Father Paul Le Van Loc (right), Father Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Nhut and other people offer incense in front of assassinated president Ngo Dinh Diem’s tomb in Binh Duong province on Nov. 2. (Photo courtesy of Hong Tran Facebook)
Catholics in southern Vietnam have marked the death anniversary of an assassinated Catholic president who fought for the nation’s human rights, freedom and independence.
On Nov. 2, some 30 Catholics attended a special Mass to pray for the late John Baptist Ngo Dinh Diem, the country’s first Catholic president. His tomb is in Lai Thieu ceremony in Binh Duong province near Ho Chi Minh City.
Redemptorist Father Paul Le Van Loc and Dominican Father Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Nhut concelebrated the open-air Mass. They set up an altar on the president’s tomb where participants offered incense and flowers.
Traffic police were stationed on the road leading to the ceremony while plainclothes security officers were videoing and monitoring participants from surrounding tombs.
Many people were barred from the ceremony after they refused to give their personal information to officials.
“Today we are present here to celebrate the 57th death anniversary of the late president and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, who were assassinated on Nov. 2, 1963,” Father Loc told the congregation. The brothers were shot dead in an overthrow by then army officers backed by the United States.
Father Loc said the late president brought values of freedom and democracy to the nation and their ancestors owed a debt of gratitude to him. The South Vietnam president provided opportunities and land for hundreds of thousands of people who fled from communist-controlled northern Vietnam.
“We pray for him and his family members to be in heaven,” he said.
The priest also called on participants to follow the deceased’s shining examples in being loyal to their faith and implementing Christian values in their daily lives.
Born in 1901 in Quang Binh province, Diem studied at Catholic schools in Hue and a public school in Hanoi before working as a mandarin in the provinces of Thua Thien Hue, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan from 1922-33. He taught at a Catholic school in Hue and worked with other patriotic revolutionaries to make the country independent from French colonists from 1933-44.
He was detained by communists in 1945 and released in 1946. Then he spent months staying at a Redemptorist monastery in Hanoi before moving to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), where he worked with local patriots and his brother Bishop Peter Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc of Vinh Long.
Vietnam's last King Bao Dai appointed him prime minister of South Vietnam in 1956 and he was elected president of the Republic of Vietnam the following year. He did his best to unite all people and army forces in the south and to protect the country from foreign colonists and northern communists.
President Diem once said: “I am a normal man. I try to work from dawn till dusk and sacrifice my life for the country and nation.”
His nephew, the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, former coadjutor archbishop of Saigon, was imprisoned for 13 years and freed in 1988. He was forced to leave the country the following year.