01/17/2007, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Anti-Catholic campaign continues in remote provinces

by Nguyen Van Tranh
In Son La province party officials have banned mass and group prayers, threatened and defamed Catholics, to push them to abandon religion.

Hanoi (Asianews) – Bans on public mass, on group praying, defamatory campaigns and many other practices continue in Vietnam. Despite the softening in government anti-religious policies, such practices persist in remoter provinces like Son La. Life is not easy for the local Catholic community. Its diocese may have been founded in 1659 but they are only 6,078 out 1,153,000 people in this corner of the country, located in the extreme north-west on the border with Laos.

Asked what they think about Christians, Communist officials and ordinary party members are very likely to say that they are illegal and reactionary. They will show that they have well learnt government policy as defined by its June 2006 paper “Propaganda and People’s Mobilisation to Correctly Implement Vietnam’s Religious Policy through the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party.”

“It is not right when local authorities say that activities by Catholics are illegal,” a young man told AsiaNews. “And then they say that religions in Son La province have no catechism, canons, dignitaries, rites rituals and facilities to perform their activities.”

For a young woman, “the government just talks but does not implement its own polices in matters of religion. In remote areas believers face many difficulties and much discrimination. They don’t allow people to pray in the homes of those who die. In remote areas some volunteers try to visit the sick but officials turned them away. Perhaps they have to choose between obeying local authorities or go on living.”

In fact, there are many subtle ways for local authorities to prevent religious activities, including small group prayers.

“The local government sends around agents who follow priests, to prevent them from saying mass for families or communities,” another young man said. “Officials have visited Catholic families to tell them that praying in large groups is against the law of Vietnam. They have created files with their names, tried to educate them, convince them to mend their ways, to leave religion. Sometimes they have even threatened Catholics, compelled them against their will or isolated them”.

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