For years, provincial authorities have subjected the vicar of Mỹ Khánh to threats and accusations. Officials failed to turn local Catholics against him. Only members of Communist organisations heeded their call. For one Catholic, “Fr Antoine is a patriot and loves all Vietnamese people, Catholics and non-Catholics."
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Municipal authorities in Khánh Thành, Nghệ An province (north-central Vietnam), held a trial (phiên tòa đấu tố) of Fr Antoine Đặng Hữu Nam (pictured), vicar of Mỹ Khánh parish.
Having failed to get local Catholics involved, the administration of the mostly Catholic commune turned to neighbouring municipalities. Officials from Yên Thành district, the Women's Union, the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, the Veterans 'Association, the Farmers' Association and the Vietnamese Homeland Front heeded the call.
One Party official in Khánh Thành attacked the priest: "Today I will talk about Fr Đặng Hữu Nam. He is a reactionary priest, a ‘Việt gian’ (a Vietnamese who follows the enemy) in the service of foreign countries ".
For years, the authorities in Nghệ An province have subjected Fr Nam to threats and accusations. For his safety, the bishop of the Diocese of Vinh, Mgr Paul Nguyên Thái Hop, moved him in March from Phú Yên parish, An Hòa, a town in Quỳnh Lưu district.
Since 2016, the Vietnamese government has had Fr Nam in its crosshairs along with Fr JB Nguyễn Đình Thục, vicar of Song Ngọc. Fr Nam and Fr Thục have helped Catholics who protested against the government and the Formosa Plastics Corporation, a Taiwan-based company responsible for the country’s worst environmental disaster.
Vietnamese authorities have carried out a defamatory campaign against the two vicars on all official media – TV, radio, newspapers. The Communist Party has repeatedly asked Mgr Nguyên Thái Hop to remove the two.
The pro-regime Hội Cờ Đỏ (Red Flags) association has described both priests and the bishop as "reactionary enemies" and carried out various actions of intimidation against Catholic communities.
Despite the threats, Fr Nam has renewed his commitment to peace and justice in Vietnam. Last April, he organised a peaceful Eucharistic adoration in Mỹ Khánh parish, to pray for Formosa’s victims.
Thousands of people also took part in a prayer vigil against a bill on "special administrative-economic units", which many Vietnamese see as a surrender of national sovereignty. As a result of this, demonstrations broke out across the country, sparking a harsh crackdown and numerous arrests and convictions.
"Fr. Antoine is a patriot and loves all Vietnamese people, Catholics and non-Catholics. He has helped, spiritually and legally, thousands of victims of the environmental catastrophe," said Paul Hoa, a resident in Nghệ An province, speaking to AsiaNews.
In fact, “Fr Nam and many other priests in the diocese of Vinh have celebrated Masses, held prayers and engaged in various charitable initiatives for these people."
"Catholics in the diocese always pray for Fr Nam,” others said. “In every situation, Vietnamese Catholics always express their spirit of charity, love and forgiveness towards our brothers and sisters. This is why the authorities have not yet harmed to Fr Nam."