Hanoi (AsiaNews) – While peaceful demonstrations for the restitution of the old building of the apostolic delegation in Hanoi continue, police have forcibly intervened in an analogues protest in the parish of Thai Ha.
On January 6 parishioners gathered to ask for the restitution of 60 thousand square metres of parish grounds that have been occupied by state buildings. Recently, a sewing factory backed by local authorities has also built its workshops on the parish’s land
The parishioners held a protest that lasted from morning till late at night. Police in mass clashed with protesters. This was seen as a message that Vietnam’s government was not be prepared for any agreements on land disputes that satisfy the legitimate aspiration of Hanoi’s Catholics. The protest however seems so far to have stopped further appropriation of parish lands.
Thai Ha parish is run by Redemptorists. The order arrived in Vietnam in 1925. Since then, Redemptorists have taken the Good News to many provinces in the North of the country. In 1928, they bought 6 hectares at Thai Ha, Hanoi to build a convent and a church. Mass for the Inauguration of the convent was held on 7th May 1929. The church was inaugurated 6 years later, in 1935.
In 1941, there were up to 66 members including 17 priests, 12 brothers, 26 seminarians, and 11 novices living in the convent. The number of members kept increasing steadily until 1954, when Vietnam was divided into two distinct states. In 1954, most Redemptorists moved to the South of Vietnam. Fr. Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich, Fr. Denis Paquette, Fr. Thomas Côté, Br. Clement Pham Van Dat and Br. Marcel Nguyen Tan Van remained in Hanoi. They lived under extremely harsh treatment by the atheist regime, and soon faced brutal persecutions. On 7th May 1955, Br. Marcel Nguyen was arrested. Two year later, on 9th July 1959, he died in the communist jail. Fr. Denis Paquette faced deportation on 23rd October 1958. One year later, Fr. Thomas Côté faced the same fate. Less than three years later, on 9th October 1962, Br. Clement Pham was jailed. He died later in the communist jail on 7th October 1970 in a rural area of Yen Bai. Since 1962, Fr. Joseph Vu has run the church alone. Despite Fr. Joseph Vu’s persistent protests, local authorities have managed to nibble bite by bite the parish’s land. The original area of 60,000 square meters was reduced to 2,700 square meters. The communist government converted the convent into Dong Da hospital, and distributed or sold illegally large parts of the land to state-owned companies, and government officials.
Priests, religious and the laity of Thai Ha parish have repeatedly requested for the return of the land seized by the government. In support of their demands they note that the Redemptorists hold the legal land deeds and have never signed agreements to offer any part of the land to the government even under coercive conditions.
The Catholics, recalling that the constitution safeguardes religious freedom and places of worship, have underlined in particular directive 379/TTG, which specifies that places of worship borrowed by the authorities must be returned to the churches or their owners when their use is no longer justified. Added to this there is decree 26/1999/ND- which provides that church properties must be kept under the management of the state, and the state should not let these places of worships be transgressed, as well as ordinance 21/2004/PL-UBTVQH11 of June 18, 2004 regarding Religious Belief and Religious Organizations, which elaborates that the legal property of places of religious belief and of religious organizations is protected by law; any violation of this right is forbidden.
Despite all of this the local authorities of Dong Da district persist in their attempts to take even more land away from the parish. The January 6th protest has however forced them to stop the militia’s intervention in favour of new constructions.