Hanoi (AsiaNews) - With a procession first and a prayer sit-in afterward, the Catholics of the parish of Thái Hà in Hanoi renewed their request yesterday evening: they want the return of the 60,000 square meters of property belonging to their church, currently occupied by state buildings.
The peaceful demonstration got underway immediately after the celebration of Ash Wednesday: carrying a large cross, the Redemptorists in charge of the parish went in procession all the way to the property that they are asking to be restored. For hours, in spite of the cold rain and the biting wind, they prayed and sang, raising dozens of crosses and images of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, joining those who have been demonstrating since the beginning of the year. Some of them, despite the beginning of the Tet, the lunar new year, continue to stay there in tents.
The situation is analogous to the one that saw the diocese of Hanoi ask for the restitution of the building that formerly belonged to the apostolic delegation. The property of Thái Hà now being asked to be returned was bought by the Redemptorists in 1928: the church, convent, and seminary were built on its 60,000 square meters. In 1954, with the rise to power of the communist party and the division of Vietnam, the religious of Thái Hà were imprisoned or deported. The 60,000 square metres of their property were reduced to 2,700.
Since then, numerous petitions have been made asking for the land to be given back. A hospital now stands on the property, and some of it has been given to state companies and members of the government. The most recent case, from the beginning of the year, was the granting of part of the property to the Chiến Thắng packaging company, which has begun to build there. The response to the parishioners' protests has been the sending of soldiers to protect the construction site.
On January 7th, Fr Joseph Cao Dinh Tri, the provincial superior of the Redemptorists, intervened with a message denouncing the illegal confiscation of the land and the desire to build there. The same day, the authorities stated that the construction would be halted, but the following day the people's committee of Hanoi authorised the company to continue the work.
Feeling that they are being scorned, the parishioners have been protesting peacefully since then. Last week, the local authorities asked the Redemptorists to tell the faithful to leave the area to prepare for the Tet. The religious told the demonstrators to go home and avoid the rain and cold. But no one moved. "I told my children", a woman explains to AsiaNews, "that I must protect church property. Anyone who wants to exchange new year greetings with me can come here".