05/25/2010, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Catholics protest in Cau Ram over historic church turned into flats

by J.B. An Dang
The Vietnamese government had recognised the area as a ‘memorial site’ because it was damaged by US planes. Local officials have signed a deal with a contractor worth millions of dollars.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Waving Vatican flags, Catholics (pictured) from Cau Ram, Yen Dai and Ke Gai parishes in the Cau Ram deanery (Vinh Diocese) met on Sunday to demonstrate against a decision by local authorities to turn land belonging to Church in Cau Ram into a residential area.

During the war, the area was occupied by a military base. When hostilities ended, the Vietnamese government declared the area a ‘memorial site’ to be “preserved and protected for future generations in memory of American war crimes.” Located near a lake, the parish buildings, including the sacristy, offices and priest residence were heavily damaged by US bombs.

Requests by local Catholics to have the land returned to the Church so that they could rebuild their church, which dates back to the early 20th century, went unheeded. Instead, the land was first subdivided to allow the construction of a road that links Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh’s home, some 330 kilometres to the north. “Uncle Ho”, as he is also known, is the Communist leader who led to the country’s reunification.

In this context, the decision to build a residential complex with flats for private sale worth millions of dollars to government officials has led to protests, which have stopped the project for the past two years. Now, a deal has been signed with a private contractor who has already started construction.

After Mass on Pentecost Sunday and amid the beehive of activity on the construction site, local parishioners carried out their peaceful protest, demanding that the work stop.

What is happening in Cau Ram parallels what happened last July in Tam Toa, another so-called ‘memorial site’, a place partially destroyed by US bombs, but never returned to the diocese, and now in the process of being transformed by a new real estate project.

In Catholic circles, the attitude taken by Vinh authorities is also related to the resignation of Mgr Kiet, archbishop of Hanoi, who quit for health reasons. He was a staunch defender of Church rights, in addition to a supporter of religious freedom. The Communist regime, which saw his resignation as a “victory”, now feels free to go ahead with its bullying.

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