Feast of Our Lady of Fatima in Ho Chi Minh City parish threatened by the government
by Hung Dao

Every 13th of the month, parishioners in Thủ Thiêm gather to celebrate the family, pray and eat together. This is a strong stand against the authorities who want to expropriate the parish’s land. For years the government has been driving away families and religious congregations to make way for shopping malls and restaurants. Even though they live far away, some parishioners “continue to come to church”; for others, “the government ought to respect the rights of religion."

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – On the 13th of every month, parishioners in Thủ Thiêm (District 2, Ho Chi Minh City) attend Mass, pray and have lunch together to celebrate the family on the day of Our Lady of Fatima.

"Parishioners gather to show respect to the Virgin Mary and at the same time they meet and pray for their dearly departed," said Fr James Lê Jang Niem, the priest vicar.

The meeting on the 13th of each month attracts hundreds of people from far and wide (Biên Hòa, Đồng Nai province), some from places ten kilometres away. This represents a strong signal by the Catholic community against expropriation plans that have threatened the parish for several years.

The government in fact has incorporated the Thủ Thiêm area in its urban redevelopment plan, which includes shopping centres, tax offices, hotels and restaurants. As a result of this, many families have had to move away.

Although "we live far away from the church,” said Mai Thị Thanh T, a mother of four evicted by the state, “my children and I continue to come here to attend Mass and study the catechism. I am very angry with the authorities of District 2-Ho Chi Minh City who want to eliminate the parish". Some 1,200 people take part in the Sunday Mass.

The website dedicated to the government project reports in detail all the existing activities in the district that will be upgraded, without mentioning, however, places of worship and the activity of the Sisters Lovers of the Holy Cross who work in Thủ Thiêm parish.

The local church was established in 1848 and is the hub of charitable activities for about 20,000 local residents. Over the past 40 years, the Sisters have offered charity classes (Lớp Tình Thương) and literature courses to help thousands and thousands of children who live in difficult conditions.

Last October, the Sisters were able to stop the demolition of the school they run. This was a small victory against the ongoing grab of properties owned by religious congregations, but it has not however limited the authorities’ ambition vis-à-vis the assets.

"The government ought to respect the rights of religion to serve the spiritual needs of the people instead of moving places of worship elsewhere,” said Tâm, a member of the parish pastoral council.