Monday, October 13, 2014

French Indochina: Then and Now

 Municipal State Theater, 1955
From Christine Niles:
This period of colonial rule saw the greatest flourishing of the Catholic faith in the entire history of Indochina. Catholicism held favored status, and around the turn of the century the average number of converts per year numbered a stunning 50,000. Native clergy were more numerous than in any other missionary country in the world.

Evil never rests, however, and this time of good fortune would see a swift end in the mid-twentieth century, when Ho Chi Minh declared himself president of the Democratic National Republic in the North, taking over the South some years later. French rule would cease completely in 1954.

Under the communist regime, the Faith was placed under interdict, and the Catholic population quickly dwindled, until it is now only a fraction of the populace.

But France’s presence is everywhere felt, whether in the faith, language, architecture, dance, or food. It was Fr. Rhodes who latinized the Vietnamese tongue, transcribing the tonal language into the Western characters used by all Vietnamese today. And Saigon, the former capital of Indochina, evidences France’s influence in its European architecture, tree-lined streets, and public gardens. Ballroom dancing, a popular pastime among the Vietnamese, is a French import. And the French contributions to Vietnamese food are too numerous to recount, whether in their coffee, cheese, pastries, or main dishes.

The Eldest Daughter of the Church once had a cherished daughter in Indochina, who has now cast her off—even so, France’s spirit remains. (Read more.)

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