05/10/2018, 14.08
VIETNAM

Sisters protest in Hà Nội and Sài Gòn against the authorities expropriating their convents

by J.B. An Dang

The expropriated land is destined for business development. One nun was attacked for trying to stop the resumption of construction. Scores of nuns from the Community of the Vietnamese Sisters of St Paul took to the streets in downtown Hà Nội. In Sài Gòn, nuns are fighting to ensure that an agreement signed in 1975 is upheld. The authorities are trying to seize school buildings.

Hà Nội (AsiaNews) – The sisters of two convents located on "golden lands”, i.e. those with high economic value, are protesting against the authorities in the country’s two main cities. In both places, the nuns are being forced to give up their rightful property rights in favour of business development.

Dozens of women religious from the Community of the Vietnamese Sisters of St Paul marched downtown Hà Nội yesterday, before carrying their protest for hours in front of the People's Committee (City hall) in Hoàn Kiếm district (picture). They complain about illegal construction of a business complex on their land.

The day before, construction resumed after a brief hiatus following complains by Card Phêrô (Pierre) Nguyễn Văn Nhơn, archbishop of Hà Nội.

In an attempt to prevent the resumption of work, a nun tried to block the entrance to the monastery. She was attacked by a group of thugs sent to support the workers, who beat her unconscious.

Founded in 1883, the Community of Vietnamese Sisters of Saint Paul is located in central Hà Nội. The building was almost totally confiscated by the communist government in 1954.

A small part was returned to the nuns when they opened a dispensary for the poor, a residence for orphans and a shelter for girls.

Now the government has approved and hastily launched the demolition of the structure, to put up a five-story building.

Since 2011, the Archdiocese of Hà Nội, the rightful owner of the facility on top of which stands a still visible cross, has repeatedly protested against the violation of the legitimate rights of Catholics.

For a while, the authorities stopped construction. Now however, after a campaign of repression against a Korean sect, now extended to all religions to promote hatred between religious and non-religious people, city authorities believe that it is the right time to resume the project.

In the south of the country, in Hồ Chí Minh City (Sài Gòn), the communist government has once again demanded that the Community of lovers of the Holy Cross in Thủ Thiêm district leave their monastery to allow new urban development in the area.

The nuns have been in Vietnam since the foundation of the community, in 1840. After the fall of Sài Gòn, the unification of the country and the takeover by northern Communists, the nuns turned over the primary school to the Hồ Chí Minh City Department of Education.

The agreement was signed on 5 December 1975, clearly noting that the Archdiocese of Sài Gòn granted the government the use of the premises for the 1975-76 school year for educational purposes only, whilst the title deed remained in the hands of the Catholic Church.

Moreover, in case the premises are used for different purposes, the agreement states that "both parties must give their consent".

The schools were closed on 5 September 2011. Local authorities have allocated one of them (Thủ Thiêm primary school in District 2) as government offices and a police station.

They also started the bureaucratic procedures for the transfer of property, which is the tantamount to confiscating the nuns’ building.

In the past 12 years, local authorities have repeatedly put pressure on the sisters to leave their historic convent, the oldest in Sài Gòn, to pave the way of new urban projects.

This week, pressure reached its peak amid an anti-religious atmosphere stoked by state media.

At the moment, 381 nuns who made perpetual vows live in Thủ Thiêm monastery, plus 98 nuns who made temporary vows, 33 novices and about 100 postulants.

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