Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Scuffles broke out today in Hanoi between Catholic demonstrators and police a day after a Vietnamese government delegation visited the Archbishop of Hanoi, Mgr Joseph Ngô Quang Kiêt, in a gesture meant to reduce tensions sparked by peaceful demonstrations by Vietnamese Catholics ongoing since 18 December in favour of the request made by the diocese that the building that once housed the Apostolic Delegation be returned to the Church.
Today’s incident came as some 2,000 people—priest, men and women religious and faithful—gathered to protest. Priests and worshippers left St Joseph’s Cathedral in procession (see photo) and made their way to the nearby building that used to be the home of the Apostolic Delegation.
The procession blocked traffic. Some women entered the old Apostolic Delegation compound to place some flowers on the statue of Our Lady inside the building. Police tried to stop them with sticks, kicks and shoves but provoked instead a reaction by the men in the procession who entered the gardens where they erected a cross.
The protesters were eventually removed by police but some were arrested, including Lê Quốc Quân, a well-known Catholic lawyer.
Yesterday the group of government officials who visited Monsignor Ngô was led by Ngô Thị Thanh Hằng, deputy chairman of the capital’s People’s Committee, ostensibly to offer the prelate their best wishes for the lunar New Year (Tết).
Ms Ngô did not however apologise for or withdraw comments she made on 14 January to the effect that the archbishop was “using religion freedom to provoke anti-government protest” that could “damage relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.”
Sources in the archdiocese said that the issue of who owns the building of the former Apostolic Delegation was not discussed.
The authorities for their part released a statement in which they acknowledged “the contribution made by Archbishop Ngô and the Catholic community for the common cause of a society based on peace, equality, progress and development.”
The statement echoes similar declarations made in the past by the Communist authorities apparently at odds with the threatening language used by some government officials in recent days.