09/08/2009, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Catholics freed from prison. The Bishop of Vinh seeks solidarity

by Joseph Nguyen
The 19 believers were arrested for hoisting a prayer tent near the ruins of the ancient church. The government has decided not to give back the land, instead it will build a public garden and a private resort. According to local authorities there are no Catholics in the area and there is no need for churches.

Vinh (AsiaNews) - The Bishop of Vinh informed the diocese that the 19 Catholics arrested for hoisting a prayer tent at Tam Toa were all freed 40 days after their arrest. The prelate has also denounced, however, violence against the faithful and their priests and has asked all believers to remain united in solitary.

On 4 September, Bishop Paul Mary Cao Dinh Thuyen published a communiqué in which he gave the news that "the 19 faithful arrested in Tam Toa have all been released." But he adds that "the belongings of the church and the faithful have not yet been returned in full. ... Our brothers and sisters, beaten and arrested, and especially the two priests savagely attacked in Dong Hoi (Quang Binh) have been deeply traumatized in body and spirit and still require treatment. We will continue to pray for the priests and faithful of Tam Toa, so they may recover and return quickly to normal life".  

The incident that has inflamed the whole diocese began on July 20, when police in the province of Quang Binh launched a surprise attack against a defenceless group of parishioners of Tam Toa who were building a tent to use as a temporary chapel for their liturgical services. The attack resulted in hundreds of wounded and dozens of people arrested, taken away in police vans and detained (see 21/07/2009 Beatings and arrests of priests and faithful in the historic church of Tam Toa). In the following weeks two Catholic priests were beaten into a coma by plainclothes police and thugs, paid by the government, who also attacked several people in the streets of the city of Dong Hoi just for wearing Christian symbols, even robbing their homes (28 / 07/2009 Priest beaten into a coma by police. Catholics Protest throughout Vietnam).

The episode of Vinh is the latest in a series. In Hanoi, Thai Ha, Ha Dong, Vinh Long, Hue, An Giang the same incidents have occurred: buildings and land confiscated, churches and monasteries sold by the state to private (often party members) and used to build hotels, night clubs , luxury villas with the proceeds going to fatten the personal accounts of government representatives.

The diocese of Vinh has shown great unity. Several times 500 thousand faithful, distributed in the deaneries of the territory, have come together to pray and seek justice. The local government, perhaps intimidated by the show of solidarity, even internationally, has now released the imprisoned faithful, but continues with its project to turn Tam Toa into a tourist centre. The land of the church, that the Catholics claim to build a chapel, will be converted into a public park.

The diocese of Vinh counts about 482 thousand Catholics, the parish of Tam Toa a few thousand, but government authorities claim that "there are no Catholics and there is no need to build churches”.

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