10/07/2022, 11.14
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Fr Nguyen Huyen Duc, the abbot who defended the monastery of Thien An, dies in exile

The Benedictine monk died at the age of 50 in a hospital in Germany from cancer that doctors suspect was caused by poisoning. His community had been subjected to violence for years over a dispute over a few hectares of land that the local authorities had expropriated. Already seriously ill in 2019, he had tried to return to Vietnam, but was turned back at Hanoi airport.

Milan (AsiaNews) - The former abbot of a Benedictine monastery in central Vietnam has died in exile in Germany after a long battle with cancer that doctors suspect may have been caused by poisoning. Fr Anthony of Padua Nguyen Huyen Duc, 50, died on 4 October in the German hospital where he had been treated since 2017. 

The death was announced by Fr Louis Gonzaga Dang Hung Tan, abbot of Thien An Monastery in Thua Thien Hue Province, which Fr Nguyen Huyen Duc had led from 2014 to 2017. Thien An Monastery has for years been at the centre of a dispute with the authorities over the land around the monastery, which the Benedictine community had owned since the 1940s. Founded on 10 June 1940 by French missionaries, the monastery is often the target of attacks by thugs hired by the local authorities to frighten Catholics and convince them to leave the area. The intimidation was worsened by police raids during which officers, on several occasions, broke into the structure and threatened to occupy it.  

While still in Vietnam, Fr Nguyen Huyen Duc often condemned these violent attacks. 'We wish to seek justice in a peaceful manner to protect the Church's legal property until our last breath,' he had stated in 2017.

In a letter to Benedictine monks explaining his health problems, UcaNews news agency recalls, Fr Nguyen Huyen Duc recounted how he suffered excruciating pains and lost his hair after drinking coffee and tea offered by two visitors during Tet, the Lunar New Year celebration in 2016. Travelling to Germany for treatment, doctors had diagnosed him with end-stage lung cancer, also expressing suspicion that he might have been poisoned.

In September 2019, despite his worsening health condition, he wanted to return to Vietnam. But once he arrived in Hanoi, security officials had ordered him to leave the country 'for his own safety and in the interest of the monastery'. A few weeks ago, the People's Committee of Thua Thien Hue Province had written to the superiors of the Benedictines in Vietnam, asking them not to reappoint Fr Duc as superior of Thien An Monastery and not to assign him any ministry in the province. Dung had accused the monk of cutting down pine trees in the forests and encroaching on government-controlled public land, inciting national hatred.

When it was founded in 1940, the Thien An monastery had 107 hectares of land. After 1975, the communist government immediately took 57 hectares of land from the monastery and assigned it to a forestry company. Then came the confiscation of almost all the remaining land in 2000, allocating it to a tourism company. The Benedictines were left with only 6 hectares within which the monastery stands.

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