Vietnam: pastoral letter urges Christians to protect environment

In a strong-worded pastoral letter dated May 31, a Vietnamese Cardinal has condemns the exploitation of natural resources which damages the environment,
and urged Catholics to protest against economic plans that take into account
only the benefits of the minority group of those in power, and to pray for
the government to show their concern for the people, the land, and future

Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Saigon, stated that it
is his pastoral duty to inform and raise awareness among his faithful about
the risks of environmental damage in Vietnam after reviewing the recent
reports on the issue at hand. The Cardinal letter came a few days after
a decision from Vietnam congress to back bauxite mining projects in the
Central Highlands region despite widespread public protests.

The debate at Vietnam National Assembly occurred after a public outcry from
scientists, intellectuals and former military high ranking officials-including general Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary communist wartime hero - whooppose bauxite mining projects endorsed by the Politburo of Vietnam
Communist Party - the Vietnam's most powerful ruling body.

Opponents of the bauxite projects claimed the environmental and social
damage from the mines would far outweigh any economic benefit, and pointed
to security concerns due to the long term presence of hundreds of thousands
of Chinese workers in bauxite mines.

"The natural environment is a gift from the Creator that all of us can
share," Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham stated. "It's a gift for everyone, not
for a particular individual or minority group; a gift not only for the
present generation but also for generations to come," he added.

Echoing the concern of scientists and intellectuals that local residents
close to the mines would suffer badly from environmental damage, the
Cardinal argued: "Since natural environment is for everyone, no one has
permission to damage or control it even in the name of economic development,
and strategies to gain profits for only a small group of privileged people."

"Recent developments have proven that investors have only their personal
profits in mind without taking into accounts the effects that their
production might cause on the living environment. These strategies of
economic development can only lead to chaos. They are neither for the common
good of society, nor the future of the nation", he went on.

The criticism of bauxite projects has come from various directions. However,
in response, state-owned media have seemed to choose to punish only
Catholics. Last month, Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai, the spokesman of Hanoi
Redemptorist Monastery, and another Redemptorist, Fr Joseph Le Quang Uywere victimized by the government for their opposition against bauxiteprojects. They were accused of "stupidity" and "ignorance," of causing
serious damage to national unity and to the process of development, and of
plotting to overthrow the communist regime.

In a clear gesture to defend the accused Catholic priests, the Cardinal
viewed the open criticism of bauxite projects as "healthy signs" of a
democratic society urging his faithful to stand up in the same manner to
voice their protest "through legitimate representatives and media" because
"protecting environment is our Christian's duty," he confirmed.

In conclusion, the Cardinal urged his faithful "to pray for the government
officials so that they know how to love and care for their people, their
nation, and generations to come."

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