Vinh (AsiaNews) - More than 10 thousand Catholics marched yesterday in different areas of the diocese of Vinh to demand respect for religious freedom against threats and violence of the government. On the eve of the marches, to intimidate the Catholics, the authorities deployed tanks outside the bishop's residence, with patrols by gangs of thugs and soldiers.
In a letter dated July 10, sent to cardinals and bishops from all over Vietnam, the diocese of Vinh asked for solidarity for the violence suffered by the faithful of Con Coung: "Recently - says the message - the Catholics of the diocese of Vinh, in Nghe An province (northwest), have suffered persecution because of their faith. The attack on 1 July was the tip of the iceberg of a series of violent attacks against Catholics in the region. On that day, the local government mobilized large numbers of police, army, militia thugs to disrupt and physically attack the priests and faithful. They have occupied the Con Coung chapel, desecrated the sacred space, destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary. "
The diocese asked for the spiritual support and solidarity of other dioceses, and announced a huge protest yesterday, Sunday, July 15. They called for an end to the persecution and unwarranted attacks of propaganda and defamation against Catholics in the state media.
Yesterday, prays were said for the faithful of Vinh throughout the dioceses of Vietnam. There were marches and sit-ins in the diocese of a Lộc Thủy, Yên Hòa, Cẩm Trường, Mành Sơn, Thanh Dạ, Sơn Trang, Xuân An, Đồng Lam, Bột Đà and Quang Lãng. Catholics carried Vatican flags, placards and banners with slogans such as "religious freedom is a right", "we are determined to protect the Church"; "we protest against the authorities Con Coung that destroyed the statue of the Virgin Mary."
What is new is the fact that the government's attempts to intimidate the faithful on the eve of the marches failed to stop the protest.
Saturday morning at least three armoured cars, equipped with weapons, were stationed outside the residence of the bishop of Vinh. The police in the provinces of Quang Binh, Ha Tinh, and Nghe An were put on alert, patrolling the streets of the towns of the diocese, together with groups of thugs paid by the government who surrounded the church and made threats.
In previous days, "An Ninh Thu Do" newspaper ("The security of capital," published by Hanoi Police) had threatened to detain Le Quoc Quan, a Catholic activist in Vinh. Le Quoc Quan is a very famous lawyer in the country, who has often defended human rights and the rights of the Church. Saturday morning, the day before the Vinh march, the police raided his office and tried to drag him to the police station, but the attempt failed thanks to the intervention of the lawyer's friends and neighbours.
Another Catholic, the prominent journalist JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, who last year was almost beaten to death in Dong Chiem, was attacked by thugs in his home on 8 July, suffering knife wounds to his back and arm.
Saturday and Sunday, police blocked the ferries between Lam Dong and Quan Lang, to block the flow of the faithful to meeting places for the marches.
Despite all these plans and threats, thousands of Catholics set out Saturday night, walking for miles along highway no. 1 to arrive at places for meetings designated.
Yesterday all the marches were peaceful except in Bot Da where thugs and police disrupted Mass.
Many young people have accused the government of "showing the military because they fear the strength of the Catholics." Atri accuse Hanoi of using the same methods now in China for suppressing religious freedom.
(with the collaboration of Br. Paul)