Vietnam officials continue confiscation of church land

The statue of Our Lady of Lavang which is set to be bulldozed
Hanoi, Vietnam, Sep 28, 2009 / 07:45 pm (CNA).- Amid a continuing smear campaign against Catholics, local Vietnamese officials have confiscated a Catholic school while other church land has been appropriated for private investors. Catholics have protested the action and are facing down bulldozers in defense of a large statue of the Virgin Mary. The school adjacent to the parish church of Loan Ly in the town of Lang Co (Hue province) was built by parishioners in 1956, Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA. It was used as a Catholic elementary and high school until the local government seized it after the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975.

Since the seizure, Sunday catechism classes have been allowed under the condition they are conducted under a large picture of Communist leader Ho Chi Minh instead of under a cross.

Local authorities have repeatedly attempted to convert the school into a hotel since 1999. Their efforts were previously stopped because of parishioners’ public protests.

The most recent confiscation attempt came under the local chief secretary of the Communist Party, Ho Xuan Man, who wanted to annex the school to create his own hotel. On September 13, a Sunday, local authorities along with the local, district and provincial police barricaded the building and prevented the children from coming to the school for their catechism classes.

The occupants then built a makeshift fence around the school. Hundreds of protesters gathered at the school and some started pulling the fence down.

According to Fr. An Dang, thousands of police and armed reinforcements rushed the scene and attacked the parishioners with batons and stun guns.

The two Catholic bishops of Hue expressed “shock and frustration” with the government action and its “employment of violence.” They also called for peaceful dialogue.

Hue Television responded to their comments with a series of interviews in which government contractors posed as Catholics who verbally attacked the bishops.

Newspapers have also made “fierce” attacks against Fr. Joseph Ngo Than Son, pastor of Loan Ly. They accused him of plotting and directing parishioners’ protest on Sunday. However, the priest had been in the hospital for weeks and was not at his parish when the incident took place, Fr. An Dang reports.

In the Diocese of Vinh, the pastor of Bau Sen parish in the village of Chay, reported that local authorities issued a September 24 ultimatum to remove a large statue of Our Lady of Lavang. In March 2008 parishioners had erected the statue on the top of a mountain in the parish cemetery opposite to the parish church.

The People’s Committee of Bo Trach on September 21 decreed that the statue must be demolished because it was built outside of a religious premise. The deadline for the statue’s removal was September 26, but bulldozers were sent to threaten parishioners on September 23. As of Sunday, thousands of Catholics are still protesting at the site.

Fr. An Dang, citing other incidents around the country, told CNA that authorities in the province have deliberately conducted a campaign to destroy Catholic symbols.

In the Archdiocese of Hanoi, the parishioners and Redemptorists of Thai Ha parish have been told that their lot of land at Ba Giang lake would be confiscated and placed under state administration. The parishioners are protesting the action.

Christians have learned to expect “nothing else from the government but bad news,” Fr. An Dang told CNA.