09/22/2018, 09.07
VIETNAM
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An Hòa Catholics against parish land seizure, say it is out of revenge

by Teresa Thu Thao

The authorities want to build a house of culture for another village. In the past two years, parishioners in Phú Yên fought to help the fishing communities and the victims of the worst environmental disaster in the country's history. The Pastoral Council and the local Women's Association came together to pray but were threatened by party officials and ex-soldiers.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – An Hòa is a village in Quỳnh Lưu District (Nghệ An province, northern Vietnam). Local and district authorities want to seize land owned by the Phú Yên Catholic parish in order to build a public house of culture. Local Catholics are opposed to the project, which they view as retaliation against them for demonstrating and showing support for the victims of an environmental catastrophe that devastated Central Vietnam in 2016.

Local Catholics are new to government bullying. The local church was set on fire and destroyed during the wave of persecution following the anti-Catholic edict issued by Emperor Tự Đức in 1830. The church was rebuilt in 1879 and still serves the An Hòa community, about a thousand people, most of whom are Catholic.

Fr John Trần Quốc Long has been the local vicar since 7 February when he replaced Fr Anton Đặng Hữu Nam (picture 4). In the past two years, the latter led his parishioners in protest (pictures 1, 2, 3) to help the fishing communities affected by the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history in their fight to obtain proper compensation from the Formosa Plastic Group, a Taiwanese company responsible for what happened.

As a result of such action, Fr Đặng was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by Communist authorities. To this must be added the intimidation of Red Flags militants, a pro-regime group that described the clergyman as a "reactionary enemy".

Recently, the Quỳnh Lưu authorities decided to build a house of culture for the village of Tân An on land owned by Phú Yên parish despite the opposition expressed by local parishioners to this "absurd project" when the city administration consulted them.

Despite the negative response by locals, the district government announced several times via the media the imminent construction to inform residents in An Hòa and Tân An.

Catholics accuse local officials of trying to take "revenge against the community for their support of the victims of the Formosa environmental disaster, Catholics and non-Catholics".

"The accident left millions of people out of work. Many have become ill and the health of many others is still at risk. So many lives have been lost," they say.

Three days ago, the Pastoral Council and the Women's Association of Phú Yên Parish met at the site where the authorities want to build the house of culture. Kneeling on the ground, they prayed and sang hymns with great emotional participation.

Despite the peaceful nature of the demonstration, Quỳnh Lưu district authorities sent party officials and ex-soldiers to the site to threaten the families of each parishioner, shouting at them: ‘Mở mồm ra là bắt hết!’ (If you open your mouth and talk about the building, we will arrest all of you!)”

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