Hanoi (AsiaNews) - "The path of dialogue has been opened": this is the judgment that the bishops of Vietnam are expressing about the meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, held on October 1, and in a letter signed by the president of the bishops' conference, Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon. The message, which bears the date of October 3, is addressed to the faithful and speaks of "a climate of attentive listening and frank and direct exchange" in the meeting with the prime minister, during which discussions were held about the government policy toward religion, and in particular toward Catholics, and about the matters concerning the former apostolic delegation, the parish of Thai Ha, and the archbishop of Hanoi, Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet.
The message says that the meeting has permitted the resumption of dialogue, "after a period during which we seemed to be going down a blind alley." The bishops do not conceal the fact that "the road for truth, justice, and long-term benefits for the nation is still a very long one with numerous obstacles and difficulties in dialogue. It requires wisdom and patience." For this reason, they ask Catholics to "join in personal and communal prayer within the parish and religious communities, in a spirit of communion, love, and harmony."
"When everyone has taken truth, justice, and the common good as the light for our path and the criteria for our decision," the message from the bishops concludes, "then we will be able to overcome the difficulties and obstacles in the course of the construction and development of our beloved country."
The tone and content of the message are rather different from those released by the state media. "State television did not broadcast what bishops said,” Sr. Marie Nguyen from Saigon tells AsiaNews. “It tried to present the meeting as a class in which the prime minister lectured the bishops and gave them instructions to carry out." The judgment of Fr. Pascal Nguyen Ngoc Tinh, a Franciscan of Ho Chi Minh City, is more drastic. For him, the meeting was "a waste of money and time. It’s absurd to learn that during the meeting the representatives of the Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops have been assigned with the task to ‘educate’ Msgr. Kiệt." He is referring to reports by the state media, saying that the prime minister asked the Vietnamese bishops' conference, for "the common good of all, to support and assist the prelate more as he needed to abide the state law."
Meanwhile, the tactics of intimidation and violence seem to be succeeding in another parish, that of Mạc Thượng, in Thiên Lý, district of Lý Nhân.
Mạc Thượng is a small parish, with only 300 faithful. For one week, explains the pastor, Fr. Tạ Hữu Phương, "Every day, they gathered at 7:30 pm [in the entrance of the church] to yell slogans, threatening to attack priests, and other things until 10pm. They came in a large number, up to hundreds…and immediately started yelling and cursing loudly. They then stoned at the church and my residence. They pulled down the fence; smashed my windows and threw them into a pond; and damaged the gates. They were very violent."
The parishioners went to the police release of the province of Ha Nam, who told the troublemakers to leave. But they did not arrest anyone, and the following day everything started over again as before.
In order to understand these events, it must be remembered that the parish had presented the people's committee with a petition for the restitution of church property: 26,000 square meters, most of which the authorities had taken after the death of a previous pastor, Fr. De, 60 years before, giving it to private businesses.
The day after the first attack, the committee called the pastor to discuss the petition. And the attacks continued. Now, "the parish does not even think about sending any more petitions in the near future." And the attacks have ceased.
J.B. An Dang contributed to this report.