10/08/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM
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At a difficult time for Vietnamese Church, ordination of bishop of Bac Ninh

by Nguyen Hung
Thousands of faithful have celebrated with Bishop Hoang Van Dat, in recent weeks one of the targets of the disinformation campaign by authorities. Human Rights Watch asks the government to put an end to the violence against Catholics, and to release those who have been arrested.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese Church is celebrating the ordination and installation of the new bishop of Bac Ninh - which for two years has been without a pastor - while new voices are being raised at an international level to condemn the behavior of the authorities, who in the territorial disputes over the property confiscated from the Church have chosen repression and defamation instead of dialogue.

For the more than seven million Vietnamese Catholics, this is a difficult moment, but the Church appears united and the faithful are praying for justice and peace in the country, and that the government may listen to the request of the episcopal council for "an open and sincere dialogue, in peace and mutual respect."

The problem for the Vietnamese government now is that of finding a way to resolve the question of the land and property taken from the Church since 1975. This is opinion expressed to AsiaNews by Thanh, a professor at a state university in Ho Chi Minh City. "Bishop Ngo Quang Kiet is very brave to talk about justice, peace and the truth in Viet Nam. It is very dangerous for him when talking about the truth in society. But I see all parishes and lay persons in Viet Nam are supporting his words and presentation to the government. He is willing to sacrifice for the truth. Effectively I think that the government  must consider the words and activities of Bishop Ngo Quang Kiet. The government must return some lands and material facilities of religions in the near future."

"May God grant a favour for the Viet Nam Church and us in this period of challenge," adds another professor, Kieu. "We are discriminated against. Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan was in prison 13 years. Bishop Nguyen Kim Dien was discriminated against and died in bed while in the hospital, and Bishop Ngo Quang Kiet is being put under house arrest now. But our belief is stronger and justice will win. We are Vietnamese people. Justice, peace and the truth will come back with us in the context of a socialist country."

If the language teacher makes reference to the discrimination against Catholics, Human Rights Watch speaks of "violence," "arrests," and "harassment" against them. The NGO asks the Vietnamese government to "immediately release Roman Catholics arrested for holding peaceful prayer vigils in Hanoi and hold accountable police and others responsible for attacking Catholic parishioners."

HRW also asks the Vietnamese government to "end the harassment, threats, and restrictions on the movement of the Archbishop of Hanoi, Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, who has publicly defended the rights of the Catholic protesters and visited the families of arrested parishioners."

Bringing some light into this situation yesterday was the ordination of Bishop Cosmas Hoang Van Dat. The principal consecrator was the head of the Vietnamese bishops' conference, Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon. He was joined by 21 other bishops, including the former bishop of Hanoi, Cardinal Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung. Thousands of faithful (in the photo) participated in the ceremony.

Appointed bishop in August, Cosma Hoang, 61, a Jesuit, is the head of a diocese situated about thirty kilometers northeast of Hanoi, with 127,734 faithful, out of a population of a little more than seven million inhabitants. There are 75 parishes for them, with 43 priests, 268 sisters, and 39 seminarians. In recent times, the diocese has been one of the targets of a disinformation campaign launched by the authorities. This is certainly on account of the visit that the bishop made on September 8 to Thai Ha, together with 39 priests and hundreds of faithful, to express their solidarity with the Catholic demonstrators asking for the restitution of parish land.

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