02/05/2009, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Sơn La, where the Communist Party encourages pagan religions against Christians

by Thuy Huong
Local Communist authorities continue to hound Christians, trying to get them to go back to their ancestral religions. When they refuse they are deprived of economic assistance. Still entire families prefer a life of hardships rather than recant, saying that they are “proud” of being Catholic.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – In the province of Sơn La, a mountain region in the far north-west corner of Vietnam on the border with Laos, the Communist government is engaged in a violent campaign to eradicate Christianity. In this area religious persecution has reached a crescendo unseen elsewhere in the country.

Once inspired by Marxism-Leninism, the authorities are now fighting Christianity by trying to force the faithful to re-embrace their ancient pagan beliefs, with party officials playing the role of wizards and sorcerers, bent on dominating the spiritual life of the Montagnards.

One place where this is happening is the village of Song Mon. Located in the rural district of Mai Sơn, about 40 kilometres from the town of Sơn La, its H’mong residents are under pressure to repudiate their faith in Christ and take up again their old pagan ways.

But the authorities are meeting stiff resistance. Locals are not showing much interest towards giving up their faith in exchange of government handouts. Having accepted Catholicism, they have experienced a more modern and dignified life whilst remaining faithful to Vietnam’s traditions.

In another village however, only two families (out of 24) have resisted government oppression.

Even though they are the poorest families, they have been denied government help, have seen their movement restricted, and have been prevented from receiving visitors without police supervision. Their neighbours now ostracise them.

Yet, despite the privations and the suffering, the members of these two families are holding out, proud of “being Catholic,” insisting that their faith is “a good thing” and that they have “no reason to give it up.”

Sơn La province is home to about 6,000 Catholics out of a total population of 1,153,000 residents. The local diocese was set up in 1659.

Vietnam’s Catholic community has about six or seven million members in a country of more than 84 million. Buddhism is the largest religion with about 49.5 per cent. Some 20.5 per cent of the population is atheist.

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