Monday, December 15, 2008

Destruction of Monastery

Vietnamese officials reaffirm plans to demolish Catholic monastery

Candlelight vigil in Saigon / Photo credit: Fr. J.B. An Dang

Vinh Long, Dec 15, 2008 / 09:36 pm (CNA).- Repeating a government tactic used in disputes with Vietnamese Catholics seeking the return of confiscated property, the People's Committee of Vinh Long on Friday announced that it will demolish the city’s St. Paul Monastery to build a public park.

Prior to the announcement, numerous meetings had been held in Vinh Long to accuse the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of "taking advantage of religious freedom to inspire protests against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and hence damage the united block of the people," J.B. An Dang tells CNA.

In May, the Sisters began protesting government plans to convert their monastery into a five-star hotel.

Thomas Nguyen Van Tan, Bishop of Vinh Long, wrote a May 18 letter to priests, religious, and lay people of the diocese, recounting the history of the dispute.

On "a day of disaster," September 7, 1977, local authorities mobilized armed forces to blockade and raid Holy Cross College, St. Paul Monastery, and the Major Seminary, the bishop wrote.

"Then, they seized all these properties and arrested those who were in charge of the premises. I myself was among the detainees," his letter continued.

He reported that since the confiscation of the property, representatives of the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and representatives of the Bishop’s office have repeatedly sent petitions to local and central governments.

"However, these petitions have gone unanswered," the bishop added.

Reporting confirmation from local officials, he reported in his May 18 letter that the local government had issued a decree that a hotel should be built on the land of the Sisters, the size of which he reported to be 10,235 square meters or about 2.5 acres.

His letter also reported that town residents had been summoned to government meetings to vow to take "strong actions" against opponents of the construction. The bishop called the loss of their monastery a "great suffering" for the Sisters.

Sister Marie Nguyen from Saigon explained that the Sisters had been in Vinh Long since 1871 and have been "continuously serving" people in the provinces of Vinh Long, Ben Tre, and Tra Vinh.

"Their monastery had also been used as an orphanage, and they just wanted to get it back to run an orphanage. The need for such a charity institution is more urgent than ever as HIV infection and drug addiction keep claiming more and more people's lives in the area," she said, according to J.B. An Dang.

"Obviously, while the Church is seeking innovative ways to serve people, this government chooses to turn its back against them," she commented.

On the evening of Sunday, December 14, more than five thousand Catholics gathered at another disputed site, Redemptorist Monastery in Saigon, to celebrate a thanksgiving Mass after the conclusion of the trial of eight parishioners.

"The Candlelight vigil was an open defiance against a prohibition of the local government for massive vigils," J.B. An Dang tells CNA.

On December 5, eight parishioners of Thai Ha Church were put on trial under what many Catholics considered to be false pretenses. Accusations against them concerned their actions in protests seeking the return of confiscated Church property.

Their trial ended on December 8, but reports that the accused had pled "not guilty" apparently had resonated throughout Hanoi.

"It seems the trial has turned the table around for the eight defendants, whose courage has become symbolic of defiance and grace under fire. They are viewed as heroes in the eyes of their fellow countrymen, while the Vietnam government -the accuser- now becomes the accused for imposing such an unjust, immoral and unconstitutional [process] on its citizens," said Fr. John Nguyen from Hanoi.

"A few months ago, nobody would even know the names of the defendants. Now their names and story have become the talk of the town, the topic in every household and coffee shop, when it comes to [the question of] how can they resist the pressure and say 'enough is enough' to one of the most dictatorial regimes in the world today." he added, J.B. An Dang reports.

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