Vietnam: thousands attend Mass in confiscated church

 Despite threats from the authorities, Bishop Paul Maria Cao Dinh Thuyen and 14 priests of the diocese of Vinh (334 km South of Hanoi), concelebrated Mass in a church which was confiscated by the government in 1997. Thousands of Catholics attended the Mass in Tam Tao. The church of Tam Toa, built in Portuguese style in 1887, was known as one of the most beautiful churches in Vietnam. In 1968, it was badly damaged by US Air Force bombing. Only the entrance and the bell tower remain. But Mass continued to be celebrated in the ruins of the church until March 1996 when the People's Committee of Quang Binh province confiscated the church stating that it was chosen a 'site of War Memorial' and 'must be preserved and protected for future generations to remember American War Crimes." For Vietnamese Catholics, Tam Toa is a historic parish. It can trace its origins back to 1631. The parish grew quickly during the 17th century and was the largest in the region with around 1, 200 Catholics. There was also an orphanage and a school there. In 1886, a group, which was highly anti-Western, calling themselves 'Van Than', attacked the parish of Tam Toa killing 52 parishioners in what it considered retaliation against the French presence in Vietnam. Many Christians survived the massacre by fleeing shelter in Dong Hoi. Tam Toa church was built a year later to fulfil the spiritual needs for a growing number of faithful. Tam Toa today is home to more than a thousand parishioners, many of whom are eager to renovate their church.