05/11/2018, 17.20
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Catholics against the expropriation of Thủ Thiêm Parish

by Thanh Thao

Ho Chi Minh City approved a major urban development plan in 1996. Since then the authorities have tried to expropriate land. For parishioners, the authorities want to buy cheap and sell to red capitalists. “I have a duty to manage parish land and sacrifice my life to protect the flock,” said the local vicar.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Through intimidation and threats, the authorities in Ho Chi Minh City (Sài Gòn) have been trying to expropriate land owned by Thủ Thiêm parish (picture 1).

Together with the vicar, Fr JB Lê Đăng Niệm, parishioners and nuns have fought back, defending the legitimate property rights of the local Catholic community against a large-scale development plan adopted in 1996 by the city (picture 2).

Thủ Thiêm Parish was founded in 1859. It is located on the banks of the Sài Gòn River, in the homonymous district, next to the city centre and is the target of "red capitalists" and municipal authorities.

Fr JB Lê Đăng Niệm became the parish’s 11th vicar on 27 January 2002. Years ago, at least 4,000 people used to attend the church. Over the years, many Catholic families have been forced to "move" elsewhere, but they regularly return for celebrations and pastoral activities.

In particular, on the 13th day of every month, many faithful take part in services and prayers in honour of Our Lady of Fatima.

On 23 October 2015, city authorities planned to tear down one of the three elementary schools run by the Sisters of the Community of Lovers of the Holy Cross in Thủ Thiêm.

The authorities had the site surrounded with hundreds of people, including police officers, civil defence and members of pro-government mass associations.

"The authorities used this tactic to exert strong pressure on the sisters,” some parishioners in Thủ Thiêm told AsiaNews. “They also made threats against the nuns in order to get them to leave the site voluntarily. This way, they can buy it cheap, and then sell it to red capitalists. However, the nuns responded in a very peaceful but firm way. So far, the authorities have backed off."

However, on 1 May 2018, the chairman of the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City authorised a call for tender for all the nine lots of land that make up Area 1 of the urban development plan, which impacts District 2. According to the city administration, the area is earmarked to become a global commercial and financial centre.

The plan includes "asking the relevant authorities" to move Thủ Thiêm parish and the home of sisters elsewhere and expropriating the three elementary schools run by them.

"As a pastor of Thủ Thiêm, I have a duty to manage parish land and sacrifice my life to protect the flock,” Fr Lê Đăng Niệm told AsiaNews.

"As the Bible says, we have a duty to defend truth and justice,” he explained. “We are leaders of God's people; yet we are only parish administrators. People (the faithful) are the owners of the parish land. So, we must serve the laity. Pastors must respect their flock. We must be faithful to the Holy See. Shepherds are faithful to God and protect their sheep."

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