military.

A statue of Mother Mary enshrined in a Chinese-style canopied house adorn the campus. The altar carved on wood and other pagoda shaped carvings give the church a typical Vietnamese look.

The front yard of the church holds two reliefs –onedepicts 117 Vietnamese martyrs and the other depicts 120 Chinese martyrs. The Vatican canonized the martyrs in 1988 and 2000 respectively. Due to hostility towards Catholics during imperial and communist rules estimated 130,000 to 300,000 Catholics sacrificed their lives for faith in Vietnam in the 19th and 20th centuries.

At the entrance the statue of St. Francis Xavier, and Jesus on a Cross welcome visitors. The tomb of Father Cha Tam is another major attraction of the church.

Thus, Cha Tam Church offers an array of items to ignite faith for Catholics in a region where persecuted Catholics emboldened the foundation of the church.

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