Vietnam: authorities return piece of confiscated church land

In an unexpected announcement yesterday, local government of Quang Tri province stated that they would return most of the land surrounding the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of La Vang, that was confiscated by the communists in 1975.

During a meeting between Archbishop Stephen Nguyen Nhu The, bishop Francis Le Van Hong – archbishop and coadjutor bishop of the Archdiocese of Hue – and the local government of Quang Tri province on last Thursday April 10th, Nguyen Duc Chinh, vice chairman of the People Committee of Quang Tri stated that the government had decided to return to the Church an area of 21.18 hectares. The news has been confirmed by Bishop Francis Le Van Hong in an official letter to Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The total area of 23.66 hectares surrounding the Basilica has been seized by the government after 1975. Nguyen Duc Chinh also stated that the other area of 2.48 hectares would remain State property. However, the Church may use the land for its activities.

The news has been received with mixed reactions. Some believe that the government wants to show their goodwill in the dialogue with the Church on the land issues. Others think the government now appreciates the potential of tourism benefits of the site once the Church regains its land to build tourist features. But most express their skepticism that this action means the government will keep its promise to return Hanoi nunciature.

On 1 February, Catholics in Hanoi agreed to stop protesting as the Vietnamese government promised it would return the former nunciature to the Archdiocese of Hanoi. But so far, no moves have been made. For many Catholic activists in Hanoi, the promise seems to be a hollow one. Many call for the resumption of protests.

La Vang is the greatest sanctuary in Vietnam commemorating a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was seen there in 1798. The site has been rebuilt on several occasions and is an important site of pilgrimage for Catholics in Vietnam.

The tradition of Our Lady of La Vang dates back to the time when Catholics were harshly persecuted during the period of 261 years from 1625 to 1886. During that time, there were approximately 130,000 victims to these persecutions, spread all over the country. The Church suffered the worst persecutions under the kingdom of Minh Mang (1820-1840), the “Nero of Indochina”.

Many people who sought refuge in the forest of La Vang, reported that in many occasions Our Lady appeared to comfort them, to heal their illness, and to protect them.

In 1961, Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops designated the church of La Vang as the National Sacred Marian Centre. In the following year, Pope John XXIII elevated it to the rank of Minor Basilica. On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II publicly recognized the importance of Our Lady of La Vang and expressed desire to rebuild the La Vang Basilica in the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the first vision.


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