04/16/2009, 00.00
VIETNAM

Easter denied for Catholics of Son La

by Emily Nguyen
Authorities prevent a priest sent by the bishop of Hung Hoá from celebrating Sunday Mass. Last Christmas as well, the police had prevented two priests from going to the faithful of the city. Since 2004, Catholics have been forced to meet in hiding. The government says that there are no faithful in the area, but the Church responds with documents proving the presence of at least 3,000 Christians.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Easter celebrations prohibited. In the highland city of Son La, the police forcibly blocked the celebration of Sunday Mass on April 12.

Anthony Vu Huy Chuong, the bishop of Hung Hoá, had sent Fr. Nguyen Trung Thoai to celebrate Easter Mass. The faithful of Son La, who are among the 6,000 Catholics living in the province, were waiting for the priest in a prearranged place where they had set up a temporary clandestine church. Local sources say that when Fr. Nguyen arrived at the destination, he was met by a dozen people dressed in police uniforms: they stopped the priest, telling him to turn back. Some of the faithful tried to defend Fr. Nguyen and escort him to the place of the celebration, but were unable to do so. In order to keep the police from moving from threats into action, and to spare the faithful from further problems, the priest could do nothing other than desist, with the result that the Easter Mass did not take place.

Last Christmas, there was a similar situation in Son La. At that time, the local authorities imposed a curfew in order to prevent Catholics from gathering. The two priests who tried to reach the city, 300 kilometers from Hanoi, were threatened and told to give up their intention of going to the faithful of the area for the Christmas celebrations.

The official ban on public celebrations in Son La dates back to 2006, but already in 2004 the faithful were forced to meet secretly in private homes and basements. The authorities say that there are no Catholics in the city, so there is no reason for priests to be there. In reality, the diocese of Hung Hoá, which includes Son La, was established in 1895. The Church also has documents proving the presence of at least 3,000 Christians, belonging to 40 different ethnicities.

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