12/27/2010, 00.00
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Bishop of Kontum banned from celebrating Christmas Mass with Montagnards

by Joseph Dang
Previously the government had granted permission. The authorities are alarmed by the great wave of conversions in the diocese: 50 thousand in the last two years. The police has also sought to withdraw the license of the drivers of the “vagabond bishop", who travel hundreds of kilometers for his pastoral work.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese authorities have banned Mgr. Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, Bishop of Kontum from celebrating Christmas mass with the faithful of the village of Lang Son in K'Bang county (central Vietnam), the region of the Montagnards. The ban was imposed despite the fact that the government had been informed of the event.

In a pastoral letter dated Dec. 22, Mgr. Michael Hoang stated that he had discussed with Vietnam government if he, as the ordinary bishop of the diocese, could carry out his pastoral duties during this Christmas period without any obstacles from the local government. “Authorities at various levels assured me I could do so,” he wrote.

However, at 10 am on Christmas Day, local officials at Son Lang backed by police and militia banned him from celebrating the Mass. “If you want to celebrate your Mass you can do so, but not for everyone here. You have to go to each family and each Mass cannot last for more than one hour,” he was told. He gave his blessings to the congregation and cancelled the Mass as a gesture of protest.

Among the possible reasons for the ban is an attempt to hamper the prelate’s hugely successful evangelization work. Bishop Hoang, who speaks French, English and the local languages of ethnic Montagnards (Bana, Jarai, Sedang ...), since the day of his installation in August 2003, has witnessed a great wave of conversions: 30 000 Montagnards converted to Catholicism in 2008 and another 20 thousand in 2009.

This large number of conversions has generated concern in the government which is trying to prevent it in every possible way. Many diocesan priests and dozens of men - engaged in pastoral work for over 216 thousand Catholics - have been meted out a number of prohibitions.

On Christmas Eve, the Bishop was able to celebrate mass in the village of Trung An (Kon Chro county). He then had to go to a nearby convent to dine and spend the night. The police went to the convent to seize the licenses of the drivers of the bishop, but did not find him there. On the way he had encountered a young woman who wanted to commit suicide and had accompanied her to hospital. After sleeping outdoors, Mgr. Hoang was celebrate another Mass, early in the morning, at Yang Trung, before being stopped in Son Lang

Mgr. Hoang is known as "the vagabond bishop" among his friends for many miles he travels up and down his diocese to visit his community. Although hampered, he has not lost his sense of humor. Commenting on his sleeping outdoors under the stars he says: "I sleep in a hotel with a million stars.

The Diocese of Kontum, which covers 25,758 square km is one of the largest in Vietnam.

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