Vietnam: authorities step up attacks against Church

bulldozers approach statue of Our Lady of lavang

bulldozers approach statue of Our Lady of lavang

A number of attacks against the Church have erupted in the archdiocese of Hue after the publication of a statement by Archbishop Stephen Nguyen Nhu The and his Auxiliary Bishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong in which they condemned the confiscation of a Catholic school at Loan Ly parish and the violence of Vietnam police against parishioners who had protested against the illegal appropriation of their property.

The school, adjacent to the parish church of Loan Ly in the town of Lang Co, Hue, was built by parishioners in 1956. From the beginning, it had always been used as a Catholic Elementary and High School until local government seized it following the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975. Since then, Sunday catechism classes, however, have still been allowed - not without a condition- that they would be conducted under a large picture of Uncle Ho, the Communist leader, not the usual cross.

Since 1999, attempts of local authorities to convert the school into a hotel have been made continually. All have been in vain due to public protests from the parishioners. The last attempt was made by the local chief secretary of the Communist Party- Ho Xuan Man- who wanted to annex the school into his own hotel of Huong Giang. On Sunday 13 September, authorities and police - local, district and provincial - barricaded the school building. They did not allow the children to come for catechism classes, chasing them away from the school ground to build a makeshift fence around the school. Hundreds of parishioners immediately protested. Protesters started pulling down the fence, prompting thousands of police and armed police reinforcements to rush to the scene where they attacked parishioners with batons and stun guns.

In their statement issued on 23 September, 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 opened fire at them with a series of interviews in which government's contractors posing as Catholics verbally attacked against their shepherds. Also, newspapers in Vietnam have attacked fiercely Fr Joseph Ngo Thanh Son, the pastor of Loan Ly parish, accusing him of plotting and directing the protest of parishioners on 13 Sunday.  The fact was, Fr. Joseph Ngo had been in hospital for weeks and was not at his parish at the time the incident took place.

From the diocese of Vinh, Fr John Nguyen Van Huu, the pastor of Bau Sen parish, in the village of Chay, Bo Trach, Quang Binh, reported on  24 September that local authorities of Quang Binh province 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 opposite to the parish church.

On 21 September  the People Committee of Bo Trach, Quang Binh issued a decree, stating that the statue must be demolished as it was built "outside the premise of a religious premise". The deadline for parishioners to remove the statue was set to be on Saturday 26 September. Three days before that date however, bulldozers were sent to the site to threaten parishioners. Since Sunday thousands of Catholics have been protesting at the site.

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