09/03/2012, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Relatives of 17 jailed Christians go on pilgrimage for their freedom

by Nguyen Hung
The initiative was supposed to be a "freedom march" to secure the release of 17 Catholics and Protestants in prison for more than a year because of their religion and opinion. Participants took advantage of the march to visit places symbolic of their faith that suffered persecution, including Hanoi's Thai Ha parish. Eventually, Communist authorities moved in to block the pilgrimage.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Parents and friends of 17 Catholics and Protesters in prison for more than a year on account of their religion and conscience are on a "freedom march" to get them released. On their way however, they met with police repression. Still, they were able to turn their trip into a pilgrimage, visiting holy sites, monasteries and places of worship targeted by government repression, including Thai Ha parish in the capital Hanoi.

Between 24 and 28 August, some 30 Christian families related to activists and intellectuals on trial travelled to Hanoi on foot. In the capital, they marched through the streets carrying banners that said: "Vietnamese authorities, release the innocent youth," "My boy is innocent," or "My brother is innocent." For a year, they had appealed and pleaded with the government to free their loved ones in jail for their faith or ideas.

The authorities instead responded to this peaceful demonstration with force. Security forces rounded up the marchers and put them in a waiting bus to send them back to where they came from. They also turned down all petitions and prevented a formal complaint from being made.

Despite all of this, the four-day march to Hanoi gave participants an opportunity to undertake a special pilgrimage in some of the places that symbolise their faith and personal freedoms, something the Communist regime has too often denied.

On their path, they stopped at the Cistercian monastery of Chau Son. Communist authorities had it destroyed, forcing its residents to flee, but now it is undergoing restoration. Marchers also halted at Thai Ha parish in Hanoi to give offerings and prayers. For years now, the latter has been the target of government attacks.

On 28 August, the group took part in the Eucharistic adoration at Trai Gao shrine, Vinh diocese, followed by Mass and a special prayer for the 17 jailed Christians.

"Our sons and brothers are good Catholic and good citizens in a society that is going through special times," said Fr Anthony during the homily. "The government cannot act this way forever."

In the past few days, a dozen NGOs have sent a letter to the government demanding the release of the prisoners.

The 17 prisoners of conscience are: Peter Hồ Đức Hòa, John Nguyễn Văn Duyệt, John Nguyễn Văn Oai, Paul Hồ Văn Oanh, Paulus Lê Sơn, Paul Trần Minh Nhật, Peter Nguyễn Xuân Oanh, Peter Nguyễn Đình Cương, Francis Xavier Đặng Xuân Diệu, Anthony Đậu Văn Vương, Peter Trần Hữu Đức, John Thái Văn Dung, Anthony Chu Mạnh Sơn, Peter Trần Vũ Anh Bình, Maria Tạ Phong Tần and Nông Hùng Anh.

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