Vietnam: Cardinal says Christians have duty to protect environment

In a strong-worded pastoral letter dated May 31, a Vietnamese Cardinal has condemned the exploitation of natural resources which damages the environment, urged Catholics to protest against  new economic plans, and to pray for the government to show their concern for the people, the land, and future generations.

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's  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 – who oppose 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 Uy were victimized by the government for their opposition  against bauxite projects. 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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