05/28/2018, 15.42
VIETNAM
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Ho Chi Minh City, land expropriation in Thủ Thiêm, 15,000 households without a home

by Nguyen Hung

Through threats and pressures, the authorities have seized residents’ homes at low prices and sold them high to investors. The People's Committee intends to expropriate land belonging to the Catholic community. For Fr Vĩnh Sang, Redemptorist priest, "in the name of the process of dialogue between the Holy See and the State, some ‘leading figures’ have asked the victims to remain silent”. To defend justice, truth and human rights, Catholics must be “messengers of the Gospel”, says Mgr Micae Hoàng Đức Oanh.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – About 15,000 households are currently without a home due to an urban development plan Ho Chi Minh City intends to implement in Thủ Thiêm, in the city’s District 2.

Finding themselves in a state of bankruptcy (sạc nghiệp) and homeless, former residents have been protesting the inadequate compensation given to them by the city government, which has been taking land and property from residents by virtue of agreements signed with real estate companies.

Through threats and pressures, the authorities have taken properties at low prices, selling hundreds of hectares of land to investors in exchange for huge amounts of money. Sometimes, they got 300 times the value of real estate and split the money with other "interest parties".

This month, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee asked the agencies involved in this project to expropriate the lands that belonged to the Catholic community.

Claiming that nine lots of land fall within the area included in the project, local officials want to seize land that belongs to Thủ Thiêm Parish, which includes the building the Community of Lovers of the Holy Cross and three elementary schools owned by the nuns.

In the afternoon of 9 May, a delegation of lawmakers from Ho Chi Minh City met with District 2 residents who asked the government to investigate the project as a whole.

Subsequently, state media published a series of articles slamming local authorities for violations and corruption in the planning of the new urban area. In fact, thousands of unfairly treated people (dân oan) live in the neighbourhood and have been unable to find accommodation.

"One of the most serious problems is that the government stole lands, houses and religious institutions from people by force,” said Fr Vĩnh Sang, a Redemptorist priest, speaking to AsiaNews. “Many people have been persecuted, injured or imprisoned by the authorities."

"People who lost their property have often been forgotten by everyone,” added the clergyman. “What is more, some communities, parishes, and faithful who have asked for help, but have not received any, nor have been encouraged. On the contrary, in the name of the process of dialogue between the Holy See and the State, some ‘leading figures’ have asked the victims to remain silent in order to obtain 'greater things’.”

"When Catholic victims speak out, they are usually criticised by moralising voices,” Fr Vĩnh added. “People are used to asking: 'But are land ownership issues so important to cause such tensions? Is it worth expressing our opposition?  What we must do is to follow the Gospel, the Kingdom of Heaven. Land disputes, protests over the loss of housing are not issues we need to voice.

“We fully agree with this principle. However, justice, truth and human rights are things we need to be responsible for. These are issues worthy of our commitment, if we still want to be Christians, if we still want to be messengers of the Gospel ".

On 20 May, Mgr Micae (Michel) Hoàng Đức Oanh, bishop emeritus of Kontum (central Vietnam), visited the parish of Thủ Thiêm and its vicar, Fr Gioan Baotixita (Jean-Baptiste) Lê Đăng Niêm (pictured).

On the occasion of the Solemnity of Pentecost, the prelate invited the Catholic community to pray especially for the land of Thủ Thiêm, asking the Holy Spirit to support the Church in these difficult times.

In the homily, the bishop said, "When the Holy Spirit manifests himself, the disciples of Jesus are no longer afraid. They no longer remain locked in a room but find the courage to bear witness to love, truth and the eternal God."

Speaking about the dispute over the parish land, which the authorities want to seize, Mgr Micae Hoàng Đức Oanh said, "We are Christians. We do not fight to maintain ownership of this land, but we want to speak to our community about justice and truth, so that they can remain in our country.

"No single institution can exist forever, only God exists forever. Only God is the Lord of history, he is not a mechanism or a political party. We bear witness to our Eternal God; we must be brave to talk about truth. God is the Source of Truth; what is built on lies and fraud must be removed."

The bishop emeritus invited the faithful to remember that this year the Church in Vietnam celebrates 30 years since the canonisation of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs. "We must remember this traumatic story," he noted.

"Now the time has come for the brave moment to proclaim the faith of our ancestors. Our predecessors lived the values of the Gospel and shed their blood to bear witness to the faith."

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