A long-term prime minister of the Republic of Vietnam, and one of the only two, South Vietnamese Army Four-star Generals, has been baptized into Catholic Church in California, USA during the Holy Week.
His baptism ended a long-time rumor lasting for decades that he was a Catholic during the Vietnam war.
At 2:30pm on the Palm Sunday March 25, Fr. Lê Trung Tướng, pastor of St. Elizabeth, Milpitas, San Jose baptized ex-prime minister Trần Thiện Khiêm. At the age of 96, the General decided to be baptized into the Catholic Church and chose St. Paul as his patron saint.
General Trần Thiện Khiêm, born 1922, was one of outstanding figures during the Vietnam War. During the 1960s he was involved in several coups. He helped President Ngô Đình Diệm, a Catholic, put down a coup attempt in November 1960. However, three years later he involved in the coup that overthrow and assassinated Diệm, who had rewarded him with abundant promotions. After several more coups, Khiêm became prime minister of the Republic of Vietnam until March 1975, a month before the fall of Saigon.
In an apparent attempt to defame Catholics, there has been a rumor suggested by communists and many other anti-Catholics that Khiêm was a devout Catholic and yet not lived up to his faith and was ready to betray his brothers in faith.
The ex-prime minister told reporters that during Vietnam war, he followed Vietnam patriarchal religion, primarily worshipping ancestors. Becoming Catholic is one of his life’s most profound and joyous experiences, and that he himself had decided to join the Catholic Church after a long time studying Catholicism and reflecting on what had happened in his life.
The Church in Vietnam has joyfully experienced a rise in interest among intellectuals and celebrities. Some begin to study about Catholicism, and later join the Church, after their affections to the witnesses of priests and lay faithful who dare to challenge the regime on behalf of the poor, and the defenseless in a society marked by so many acts of injustice, deprivation, and exclusion.