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Catholic World News News Feature

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics rally for religious freedom on feast of the Assumption August 17, 2009

Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics in the Vinh diocese celebrated the feast of the Assumption on August 15 by marching in a rally with banners invoking the protection of the Virgin Mary and demanding the end to government persecutions. Meanwhile in Hanoi thousands of other Catholics organized their own protest against the conversion of property that was owned by the Church, and confiscated by the government, into a state park.

At the massive rally in Vinh, Bishop Paul Maria Cao Dinh Thuyen thanked his flock for their union and communion and their support for the quest for justice of the diocese. He expressed how excited and happy he was to see “half a million" people marching to show their support for the Church. Days earlier, police in three different provinces had been put on high alert in the wake of huge protests joined by an estimated 500,000 Catholics. Those demonstrations drew enormous crowds despite efforts by police to intimidate participants and to dissuade bus drivers from taking people to the rally. Thousands of local Catholics had spent Friday night walking for tens of kilometers to join in the demonstration. Tensions between the Church and government officials remained high in the Vinh diocese. Catholic businessment reported that mountains of trash had been dumped on their property. Police raided the home of one prominent parishioner, looking for a parish priest-- Father Peter Le Thanh Hong - who is wanted for "trampling on the laws of the country” and “inciting the faithful into the illegal constructing a house” on a site once owned by the Church. The diocese of Vinh has serious concerns about the priest's safety, because roving bands of thugs have been roaming the streets, calling for his death.

In a separated development, more than 3,000 Catholics in Hanoi gathered at a park that the local government had hastily built on the land once owned by a Redemptorist monastery. Catholic activists believe that the construction project was rushed forward to end their protest over the confiscation of the property; that protest had been going on for more than a year.

Public protests began in January, 2008, after Thai Ha parishioners discovered that local government officials had secretly sold the land to other private owners. The protests first took place outside a surrounding brick wall surrounding the land, built decades ago, on which protesters had hung icons and crosses, until the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Assumption last year. After days of drenching rain, part of the wall collapsed on that day. Also give way, possibly causing injury to participants at the prayer vigils, parishioners removed several feet of the wall and moved the icons and statues to a more secure location. State media called the action a rebellious act that should be punished immediately and severely. Within days, dozens of parishioners were jailed and 8 of them were tried three months later in a criminal court.

The government bulldozed the wall and surrounding area shortly after the incident that gave rise to the charges, announcing that the area would now be converted into a public park.

Catholic activists announced that every year, as long as the land has not been returned to them, they will light up the park with a candlelight vigil on the feast of the Assumption to commemorate the historic event, and to remind their children and all people of conscience the injustice that they are still facing.

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