10/16/2015, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Religious freedom denied: Bishop of Kontum slams church demolition

by Stephanie Nguyen
In an open letter Msgr. Michael Hoang Duc Oanh denounces communist authorities attacks on faithful. At the center of the dispute a place of worship subject to extension work. In response, parishioners take turns holding vigil to protect the building.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - In an open letter to the local authorities, the bishop of Kontum has defended the campaign of local Catholics against ongoing attacks on religious freedom in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

The most recent episode was the decision by the provincial administration to demolish a house church in a small village located in a remote area of ​​the diocese. In the letter, Msgr. Michael Hoang Duc Oanh appealed to the government - local and national - to protect the right to worship for the Christian community.

The diocese of Kontum in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, was erected in 1884 and now has about 250 thousand faithful out of a total of 1.2 million inhabitants, half of whom belong to ethnic minorities. Recently, a district of the diocese was targeted by the local Communist authorities, who have threatened to demolish 22 chapels used for functions and prayers.

According to reports Vietcatholic News, in the letter, the prelate recalled in chronological order the attacks by the communist authorities against the local Catholic Daknu community. Voicing the resentment of thousands of faithful, Msgr. Michael remembers how the government has long ignored the request to build a new church, to meet the demands of a growing population.

In contrast, the local government has already cleared the way for the demolishing of all the houses of prayer made built by believers without distinction of materials used or their size. One of these episodes dates back to June 28, when parishioners tried to expand their old place of worship, increasing the size with a new roof and the number of columns.

In response, the government issued a demolition order and tried to bribe the local people with alcohol and other means. The communist authorities summoned the pastor, threatening him and demanding he pressure the community. However, the faithful ignored the warnings and organised themselves into shifts to keep watch over the building, to prevent the demolition.In the letter the bishop of Kontum asked that religious freedom be respected in practice as guaranteed by the Constitution of Vietnam. He has also expressed willingness to pay a penalty, in order to preserve the church used by the faithful of Daknu, or to submit the matter to a court of justice. "I urge the authorities - said the prelate – to calm down and take a look around the area, to see who are the ones who really are undermining people's trust in the government".

Vietnam's 87 million people include 48 per cent Buddhists, more than 7 per cent Catholics, 5.6 per cent syncretistic and 20 per cent atheist.

As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs.

Recently, the Vietnamese bishops - among then the Bishop of Kontum and the Bishop of Vinh - have strongly criticized Hanoi’s bill on "Faith and religion" which violates the freedom of religion and limits worship. The prelates have stressed that the proposed norm contrasts with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam which, in principle, protects worship.

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