Vietnam: Catholics protest in defiance of government ultimatum

After three months and one day holding daily peaceful protests over the seizure of 14 acres of their land by the government, parishioners from Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Hanoi now face an ultimatum to cease their protests before noon April 7.

Thousands of Catholics gathered at the disputed land to pray in open defiance of the local government ultimatum to free the area and disperse demonstrations by 12 pm Monday. The Peoples Committee of Dong Da district released a statement, warning the protestors that they are engaged in “illegal activities” with their prayer campaigns at the disputed land. The statement also threatened “extreme action” if demonstrations and the sit-in ­ ongoing since January 6 ­ were not called off by 12pm Monday.

Signed on April 6, the ordinance 212/UBND-VP “ordered” Hanoi Redemptorists to remove the cross and all statues of the Virgin Mary out of the site along with camping tents erected by demonstrators who have camped out at the site for more than three months.

At the time of the ultimatum, hundreds of police came to the site hinting that a crackdown was likely. Redemptorists and their parishioners responded by gathering more and more people to pray at the site, asking the government to respect fairness and put justice into practice.

A protestor argued with a local official that the parishioners “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.”

“At the moment,” said Fr Joseph Nguyen from the site at 6pm Monday: “hundreds religious and lay people are praying. Large numbers of security police, in uniform and in plain-clothes, are on the site, surrounding the protesters and mingling in their ranks, taking photos and filming with video cameras. Despite all threatening acts from the government, more and more Catholics go to the site to pray, chant and sing. Some even sleep at the site to protect their cross and statues”.

According to the Redemptorists who run the parish, they originally purchased 15 acres of land in 1928. In 1954, the Communist government took control of northern Vietnam and jailed or deported most of Redemptorists. This left Fr Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich to run the church by himself. Despite Fr Vu’s persistent protests, local authorities gradually seized the parish’s land one section at a time. Consequently, the plot of land was reduced from 15 acres to its present-day size of little more than half an acre.

The government upped the ante at the beginning of 2008 by allowing construction on the Chin Thng sewing company to commence. The confiscated church property soon was surrounded by a fence and the presence of security officials.

Protestors have been gathering at the work site since January 7 to prevent any further construction by the state-run company.

In a message sent last January 7 to all the Redemptorists in the country, the provincial superior Fr. Joseph Cao Dinh Tri says the local government has illegally confiscated land belonging to their monastery at Thai Ha, Hanoi and is supporting a construction project there. The Redemptorists in Hanoi, Fr. Cao continues, “have responded by gathering people to pray at the construction site, asking the government to respect fairness and put justice into practice. I would earnestly implore all of you, the whole province of Vietnam, to be in solidarity with our brother Redemptorists in Hanoi, in order to pray for our common apostolate”.


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