Chapter 8


The Virgin Mary Goes South

Diem started at once to set in motion the Vatican U.S.-CIA grand strategy, directed at the preservation and consolidation of South Vietnam. His eagerness as a political protégé of America, and his zeal as a fervent son of the Church were seldom displayed with such concrete immediacy.

Stringent legislation, by laws and edicts, all consonant with what he had in mind, were formulated and enforced, almost at once. The Catholic hold at all levels of the administration took many—including certain Catholics themselves—by surprise. In the army, Catholics were inexplicably promoted to commanding positions. The police likewise soon became the inner monopoly of zealous Catholics. Diem's own brother, became the head of the secret police, with unlimited power.

Within the shortest possible time, the whole machinery of the Diem Administration was inspired and was made to function by the tightly knit structure of the Catholic community.The object of the exercise was a well calculated preparatory step to strengthen Diem's hand during his forthcoming most objectionable move; refusal to hold the elections commanded by the Geneva Declaration. Diem, having decided long ago in secret accordance with the U.S. not to have the elections, had to build a reliable police machinery, in case of trouble, not only in the domestic but also the international fields. The refusal might have provoked the North to take drastic military actions; while in the South, guerrillas and discontented patriots might have risen up in revolt against Diem's breach of the solemn Geneva agreement. When finally the time came for the election to be held, Diem, backed by the U.S., refused. Following vague general protests abroad, the fait-accompli was accepted by an indifferent world public opinion.

Having succeeded in his first act of defiance, Diem then set out promoting another no less spectacular move. The basic idea was to disrupt the North Vietnamese government by engineering a vast internal dislocation of the North Vietnamese population. The machination had three main objectives:

  1. the weakening of the North
  2. a damaging smear campaign against the Communists and
  3. the immediate strengthening of South Vietnam by the mass absorption of fellow Catholics.

The policy had the gravest implications, both for the North as well as for the South. The scheme had been conceived not in Vietnam but simultaneously at Washington and at the Vatican. It was the brain child of Cardinal Spellman, of Pius XII, the two Dulles brothers, Diem and certain American military elements who God-fathered it at once. The participation of Pius XII had an even more sinister objective, but we shall look at it presently.

The necessary moves were taken almost immediately. The vast propaganda, hierarchical, religious and sabotage machineries were promptly set in motion. In different circumstances and with a different religious background, the plan would have succeeded. Without the full participation of the Catholic Church, it would have been a total failure.

The scheme of mass dislocation indeed became possible, thanks exclusively to the Catholic Church. This was due to the fact that the vast majority of Catholics lived in North Vietnam. The Catholics there were numerous, powerful and had enjoyed exceptional privileges for decades. The French saw to it that it was so, the better to rely upon them for the continuance of their colonial administration. French colonialism and the Catholic Church had been identified as two inseparable twins for a very long period, as we have already seen.

When the Vietnamese started to fight the French, most Catholics in the North fought on behalf of the French and against the Vietnamese because the latter were Communists. Once the French had been defeated however, these same Catholics, instead of submitting themselves to the new administration, retained their own para-military groupings, para-military organizations, ammunitions and the rest. This they did in many parts of the North, especially at Phat Diem and Nam Dinh in Tonkin.

Following the Vietnamese take-over, they refused to cooperate, except on their own terms. The situation became a very dangerous one, since the Catholics being so well organized and commanded by Catholic priests, unless propitiated could put up an effective resistance.

This state of affairs had originated in the days of Bao Dai, when the Catholic bishops had fully cooperated with him in all matters, and had been appointed as his representatives. The bishops, protected as they were by the government, took full advantage, and set up their own civil and military units, transforming themselves into the rulers of their own regions. The Catholics, in short, within a very brief period, had turned themselves into a state within a state.

The Vietnamese administration, therefore, upon taking over the North, came face to face with this extraordinary situation. Realizing that, unless they dealt very carefully there might be an internecine war, they set about handling the anomaly with the greatest care. This they did by avoiding antagonizing the Catholics on religious grounds, going so far as to appoint Catholic priests and even Catholic bishops to their administration. Ho Chi Minh, himself, had a Catholic bishop as his chief advisor.

Soon Vietnamese legislation, however, began to disturb the state of armistice between the Catholics and the regime. The many privileges which the Catholic Church until then had enjoyed were abolished. All religions were put on the same footing. Buddhism, the predominant faith of the majority, was given the same status as the Catholic Church. In August, 1953, to prove that the regime was not against the Catholic Church, there was organized a National Congress of Religions. Its main message: assurance that all religions would enjoy equality.

