Saturday, May 07, 2016


 I got invited by my students at the Faculty of Canon Law in UST to join them in their educational trip to Vietnam. This was part of their class on the beatification and canonization process of saints under Fr. Danny Flores. Since I have been to Ho Chi Minh City six years ago and saw all the usual sights offered to tourists like the Cu Chi tunnels, river tour at the Mekong Delta, etc., I didn't mind joining my students. This time, the trip was in search of saints. 

               There are two candidates in Vietnam that are on the process of canonization.  The idea of the trip was to go to these places and interview or get updates from those in the know of the present status of the process. 

One candidate for sainthood in Vietnam was the former President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.  He was appointed bishop of Nha Trang in 1967 and was promoted to Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon in 1975. The communists who just came into power did not approve this nomination. Targeted for his  faith and his  being a nephew of the first president of South Vietnam he was soon imprisoned for thirteen years, nine of which were in solitary confinement. He was released in 1988 without being tried or sentenced. In 1994 he was appointed Vice President of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. He became the President of the Council in 1998 until his death in Sept. 16, 2002 in Rome. It was during his time as President, that the Compedium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was published.  He was created and proclaimed a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of Feb. 21, 2001. His cause for beatification was opened in Rome five years after his death in 2007 which coincided with the audience of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace with Pope Benedict who highlighted “the shining witness of faith which this heroic Pastor bequeathed to us.” The petitioner is the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.

The other candidate is a priest from  the Diocese of Can Tho, south of Vietnam: Fr. Francis  Truong Buu Diep. He was  born on Jan. 1, 1897 in the An Giang Province, south-west of Vietnam in the Mekong delta.  At  that time all parishes of the Mekong Delta belonged to the Diocese of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.  He became a priest in 1924. He  was appointed a parochial vicar, then professor in the minor seminary. In March 1930 he became the parish priest of Tac Say which included eight mission churches until his death in March 12, 1946. In 1945-1946, the south west part of Vietnam was considered a war-torn area. Villages were destroyed and people were evacuated.  People lived in  extreme insecurity of war and of fighting among different political  groups for power and for land. Fr. Francis Truong Buu Diep was summoned to leave, but he firmly stated: “My life and my death are reserved for my flock! A shepherd should be where his flock is!” On March 12, 1946 Fr. Francis Diep and around a hundred parishioners were forced to leave for Cay Gua where they were kept in a barn. It was there that Fr. Diep was killed and his body thrown into a pool of water. His dead body would  later be recovered and buried in the sacristy of Khuc Treo Church, one of the mission churches of Fr. Diep. In 1969 his remains were transferred to Tac Say Parish. In March 4, 2010 his remains were moved to another vault just nearby in a now bigger building.  Veneration to his cult has started ever since. Several pilgrims would visit the tomb every day. Not only Catholics but also non-Catholics would come.  The archbishop emeritus of Saigon, Cardinal John the Baptist Pham Minh Man has stated: “Non-Catholics and even atheists have already canonized Fr. Francis Diep.” In August 11, 2011 the bishop of Can Tho, Most Rev. Steven Tri Buu Thien granted a decree so that the procedure of beatification of Fr. Francis Truong Buu Diep can officially begin.
Fr. Francis Truong Buu Diep. 

There were eleven of us in this trip which included the eight Canon Law students six of whom were priests, one Dominican Sister and a seminarian; their professor: Fr. Danny Flores; a Dominican priest, Fr. Paul Factora and myself. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh after a two and a half hour plane ride at past one early morning of Tuesday. We checked in at Lien Phuong Hotel.

The first activity we had after breakfast was the visit to the pink church of the parish of Tan Dinh which was just near our hotel.  The purpose of the visit was to listen to the parish priest and the vicar forane of the Tan Dinh vicariate, Fr. Vo Van Anh. Fr. Vo Vahn Anh was the only priest who received Bp. Van Thuan when he came to Saigon. Bp. Van Thuan stayed in his parish for one and a half months. Bp. Van Thuan then transferred to the seminary where he was caught and imprisoned.  Fr. Lam Tran, a Vietnamese and one of our  Canon Law students would be the interpreter. Fr. Vo Van Anh said that after his release in prison, he would met again Bp. Van Thuan a number of times in Rome. The last time he saw him was about a month before his death.  Fr. Anh is one of the witnesses who has been interviewed for the cause of Card. Van Thuan.  Fr. Anh was saying that there are four lessons that he could get from the life of Card. Van Thuan. The first is forgiveness.  He readily forgave everyone.  The guards that were all assigned to him would all become his friends.  The second was obedience to God’s will.  He never questioned all that happened to him and accepted them as God’s will.   The third is making others happy.  He had the ability to make himself close to everyone. He never mentioned about his past or his prison life but would always be solicitous for others.  And the last is that he always lived with hope for the future.  He was a great man of hope.

