Catholic homes destroyed, land expropriated in Ho Chi Minh City
by Maria Thuy Tien

The authorities sent bulldozers and agents with batons and electric whips to Lộc Hưng to seize land owned by the Society for Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP). Gathered in prayer, about a hundred families ask for justice. The displaced pledge to continue the fight.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Ho Chi Minh City authorities and the People's Committee of Tân Bình district sent 300 police agents to demolish the homes of Lộc Hưng parishioners.

As land values rise, the municipal government and "interest groups" are betting on rising land prices in the central part of the city.

At dawn on Friday, bulldozers and demolition equipment sent by the authorities appeared in Chấn Hưng Street backed by scores of police agents ready to keep order with batons and electric whips.

The police blocked access roads to the disputed lot, an area of ​​48,000 square metres owned by the Society for Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP), where Catholic families had built their homes.

The houses were demolished. Some parishioners gathered to pray and about ten were arrested.

On Friday evening, Fr Paul Lê Xuân Lộc and Fr Joseph Trương Hoàng Vũ, two Redemptorist priests, came to pray together with and comfort about a hundred Catholic families.

"The following day, the faithful of the parish of Lộc Hưng met again to pray and make their voices heard, in the name of justice,” Ms Anna, a local Catholic, told AsiaNews. “We also prayed for the city government and the Tân Bình People's Committee. We hope that they will apply the law and we invoke peace for Vietnam."

The garden has belonged to the MEP since 1954, when priests and missionaries welcomed hundreds of Catholics who left northern Vietnam for the south.

The faithful hold proper title deeds in French, translated into Vietnamese. Yet, the authorities have tried to expropriate the land since 2000.

The compensation offered is too little and do not provide Lộc Hưng Catholics with enough money to find housing elsewhere, thus condemning them to live on the streets and become "dân oan" (signatories to hopeless petitions).

"We are angry about the destruction of our homes,” said Mr T, who has lived in Lộc Hưng garden with his family since 1954. “However, we are determined because we have always respected and followed the law of Vietnam.”

“Since 1999, we have turned to state agencies to lay out our situation. They received all the documents, but we have not received any reply yet. The government has not explained the legal basis for seizing our land. In accordance with the Law, we will continue to fight in the name of social justice for Vietnamese citizens."

Expropriations and forced seizures by Vietnam’s Communist authorities of Church land and property are a commonplace across the country.

On 5 November, the government started building on land belonging to the archdiocese in Hanoi.

The Benedictine monastery of Thiên An Huế, in the north-central province of Thừa Thiên-Huế, is another site that has been at the centre of a painful dispute with the government for several years.