05/26/2011, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Archbishop of Hanoi against the demolition of Sisters of Saint Paul convent

by Philip Blair
The bishop sent a letter to the "competent authorities at all levels", claiming the rightful ownership of the building. Yesterday a meeting with the local government, described as "a waste of time." The pain of the faithful for the continuing cases of forced evictions, despite a 2004 law to protect places of worship.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Mgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, archbishop of Hanoi has sided with the Sisters of Saint Paul, against the government decision to demolish the congregation’s convent. In a letter to the "competent authorities at all levels," the archdiocese claims the legitimate ownership of the building and notes the violation of legitimate rights of Catholics, whose grievances are not even considered by the local administration. According to the project, the complex will be demolished to give way to a five-storey hospital.

In the statement released yesterday by the Archdiocese of Hanoi it emerges that "Since May 16, Archbishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon has sent urgent protest letters to Hanoi City Department of Health, Saint Paul Hospital, and relevant authorities at all levels objecting the demolition of Hanoi Carmelite Monastery”. The nuns of the Congregation, he adds, have also sent "their personal letters of protest" to the heads of government of the Vietnamese capital.

Founded in 1883, the Congregation of Vietnamese Sisters of Saint Paul has its headquarters in downtown Hanoi. The building was confiscated almost in its entirety by the Communist government in 1954, a small portion was returned to the nuns over time in which they opened a dispensary for the poor, a residence for orphaned children and provided shelter for girls. Now the government has approved and hastily begun demolition, to construct a five-story building.

The Archdiocese of Hanoi, legitimate owner of the structure, on the top of which a cross (see photo) is still visible, has not been informed nor consulted by the authorities. The latest violation of the rights of Christians has caused anger and dismay in the Vietnamese community, which in the last three years has been subjected to forced removals and evictions from numerous properties by the communist regime.

Yesterday the authorities of Hanoi and the Commission for Religious Affairs held a face to face meeting with Catholic delegates to listen to their "legitimate aspirations". However, the meeting was only "a waste of time" because the construction, say the Catholic leaders, is still ongoing and there have been no compromises or agreements with the government.

The Ordinance on religions promulgated in 2004 states that "the law protects the legitimate property of all faiths." Nevertheless, there are rules that define precisely how the properties are protected and those responsible for this. The issue was raised in recent days by Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City (see AsiaNews, 23/05/2011 Archbishop of Saigon calls on government to respect religious freedom), and this is the reason why "many Catholic properties were expropriated unfairly."

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