07/30/2008, 00.00
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Hanoi, land and parish sequestered by commercial offices and private companies

by Nguyen Hong
After 15 years the Peoples Committee’s nebulous answer arrives ordering the parish to submit to the investments and commercial development of the area. The Committee will evaluate if the local population needs “space for religious activity”.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) –Thai Ha parish Hanoi can kiss goodbye to its lands and its house, which have long been under sequester: the city People’s Committee has sent a letter to the Archbishop….. stating that the parish must submit itself to “laws on investment and building”.

In the 15 years since the do moi (economic reforms) were put in place, most of the Parish lands have been confiscated by the government to house the Electric Company offices, a cement factory, a transport company and a confectionary-.

For the pat 15 years parish priest and Redemptorist Provincial superior Fr. Nguyen Trung Thanh, has been asking that the land and sequestered parish house be returned to their ownership.

At long last, the Hanoi People’s Committee has answered in a letter sent to the archbishop and Redemptorist provincial.  It states that all of the parish land will be entrusted to the supervision of the Dong Da district People’s Committee so they may “organise”, “study” and “correct” the investment plan of public service projects, which includes the construction of a road right across the parish lands. The letter demands the parish follow “legislation regarding investments and construction”.  The Committee will have the power to evaluate if the local people are really in need of space for religious functions, or not.

Thai Ha parishioners find the vague conclusions drawn in the letter promise little hope: “It is all too clear - says one parishioner – that the government has decided to keep parish lands and push ahead with commercial development.  But this is not only unjust; it is also a violation of religious freedom”. The parishioners have decided to reject the Committee decision: “With the excuse of projects for public use – they say – they are really selling out to private industry, and have absolutely no intention of benefiting society.  According to Vietnamese law the government has to serve the people and ensure their spiritual and religious wellbeing”.

P. Vu Khoi Phung has asked the Archbishop of Hanoi and the Redemptorist congregation to launch a prayer campaign for the members of the parish, but “also for the government, so that it may learn to respect justice for the people and for the nation”.

Since the end of last year, Vietnam has witnessed frequent clashes between Catholics and local authorities because of properties sequestered in the past during the “revolutionary period”, with the justification that it was in the “best interests of the nation”.  Now with the new economic reforms, these lands are being sold off to private industry instead of being returned to their legitimate owners.

The sequester of the former Hanoi Nunciature is among the most famous of these cases.  It was sold to a private company and turned into a bar and hotel.  For weeks on end the local Catholics staged sit-ins challenging police, while other protests spread to Ho Chi Minh City.

The issue of restoring Church property also arose during the last encounter between the Hanoi government and a Vatican delegation in June.

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