Thiên An, monastery land occupied and sold to 'red capitalists'
by Paul Nguyen Hung

Since September, the local administration has sold many lots of the forest. Thugs hired by the authorities attack the Catholics to convince them to leave the area. "For the regime the land belongs to the people but the real masters are the party and the 'red capitalists'".

Hanoi (AsiaNews) -  Since November 1, priests and religious of the Benedictine monastery of Thiên An Huế  have been engaged in peaceful marches and moments of prayer for justice and peace in Vietnam. They are protesting against the authorities of Huế, the capital of the northern central province of Thừa Thiên-Huế: in order to sell lots of land to "red capitalists" and retired Party cadres, since last September local government officials have been occupying the area adjacent to the property, located in Thủy Bằng, a municipality of the town of Hương Thủy.

Although recognized by the law of Vietnam, the monastery is at the center of a painful dispute with the communist regime, which has long aimed at taking possession of the more than 110 hectares of protected forest that surrounds it and to eradicate religious practice. The structure houses priests, nuns, religious and seminarians who, despite threats and pressures, carry out pastoral activities (at the service of Catholics and faithful of other religions), in three different churches of the city. The archdiocese of Huế, which covers two provinces, has about 70 thousand faithful and 78 parishes.

Brother Vincent says that "over the years, the religious community has sent documents, letters and had several meetings with the authorities". "However - he continues - we could not solve anything. Moreover, in recent years the monastery has been repeatedly the scene of acts of aggression and actions ".

Founded on June 10, 1940 by some French missionaries, the monastery is often the subject of attacks by thugs hired by local authorities to frighten Catholics and persuade them to leave the area. Added to these are the raids of policemen who, on several occasions, break into the structure and threaten to occupy it. The cross and the statue of Jesus Christ, desecrated on June 28, 2017 (photo), had already been destroyed in 2015, in 2016 and promptly rebuilt by monks and faithful. Since March 2018, more than five hectares of forest have been burned.

Joseph Hùng, a member of the Archdiocese, told AsiaNews: "According to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the land belongs to the people. In reality, the real masters are the Party and its 'red capitalists'. To the people, the who are farmers and workers, the right to the land is not recognized ". "In every part of the country - Joseph continues - local governments use violence to occupy the land and sell it to the companies and interest groups in their circle. For their interests and in the name of economic development, they are even willing to cause devastating pollution".

Since September, the administration has sold many plots of the forest surrounding the monastery of Thiên An Huế, creating a vast business turnover. The authorities have used the so-called "cò đất", intermediaries for the sale. In search of immediate gains, buyers usually resell the land to additional buyers, who in turn surrender the property to other people. Many parishioners say disconsolate that "the monks cannot denounce officials to the central government". "These - they say - have already issued permits for the construction of houses. To hide the corruption and the illegality of sales, the new owners were also allowed to build altars for the worship of ancestors and structures for the practice of Buddhism ".