Vietnam: 'Buddhist Church' claims ownership of Catholic property

 Hanoi Catholics face uphill battles to regain the former nunciature when state-approved 'Buddhist Church' claims the ownership of the land. In a letter sent to Vietnam Prime Minister, dated February 16, but only published a few days ago, Venerable Thich Trung Hau, a leader of the Vietnam Buddhist Church set up by the communist government in 1982, stated that all the settlements regarding the former nunciature must be approved by his Church as the Buddhists are the authentic owner of the land. The incident occurred right after Le Quang Vinh, former Chief of Vietnam Religious Affairs Committee suggested that the Buddhist Church is the true owner of all the area including Hanoi archbishopric house, the former nunciature, the St Joseph Cathedral and the St Joseph Major Seminary. He stated that it was the French who seized the land and transferred it to Catholic Church. Venerable Hu claimed that on the land in dispute, there had been a pagoda named Bao Thien which was built in 1054. In 1883, "The French colonists seized and gave it the Bishop Puginier", he stated. This development is seen by Hanoi Catholics as a government ploy to undermine their agreement with Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet reached on 1 February. In a public statement on February 1, Archbishop Joseph Ngo confirmed reports that the government had agreed to restore the nuncio's offices, after more than a month of public protests by Catholics which drew significant international attention to the situation. In return for the government's promise, the Catholic protestors agreed to remove a cross and tents from the land adjacent to the building where they had been conducting regular prayer vigils. Public workers have repainted the fence surrounding the building that once housed the nunciature, before it was seized by the Communist government in 1959. The gates have been strengthened, and new panels have been set in place, carrying Communist symbols and slogans, underlining the point that the building is state-owned. Meanwhile, security officers have been quick to respond to anyone who pauses to pray outside the building, and candles have been removed from the fence. Some days ago, Catholics voice their concerns that the latest moves by government officials suggest that a quick transfer is out of the question. Now, they begin to fear that they may probably never be able to get the nunciature back. Fr Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi reported that "Hanoi Catholics are now facing uphill battles to regain the former nunciature". However, he was still full of hope: "Except the strong support from the government, Venerable Hau has nothing to prove what he said. On the contrary, we do have all legal land titles". JB An Dang

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