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CATHOLICS, EXODUS FROM NORTH

In accordance with the Geneva Accords dividing Vietnam provisionally into two states at the 17th parallel in mid-1954, it was agreed that people living below and above that line would be able to migrate freely from one zone to another within a specified period of time. Around one million Vietnamese decided to leave Vietnam north of the 17th parallel, where the communist-run Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) would assume power, in favor of the State of Vietnam in the south. Of this number, around 600,000 Catholics decided to move to the south, meaning about two thirds of the total Catholic population living in the north until mid-1954. 918 Vietnamese priests accompanied their faithful southwards, while some 375 remained among their congregations within the DRV. The famous anti-communist and anti-colonialist nationalist Catholic bishops, Le Huu Tu and Pham Ngoc Chi, moved to the south in July 1954. This massive number of Vietnamese suddenly choosing to leave the north overwhelmed French logistics. The United States navy stepped in, providing vessels and teams to help transport them from Haiphong to southern Vietnam. Communist authorities would, until very recently, consider these refugees to be traitors, while others saw America’s Cold War hand pushing them to leave the “communist” north for the “free” south. Based on their experiences during the Indochina War, many Catholics feared that the DRV would clamp down on religious expression once in power. Others followed their parish priests, while some saw opportunities to be had in migrating to the south that had nothing to do with religion or ideology. What is sure is that this massive relocation of Vietnamese Catholics to the south would directly affect the nature of post 1954 politics and society in southern Vietnam and even the nature of the American war for Vietnam a few years later. See also ASSOCIATED STATES OF INDOCHINA; CATHOLICS IN VIETNAM AND THE WAR; CHRISTIANS AND OPPOSITION TO THE INDOCHINA WAR; NGO DINH DIEM; NGO DINH THUC; REGROUPING TO THE NORTH; VATICAN.