In Djak Pnan, lepers' Catholic faith is stronger than government persecution
by Thanh Thuy
In a small village in the central highlands, Catholics are subject to constant harassment and abuse by the authorities. Nuns who work for the sick get the same treatment. However, Church support is a source of strength and courage. Mgr Girelli's visit is remembered for bringing Pope Francis' greeting and support.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Municipal authorities in Kon Thup, Mang Yang District, Gia Lai province (Central Highlands of Vietnam), again attacked local Catholics, especially in Djak Pnan village, where 80 per cent of the residents belong to ethnic minorities (including Gia Rai and Ba Na), many of whom suffer from leprosy, poverty and marginalisation.

On Wednesday, police summoned and harassed some local residents, including nuns who provide medical care to local patients, as well as some of the patients themselves.

Police targeted the nuns, who are apparently "unauthorised" to live and work in the area, challenging their right to stay in a local chapel for prayer and other religious functions, which locals also use as shelter against the rain and the sun.

On several occasions and without motive, the authorities have tried to force out the sisters, claiming that they did not have the right to stay in the chapel. They also ordered residents to tear the building down.

Some residents in Mang Yang, a district of just over 2,000 km2 with about 45,000 residents, told AsiaNews, on condition of anonymity, that "local authorities continue to penalise the lepers in Djak Pnan village."

They threaten us," they explained. "They come to check our identity in the middle of the night and can strike at any time." Yet, when they raid the leper area, police dare not "touch" the people for fear of contagion.

As a result of the lack of medical care and medical drugs as well as poor hygiene, many of the patients have serious ulcers and injuries. This is an indictment of the Vietnamese government and of its social policies. For locals, "The authorities still discriminate against lepers in a heavy-handed manner".

In spite of the difficulties and the persecution, local Catholics proudly affirm their faith and commitment to "follow Jesus", as well as the closeness and care shown by the bishop, priests and nuns.

In fact, the memory of the visit by Mgr Leopoldo Girelli, non-permanent representative of the Holy See in Vietnam, is still much alive around here.

In bringing Pope Francis' greetings and affection for the poor and the sick, the prelate noted that "The Holy Father especially loves the poor and unfortunate. Hence, fear not. You are not far from the pope, for you are in his heart."

"We are happy to live here and to show our faith," said some local residents whose strong and resilient faith allows them to meet and overcome the difficulties.

Mgr Hoàng Đức Oanh, the bishop of Kontum "came and he prayed with us." The sisters, "who carry out pastoral work, help us" when we need it.

"Even though most of our families must deal with the disease, we feel close to the love of Jesus and feel the loving care of the Church," he said.

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