Ho Chi Minh City

The pink church of Tan Dinh  is the second largest church in Ho Chi Minh City.  The parish priest and at the same time the Vicar Forane  was Fr. Vo Van Anh whom we came to interview. 

The church is pink inside and out. 

A grotto of the Blessed Virgin just outside the church. 

A grotto of St. Joseph with the child Jesus at the back of the church. 

Large bonsai plants on large clay pots. 

The building at the back is a Dispensary where old and sick people are being cared for. 

A garden with  the Stations of the Cross at the back of the church. 

Fr. Vo Vanh Ahn  shares his experiences with Cardinal Van Thuan. He was the only one who accepted Cardinal Van Thuan when he came to Saigon as a Coadjutor bishop. At that time Saigon just came under the Communist rule. 

Fr. Lam Tran, our student in Canon Law, translating what Fr. Vo Vahn Ahn was sharing. 

Some of our canon law students. 

Fr. Flores was saying that for a confessor to be canonized it must be proven that the person had an uncommon practice of virtue. He must have practiced a virtue in a heroic manner.  That practice of virtue must separate him from any other person.  If he is a priest or a cardinal that virtue must be outstanding in him aside from practicing all the other virtues.  This makes that person to be canonized as worthy of imitation and intercession. That person must have lived in the fullness of his vocation. In canonization, the determining factor is theological but the instruments used are legal, canonical and medical. 

With regards to Card. Van Thuan it is not the archdiocese of Saigon that is the  petitioner but the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace in Rome.  There are also diplomatic points that are being considered because until now Vietnam is still under communist regime. It was the Communists who imprisoned the Cardinal and perhaps a slap in their face also when he was appointed to a high position in Rome when he was exiled and now being considered to the sainthood.  Like Pope  John Paul II who was instrumental of the fall of communism in Poland, the canonization of Card. Van Thuan might also have the same effect for Vietnam.


The seminary is situated in within the compound which includes the Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese. Large buildings for more than 200 seminarians coming from Ho Chi Minh and some neighboring dioceses. 

The dining hall of the seminary. 

Kitchen of the Seminary. 

Seminary chapel. 

Recreation room of the seminarians at the basement. 

One of the conference halls. 

Seminary chapel. 

Seminary museum. 

Seminary parlor where the seminarians entertain their visitors.

A Gothic chapel built in the late 1800s within the compound of the seminary. 

Inside the Chapel 

Tombs of the bishops of Saigon buried in the chapel. 

At the Archdiocesan Museum. 

The Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Saigon. 

Pastoral Center. 

Cardinal John the Baptist Pham Minh Man, emeritus archbishop of Saigon resides in one of the buildings within the seminary compound.  He was sharing that if you want to love the Communists then you come and  stay in Vietnam. 

A souvenir shot with Cardinal John the Baptist Pham Minh Man, emeritus archbishop of Saigon.


Interior of the Saigon Cathedral. 

The floor tiles of the Saigon cathedral. 

The Saigon Post Office just near the Cathedral. 

Saigon Post Office. 

Inside the Post Office. It is both a tourist spot with souvenir shops and a postal office where mails and postcards are still being sent. 

Tac Say church where Fr. Francis Truong Buu Diep is buried is about 300 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh. The bus ride took about six hours. We left at eight in the evening and arrived in Tac Say at two in the morning. We were surprised to see that there were already  a good number of buses and mini buses waiting outside the gates of the parish church when we arrived. They were pilgrims coming from the different parts of the country. Fr. Tram forgot to ask for the number of the guard and he was hesitant to wake up the parish priest at that wee hour so we just waited until the gates were opened at four o’clock in the morning. When the gates were opened at four, the parish priest was already there at the convento waiting and he ushered us to our rooms for a quick sleep.

The parish  had a big compound.  In the middle of the lot was the church with three levels. The main church was at the top floor.  The second floor was a smaller chapel and the ground floor was an open hall.  To the right of the church was a big building with Vietnamese architecture which housed the remains of Fr. Truong Buu Diep. On the left side of the lot was the five-storey Pilgrimage center which is open to pilgrims to stay overnight at no cost at all. It can accommodate about 600 pilgrims.  There was a wide parking space in front of the buildings.
At nine in the morning we had our conference with the parish priest: Fr. Francis Tran Binh Trong. He is also teaching at their diocesan seminary. He was the one who built the newly constructed pilgrimage center. Fr. Trong was saying that the cult to Fr. Truong Buu Diep is very strong. It has also devotees in other countries like the U.S and Canada. It was  donations coming from the people that  helped build the edifices. Many manifestations and miracles have been reported by people. On Sundays and the 15th of each month pilgrims would come in droves.

Since the basis for the beatification of Fr. Diep is martyrdom, Fr. Trong was asked who was  it who killed him and was it really for hatred of the faith that he was killed.  Fr. Trong replied that the two people who killed Fr. Diep were identified. In fact it is said that before they killed him, they asked for his forgiveness for doing it.  However, who it was who authorized them to do it is not known. At that time there were several groups trying to control the area: the communists, a Buddhist faction the governor of whom at that time was a member, the French, Japanese and British. Fr. Diep being a Catholic was suspected to be sympathetic to the French which was identified by the Vietnamese as Catholic.

