This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive. The event has generated perhaps more publications in the English language – government reports, media accounts, academic studies, amateur histories, memoirs, etc. – than any other from the Vietnam War. A sucker for anniversaries of publications and releases of films and music, I wish to commemorate it by inviting non-Vietnamese to listen to a very well-known song among Vietnamese.
Two summers ago, Vietnam was in the throes of another series of protests: this time, in reaction to the fish deaths along some of the coastal areas. Widespread, emotional, and nationalistic, the protests were nonetheless carefully monitored and even partially suppressed by the government. In the last two weeks, and especially since last Saturday (January 20), intense nationalism has again shown up on the streets of Vietnam, but for a different reason: the national men’s soccer team kept advancing in the third Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Championship tournament.
It is always tricky writing about “the best” or “the most XYZ” song. But this year marks the centenary of the Marian apparitions in Fátima, and more Vietnamese Americans travelled to Portugal than any previous year. It made me think of the song Lời Mẹ Nhắn Nhủ [Words of Our Lady], better known by its informal title Năm Xưa Trên Cây Sồi [Years Ago on an Oak Tree]. I’m not very keen on awards, especially awards of recent productions. But I’m more open for retrospective awards. Were there an award for the category “the most devotional Marian song or hymn written in Vietnamese in the twentieth century,” I’d vote for this song.
By a coincidence of scheduling, Rod Dreher and J.D. Vance gave talks at Pepperdine within four days of each other. I was able to attend both presentations and took a few notes.
The short answer: There were about 900 Catholic priests of Vietnamese origin in the U.S. by 2012. There are approximately 950 at this time (2017), and probably more.
“Do anything three times if possible,” goes my motto as a forty-something. Publish three books or articles on different topics but a common theme. Or, dance to three different songs but the same genre from the same period. Or, write three blog posts about the same subject matter in a row. Three books and articles I haven’t achieved. But I’ve done the dancing bit and now I am doing the third thing. My last two blog posts are about Vietnamese Catholic refugees in the U.S. during the 1970s and the 1980s, and this post rounds up the miniseries.
My last post is about Ngô Đình Diệm’s older brother Archbishop Thục, who got mixed up with several reactionary groups during the 1970s and 1980s before reconciling with the Vatican and living out his last year among a religious order of Vietnamese men in Missouri. Since then, I’ve read some more materials and learned about something I didn’t know before: a group of Catholic refugees led by a traditionalist and anti-Vatican II priest by the name of Trần Văn Khoát.
Continue reading “Fr. Trần Văn Khoát and Catholic refugees in Beaumont and Port Arthur”
The only time that I’ve seen anyone related by blood to Ngô Đình Diệm – Ngo Dinh Diem for readers that are used to the English spelling – occurred exactly thirty-three years ago this month. The town was Carthage, Missouri, best known as the American headquarters of a large Catholic order of Vietnamese American priests and brothers. The person was Ngô Đình Thục, Diệm’s older brother and the former archbishop of Huế. Along with tens of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics, I was attending the annual Marian Days weekend with my family and people from southern Minnesota. Unfortunately I don’t remember much about the Archbishop except that he presided over one of the masses with a visiting bishop from Vietnam.