The Catholics objected most strongly to these measures. They expected and wanted special treatment. Only their church was the "true church." They started to resist, and to stultify the measure. When the law was invoked against them, they accused the authorities of religious persecution. Violence ensued. Arrests were made. The new legislation of equality for all religions, and the arrests, were called at once, by the Catholic machinery at home and abroad, as unprecedented persecutions. The incidents were magnified beyond recognition by the Catholic and American propaganda apparatus everywhere. To promote even more confusion, the U.S. and Diem sent sabotage workers inside North Vietnam. These promoted demonstrations, blew up bridges, and harassed the authorities, to no end. Rumors inspired by Diem and the CIA spread like wildfire, to the effect that the Catholics would be arrested and executed. Their own salvation was to escape to the South, where any Catholic from the North would be welcomed, given food, shelter and a job.

Catholics fleeing North Vietnam, following the intense religious and political propaganda from the South. They were told that if they stayed under a Communist atheistic government they would be atom bombed out of existence and they would lose their souls. Catholic President Diem wished to create economic and political disruption to the North with an accelerated population dislocation. Catholic priests and the South Vietnamese radio declared that the Virgin Mary and even her Son, Jesus Christ, had gone to South Vietnam to live under Catholic Diem. Ultimately three-quarters of a million North Vietnamese Catholics fled their homes and villages within a few months. The authorities in the North tried to stop the human flood but were helpless against the religious emotionalism used by the Catholics of South Vietnam.

To accelerate the exodus, or rather the disruption, the religious factor came to the fore. Suddenly all the villages were flooded by millions of leaflets. These told the faithful that Jesus Christ had gone south. When some Catholics expressed their doubts about Jesus' migration, additional millions of leaflets appeared all over, declaring that His mother, the Virgin Mary, had departed from the North. Why had the Virgin Mary left the North?—Because the Mother of God wished to go south and live under a Catholic premier, Diem.

Since many still expressed their unwillingness to migrate, other rumors, no less sensational, were heard: the North was going to be atom-bombed. Only the South was safe for Catholics. A Central Evacuation Committee was set up. It was headed by a Catholic priest, and was financed directly by the U.S. One of its leaflets read as follows:

"Dear Catholic brothers and sisters, hundreds of gigantic airplanes are waiting to transport you free to Saigon, in the South . . . There you will be given fertile rice fields . . . By remaining in the North, you will experience famine, and will damn your souls . . . "

Similar and other types of religious terrors, literature and manufactured fear news flooded the Catholic population, creating as much confusion and incertitude as they could, by spreading rumors of all kinds. Indeed, it created panic. This was done chiefly by the distribution of emotional books, many written by U.S. Catholic priests, in which atrocities were described and narrated. Their titles helped to inflame odium against the enemy—"Deliver Us From Evil" being one of the most popular. Such literature appeared from nowhere, financed by U.S. Catholics who distributed propaganda, disguised as news, to the American public all over the U.S. The media was saturated by a Catholic slanted version of the whole story. This flood of Catholic literature had one main objective: to create sympathy for Diem and his Catholic regime. The additional religious fire was added from the Vatican itself, although done indirectly, was nevertheless highly effective.

The Catholic-CIA-Diem emotion-making machine came to the fore, with its most potent weapon: it enrolled our Lady of Fatima, promising an evacuation campaign. We have already seen what role our Lady of Fatima had been made to play in the religious-ideological strategy in the grand design of Pope Pius XII at the height of the Cold War and its aftermath. Now at the height of the Catholic mass dislocation of North Vietnam, Our Lady came once more to the forefront, as the standard bearer of religious ideological objectives.

A statue of Our Lady of Fatima was paraded in long meaningful processions in villages and cities. The statue had a particular significance, for it had been given by Pope Pius XII, himself, to the Catholics of Haiphong during their pilgrimage to Rome. The Pope had given personal blessing to it after explaining that Our Lady had a unique significance for Asia, especially for the Catholics of Indo-China, namely Vietnam. At this delicate juncture the statue was given added dramatic significance by the skillful use of further emotionalism. The Catholic-CIA-Diem propaganda machinery came out with the disclosure that the blessed statue "had been rescued" from the evil intents of the atheistic Communists. What the Communists intended to do to it, was never disclosed. The individual and collective sense of relief experienced by the already disturbed Catholics of North Vietnam, about the mother of God having escaped probably a fate worse even than death, however, was tremendous.

