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Leading figure from Vietnam War baptized … at age 92

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Trần Thiện Khiêm, a former prime minister, became Catholic during Holy Week.

What was once rumor is now reality: Trần Thiện Khiêm has converted to Catholicism. This former general and prime minister of Vietnam, a supporter of a democratic republic in Vietnam, was long branded a Catholic by his Communist critics. They wanted above all to discredit him by suggesting that he served French or American foreign interests.

But the Vietnamese leader says that during the period of crisis that spanned the 1960s, he never stopped following traditional Vietnamese beliefs. The only form of religion permitted at the time was ancestor worship.

It must be said that his unstable life, punctuated by so much drama, seems to have long been an obstacle to a true and profound conversion. Throughout his career during the Vietnam War (1955-1975), he was indeed involved in many coups, sometimes with dramatic consequences.

Among them was the 1963 coup where he attacked the Catholic president Ngo Dinh Diêm— rumored to be his own godfather—after he had defended the same president just three years earlier. Ngo Dinh Diêm did not survive.

From 1969 onward, after participating in several other plots, he finally obtained the position of prime minister, which he held until the fall of Saigon and the end of the war in April 1975.

The result of of prolonged reflection

Although he had always been surrounded by Catholics, Trần Thiện Khiêm had never quite been ready to join the Church. It was not until the twilight of his life that he decided on his own initiative to become Catholic, receiving the sacraments of Baptism and First Communion at the end of this year’s Holy Week. He told AsiaNews the decision was the result of long reflection on his life and deep study of the Catholic faith.

The specialized news agency published a photo of the elderly statesman receiving Communion in his mouth, hands folded, from his wheelchair. Becoming a Catholic, he said, has been one of the deepest and most joyful experiences of his life.

According to AsiaNews, the Catholic Church of Vietnam hailed this gesture, welcoming with joy “the increase of interest” from Vietnamese intellectuals and celebrities: “More and more people, like Trần Thiện Khiêm, are entering the Church, inspired by the faith witness of lay people and priests who dare to defy the [Communist] regime in favor of the weakest.”

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