Ho Chi Minh City, Buddhists and Protestants defend Catholic school from demolition
by Ngoc Hung
Local authorities had announced the destruction of the elementary school in Thu Thiem, run by the Sisters Lovers of the Holy Cross. More than 3 thousand people, including Buddhists, Protestants, Redemptorists and faithful of tribal religions, took part in a protest vigil: "These schools have brought benefits to the whole community." On October 25, the demolition was suspended.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - Leaders of all religions have sided with the diocese of Ho Chi Minh City preventing the government from destroying the primary school in Thu Thiem (city district), run by the Sisters of the Lovers Holy Cross. For years, the Church has been battling government ordered forced evictions but this is the first time authorities have suspended a demolition.

A few weeks ago, the authorities had warned the congregation, located in District 2, that it planned to demolish the school to make room for other urban projects. On October 19, the Lovers of the Holy Cross sent a petition to the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City and the office of bishop of the diocese, denouncing the government's decision.

The petition received no response from the authorities, which on October 22 began preparations for the demolition of the building. "After hearing that the Thu Thiem school was about to be destroyed - said Fr. Ngo Gia Thế - many parishioners flocked to the sister defense to ask local authorities to suspend  the forced eviction". About 3 thousand people, Catholics and others, gathered, prayed in church, held a candlelight vigil outside and stayed all night in the rain, with billboards requesting authorities not demolish the school.

The rally was supported by the Inter-religious Council of Vietnam, and members of the Cao Đài religion, Buddhists, Hoa Hao Buddhists and Protestants who said: "We strongly support the right of the school, its reasonable demands and we expect justice and religious freedom for the Lovers of the Holy Cross in Thu Thiem. "

In a written statement, the Inter-religious Council says: "The Lovers of the Holy Cross in Thu Thiem, a Catholic community, have been present since 1840. The congregation has worked with children and people in the community with spiritual, charitable and social activities. In addition, the congregation has built three elementary schools located in an area of ​​four km2. These educational institutions have brought many cultural and ethical benefits for the younger generation and people living in the community. "

On 25 October, the authorities of the District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City hsuspended the demolition of the school, saying it had changed its "project".

Thu Thiem parishioners describe the congregation as the "basis of our spirituality. After a day's work, we come here to be confirmed in the faith. Moreover, over the last 40 years the sisters have organized the so-called 'lop Tinh Thuong' (lessons of charity) and literature courses to help thousands and thousands of children who live in difficult conditions".

In recent years, the Vietnamese Church has often clashed with the authorities over issues related to land ownership. The World Bank reported that from 2001 to 2010, approximately one million hectares of agricultural land has been converted for other purposes, especially tourism. Last year, the Vietnamese authorities forcibly evicted a Catholic neighborhood in Con Dau, including the cemetery.