Vinh (AsiaNews) - A new day of protests took place yesterday in Vinh and in other dioceses in Vietnam to demand an end to the persecution of the Catholics of Dong Hoi and the return of the church of Tam Toa to the faithful. At least 500 thousand people in 178 parishes of the diocese gathered at various sites to denounce the violence of the Government against priests, religious and lay faithful. Carrying white-yellow (the Vatican colours) banners and flags they called for justice against the requisition of land and an end to the poisonous campaign against the Catholic Church, that "defames religion and promotes hatred between Catholics and non Catholics".
It is the second time that such impressive events have occurred across Vietnam, after the police violence against the faithful of Dong Hoi, guilty of having hoisted a provisional tent near the ruins of the church of Tam Toa, which the faithful want to see returned to the purpose for which it was built. The government instead wants to make it a monument against the war crimes of the Americans (who bombed it during the Vietnam conflict) and build around it a tour site justifying its use as such with the statement that "there are no Catholics in Tam Toa" (see AsiaNews.it, 21/07/2009 beatings and arrests for priests and faithful in the historic church of Tam Toa).
But there are Catholics in Tam Toa (part of the diocese of Vinh, 300 km south of Hanoi) and yesterday they marched and staged a sit-in. At least 10 thousand faithful gathered in front of the Vinh diocesan offices in Xa Doai. Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai said: "They came to express their outrage in front of beatings and robberies against Catholics by criminals backed by the government and send out the message that ‘now it’s too much' to the ears of those who are the cause of all this, the local government”.
In recent days, AsiaNews published the news of two priests, one beaten, the other thrown from the second floor of a building (see Priest 28/07/2009 Priest beaten into a coma by police. Catholics Protest throughout Vietnam). Fr. Van Khai tells other violence, this time against the laity.
Peter Truong Van Mai, 48 years and his wife from Dong Yen were violently beaten and all their possessions, including the means to support themselves were confiscated without any permission. The two were visiting a relative at Tam Toa. A group of thugs, who discovered they were Catholics, began beating them, robbing their motorcycle, their documents and a camera. Truong himself says: "Passersby took me to the hospital and there I was again beaten up because I was mistaken for a priest." Truong has several broken ribs and some head injuries and his condition is serious. One thing to note is that all these beatings occurred in broad daylight, in the presence of dozens of uniformed police officers who did nothing to stop criminals.
According to a Sister of Vinh, "The situation is very tense and can precipitate. The government continues a negative campaign against Catholics and to hire thugs to carry out beatings. In this way several young people, on the verge, have begun attacking us. In their thousands thugs demonstrate shouting 'Kill them all!', 'Kill their priests' ".
On 31 July, Fr. Anthony Pham Dinh Phung, secretary of the diocese, requested the release of all imprisoned faithful. "The Church does its best to keep the faithful calm - he said - but the government must take its responsibility if the persecution continues."
The government seems insensitive. Last night the national television channels, in a service on Tam Toa, spread the rumor that the Church wants to take possession of the houses of the local inhabitants, close to the church, thus pushing people to hate Catholics.
Meanwhile, the faithful of Tam Toa received the support of the entire Catholic community in Vietnam. Last night in Ho Chi Minh City a mass was held for the faithful of the diocese of Vinh. During the homily, Fr Joseph, a Redemptorist, defended the faithful of Tam Toa: "After 30 years of war, they want to live in love and forgiveness and build the nation. For this the faithful do not want to keep the broken ruins, which increase bad feelings and hatred between the families ... We support the Catholics of Tan Toa who are being beaten with cruelty and are arrested. We are persecuted because we want to reconstruct humanity, to offer forgiveness and hope, while others want hate and violence".