Vietnam: tensions grow between Church and government

Our correspondent in Vietnam has asked ICN readers to pray for Catholics in Vietnam as the government there has threatened to use violence against the ongoing prayer vigils calling for the return of confiscated church property.

On January 11, the local government of Hanoi issued a statement in which it accused Archbishop Joseph Ngô Quang Kit of “taking advantages of religious freedom to stir up protests against the government”, “organizing prayer protests after every Mass”, and “damaging the relationship between Vietnam and Vatican”.

The local government of Hanoi also accused Fr Joseph Trnh Ngc Hiên, vicar of Thai Ha parish, and his parishioners of disturbing public order by organizing prayer protests, and hanging Our Lady icons and Crosses on the fences standing on the land in dispute.

In Vietnam, the expression “taking advantages of religious freedom to stir up protests against the government” usually means a very strong warning from the communist government that it is ready to employ violent persecutions.

Archbishop Joseph Ngô seemed to ignore the alarming warning. He argued back point by point on a statement issued on January 14 by Fr John Lê Trng Cung, chancellor of Hanoi archdiocese. “Hanoi Catholics”, he said, “have no other choice than praying peacefully on disputed lands to attract the attention of the government on injustices they have suffered” because “their petitions have gone unanswered”.

He pointed out that according to Vietnam laws, no one can carry out new constructions or modifications on the land in dispute. Those who do that violate the laws. But, “The local government did not punish them. Instead, it has stood on their side”, said the statement. The local government also did not keep their words. “On the evening of January 7, it pledged to the parishioners of Thai Ha to stop any new constructions on parish land, the next morning, the People’s Committee of Hanoi issued another ruling to allow Chien Thang sewing company to keep going with its plan”. “That’s why Hanoi Catholics do not trust the government any more”.

The statement indicated that Archbishop Joseph Ngô will not submit to the pressure from the government and the prayer protests will continue until Hanoi Catholics win justice.

Bishop Paul Nguyn Vn Hòa of Ban Mê Thut, former president of Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Francis Nguy_n V_n Sang of Thái Bình; Bishop Joseph V Vn Thiên of Hi Phòng; and newly ordained Bishop Joseph ng c Ngân of Lng Sn issued statements to show their solidarity and their full support for Archbishop Joseph Ngô, priests, religious and the faithful of Hanoi archdiocese.

IOn another occasion, Saigon archdiocese also published a strong-worded letter from Cardinal Jean Baptiste Phm Minh Mn, archbishop of Saigon, to the local government. On November 16, 2007, the local government sent him an official letter in reply to a request which he made more than three years earlier. In 2004, Cardinal Jean Baptiste Phm demanded the requisition of a building within the premises of Saigon Major Seminary. After more than three years of waiting, he was told that his request was unsuccessful.

In the letter published last week, dated December 17, 2007, Cardinal Jean Baptiste Phm said that he was “shocked at both reasons for the rejection of his request, and at the long waiting time”.

Along with the letter from Cardinal Jean Baptiste Phm, Saigon archdiocese also published a statement in which the Cardinal stated that the building “was seized illegally by the local government”. The building had been used to house foreign missionaries until it was confiscated in 1976 when all missionaries were deported.

The government argued that the building was a foreign property. But, “French missionaries were only the resident”, the statement of Saigon archdiocese argued back, “they were not the owner of the building. Therefore, when they left Vietnam, the building remained a property of the archdiocese, of the Church in Vietnam”.


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