The Tac Say compound. The parish church is in the middle. To the right of the church is the tomb of Fr. Francis Truong Buu Diep. To the left is the five storey convent and pilgrim center. 

The Parish Church has three levels. The church is at the topmost while a smaller chapel is on the second level. The ground floor is an open space for meetings and other gatherings. 

The building with the red roof is the tomb of Fr. Francis Truong Buu Diep. 

Pilgrims are praying around the tomb of Fr. Truong Buu Diep. 

The tomb of Fr. Diep. Catholics and non Catholics alike would come and offer prayers. 

Candlestick stands in front of the tomb. 

Just beside the present tomb is the older and smaller building where the tomb of Fr. Diep was laid. 

An altar dedicated to Fr. Diep at the church convent. 

Side view of the church. 

Inside the church while mass is being celebrated.  On weekends and every 15th day of the month, they say thousands of devotees would come. 

Just in front of the main door of the church. 

The ground floor of the church. On the posts are inscribed the names of donors who donated to the construction of the whole complex. 

The Pilgrim Center. 

The Pilgrim center could accommodate up to 600 pilgrims. 

A statue of Fr. Diep in front of the Pilgrim Center. 

Museum and artifacts related to Fr. Diep are kept at the Pilgrim Center. 

Enclosed in a glass case is the wooden casket where Fr. Diep was laid when he first was brought to Tac Say. 

The wooden casket of Fr. Diep when he was buried in Khuc Threo. 

Fr. Tram gives an explanation on the life of Fr. Diep. 

Statue of Fr. Diep at the convento presents him like St. Francis Xavier. 

Taking our meals at the convento. 

Fried slender frogs as pulutan. 

A group pose with the parish priest of Tac Say (4th from left) Fr. Francis Tran Binh Trong.

In the afternoon we visited the church where Fr. Diep was first buried in Khuc Treo church. It was just across a small river, an artery of the Mekong. We had to take a small barge which would just turn around, move a few meters and let the passengers and motorcycles out at the other side of the river.  We met the parish priest there. There were also a  few pilgrims praying at the former tomb of Fr. Diep which was still maintained. At the end of the granite slab was a rectangular opening which one can open to see earth where Fr. Diep was buried. There was a spring water that many would say was miraculous.  The parish priest had a picture of a woman who had a swollen stomach which was cured by just drinking water from the spring.  The parish priest was also saying that his tumor on the neck/throat was cured after drinking the spring water.  He related also the experience of a couple he saw just that previous evening. While they were praying in front of the statue of Fr. Diep just outside the church, he saw them fell backwards as if slain. But then they were not hurt. The couple would later relate that some hands helped them to get up.

The Khuc Threo parish church is just across the river. With no bridge, a river barge brings people across. 

Khuc Threo Parish Church. This is where Fr. Diep was first buried. 

Inside the church. 

The old tomb of Fr. Diep is at the back of the church. There are still many pilgrims who come to ask for the intercession of Fr. Diep. 

The parish priest of Khuc Threo. 

The small river separating the church from the main highway. 

After that we went to the place where Fr. Diep was killed. It was just a few kilometers from the Khuc Threo church. It was at the backyard of a private house. The pool looked like a small fishpond or a big hole where carabaos would bathe.

At the back of this house was where Fr. Diep was martyred. 

The place where Fr. Diep was murdered and the pool where his body was thrown. The place is a private property. 

We were back at Tac Say for dinner and after which we left to return to Ho Chi Minh.  We thanked the parish priest who generously and hospitably accepted us.

We  checked in again at Lien Phuong hotel upon arriving in Ho Chi Minh at past three in the morning. The day would  be spent at the Suoi Tien Entertainment Park where we had lunch and then in the afternoon we went to the Saigon Square and dinner at Kichi-kichi Restaurant for a Japanese style shabu-shabu where the ingredients for the shabu-shabu would pass  in  front on a conveyor  belt. After  some ice cream at a nearby ice cream shop  we were off to the  airport for our early morning flight at one o’clock.

The Redemptorist Chapel in Saigon. 

Inside the Redemptorist Chapel. 

The Redemptorists had a religious store at the back of the chapel which sells religious items at low prices. 


We only had a day to go around Ho Chi Mihn. Fr. Tram brought us to this theme park of Suoi Tien. 

We took our lunch at the Theme Park. 

Suoi Tien Theme Park. 

Having noodles for breakfast with Fr. Danny Flores. 

Dinner in one of the restaurants in Ho Chi Minh. Food is not that expensive there. 

At the Kichi-kichi restaurant. 

At the Ice Cream Parlor after our last dinner in Ho Chi Minh. 

Last shot with Fr. Danny Flores,(right) at the Ice Cream parlor. 

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