The statue of the rescued Lady of Fatima, now safe and sound in the hands of her worshipers, was paraded again and again in long emotional processions, as priests and others were reminding the populace that she had a special message for them, that she had been personally blessed by the Vicar of Christ on Earth, and above all that she had been rescued from the Communists, because she wished them to leave the North and go south to live under a Catholic president. The participation of the Virgin was the last straw. Thousands upon thousands who until then could not make up their minds, finally, seeing how the Virgin of Fatima herself was leaving, plunged southward. The North Vietnamese government, alarmed at the scale or the migration, tried to stop it by giving assurances of all kinds. It was too late.

The first thousands were joined by the fast growing crowd. Within a very short time, the whole of the Catholic population appeared to have decided to leave, and became a veritable mass exodus. Catholic priests, and Diem agents mingling with them, encouraged those who were still uncertain what to do. The emotional impact of the religious pressure, however, became so irresistible, that whole villages, led by their bishops, left en mass. Repeated rumors of impending atomic attacks hastened their departure. As the rivulets of fleeing Catholics became a flood, Catholic Diem sent personal messages to President Eisenhower: Could the U.S. help with the evacuation of the persecuted Catholics from the North? Answer: Yes, the U.S. would help the Catholics. The Seventh Fleet was sent in. French warships joined in the mass exodus. A well organized Flight to Freedom was commenced. Catholic organizations, Catholic newsmen, and Catholic priests came over from the U.S. Some of them with the American Navy itself. During the three days voyage, masses were celebrated by Catholic priests in the American ships, the religious emotionalism, was kept at boiling point with emotional sermons and admonitions of certain Catholic padres of the U.S. Navy.

When the first vessel with the Catholic refugees arrived in Saigon, the brother of President Diem, Bishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, Vicar Apostolic, and therefore the official representative of the Pope, went to meet them and to bless them. The

Catholics fleeing North Vietnam and boarding a French vessel sent to take them to South Vietnam where President Diem had promised them they would be welcomed. They were promised food, shelter and jobs. The mass exodus of Catholics from the North had been engineered by President Diem, by Cardinal Spellman and by John Foster Dulles, as a scheme by which to weaken the Communist regime of the Viet-Minhs and, at the same time, to strengthen that of Catholic Diem in the South. Religious and ideological pressure was exercised at all levels. Whereas rumors were spread, that unless the Catholics left the North, they might be atom-bombed, the Church declared that Christ had left North Vietnam to go South. Hundreds of thousands left because of such double pressure. The U.S. sent the Seventh Fleet to help in the operation. Catholic priests were on board to receive and bless the refugees and to say mass.

American ships had Catholic brethren from the North. Then to cap it all—at Christmas, Spellman himself went to Saigon as the special envoy of the Pope, and the official representative of the American armed forces, where he gave the first check of $10,000, a gift from the U.S. Catholics. The many-branched efficient Catholic propaganda and charitable machinery meanwhile had set to work in earnest. Funds were raised to help the refugees, headed by the American Roman Catholic Welfare Fund. The Catholic lobby pestered President Eisenhower to give more and more money and more transport to the poor Catholics, the victims of unheard of religious persecutions; their plight was compared to that of the early Christians under Nero. The Catholics of the North were escaping, as the U.S. Catholic propaganda machinery was never tired of repeating, "to preserve their faith."

Certain unscrupulous personalities in Washington joined in the humbug fanfare, eager for political favoritism. This was headed by Vice-President Nixon, who persuaded the President to "put across the first American aid to Catholic Diem." When it was all over, between 800 and 900 thousand North Vietnamese Catholics had fled from the North to be welcomed by Diem in the South.

The colossal influx of Catholics created problems of all kinds. These however were going to be solved with the goodwill of all concerned, beginning with those who had engineered the whole campaign, namely the Catholics of South Vietnam, certain elements of the U.S. and the CIA and the Vatican, since the ultimate goal was worth any sacrifice, be it of suffering, of principles, or even of lives. The real promotion of the campaign, however, had come not from the U.S. Catholics and the politico-military of Washington, but by the Pope himself, in conjunction with the Communist leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, in a secret deal, as we shall see presently in a subsequent chapter.


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