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Attacks against the Church erupt throughout Vietnam

September 28, 2009

The archdiocese of Hue, in central Vietnam, has been subjected to a campaign of negative propaganda in the state-controlled media, following public protests against the government's confiscation of a Catholic school there. Almost simultaneously, an ultimatum has been sent by public officials to leaders of the Vinh diocese, ordering the removal of a large statue of Our Lady at a Catholic cemetery. Meanwhile in the northern region, parishioners of Thai Ha in the Archdiocese of Hanoi were told that another plot of land claimed by Catholics as Church property would be put under State's administration.

Verbal attacks against the Church erupted in Hue after the publication of a statement by Archbishop Stephen Nguyen Nhu The and his auxiliary, Bishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong in which the prelates strongly objected to the confiscation of a Catholic school in the Loan Ly parish and the brutal violence of police against parishioners who had protested. The school, adjacent to the parish church of Loan Ly, was built by parishioners in 1956. From the beginning, it had been used as a Catholic school until local government officials seized it following the Communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975. Even since then Sunday catechism classes have still been allowed--under a large picture of Uncle Ho, the Communist leader, rather than a crucifix. Since 1999, however, local officials have sought to convert the school into a hotel-- a proposal that has encountered heavy public opposition.

On September 13, authorities and police barricaded the school building. Hundreds of parishioners immediately protested. Protesters started pulling down the fence, prompting thousands of police to rush to the scene, where they attacked parishioners with batons and stun guns.

In their statement issued on September 23, the two bishops of Hue expressed their “shock and frustration with the way the government had unilaterally solve the Church property issue by the employment of violence” and called for “peaceful dialogue.” In response, Hue Television ran a series of interviews in which government agents posing as Catholics verbally attacked against the prelates. Newspapers newspapers in Vietnam have fiercely attacked Father Joseph Ngo Thanh Son, the pastor of Loan Ly parish, accusing him of plotting and directing the protest by his parishioners--although the priest had been in the hospital and was not at his parish at the time the incident took place.

In the Diocese of Vinh, Father John Nguyen Van Huu, the pastor of Bau Sen parish, reported on September 24 that local authorities had sent him an ultimatum to remove a large statue of Our Lady of Lavang which his parishioners built on the top of a mountain in the parish cemetery. The People's Committee of Bo Trach issued a decree, stating that the statue must be demolished as it was built “outside the premise of a religious premises.” The deadline for parishioners to remove the statue was set to be on Saturday, September 26. A day earlier, however, bulldozers were sent to the site to threaten parishioners. As of Sunday, September 27, thousands of Catholics were still protesting at the site.

In a different part of the country, Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung and representatives of Redemptorists and parishioners of Thai Ha parish, in Hanoi, were summoned by the People's Committee of Dong Da to be told that their lot of land at Ba Giang Lake would be confiscated and placed under State control. After the conversion of one lot of parish land into a public park last October, in April local authorities bulldozed another lot of land, preparing to sell it to private investors.

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