01/14/2014, 00.00
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Saigon: Authorities threaten Catholics over disputed land

by HT
At the center of the dispute , the parish of Thu Thiem and buildings used by a group of nuns. District 2 authorities intend to take possession of the area, despite the centennial presence of the Christian community, in violation of the Constitution. The faithful accuse the government of Ho Chi Minh City of "covering up abuse" and scuttling "historical and cultural traditions".

Ho Chi Minh City ( AsiaNews) - The authorities of District No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City want to expropriate land and property of the archdiocese of Saigon, razing a two hundred year old religious institution in order to create a project of "new urbanization" . At the center of the dispute , the parish of Thu Thiem, which has been serving the community for over 150 years , and the buildings occupied by the sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart (including a very busy chapel) again present in Thu Thiem for over 173 years. Already in December, the local district of the Communist People's Committee had issued seizure order number 4825/UBND and now intends to accelerate operations and expropriate the land and buildings from the Catholics.

Leaders of the Catholic community say this robbery goes against state law and constitutes a "blatant violation of religious freedom ." The district authorities cannot order the expropriation of land , so the local Communist leaders directive is a "coup" implemented through "persuasion, coercion and threats" against two religious institutes.

Recently, District 2 authorities first tried to take advantage of the absence of Card . Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man due to an illness to negotiate the sale of the property, putting pressure on the cardinal gave the go-ahead for the operation. For land and outbuildings of the parish of Thu Thiem , about 4 thousand square meters, they apparently offered about 750 thousand dollars and just over 1.3 million for the more than two acres belonging to the female congregation.

Following this they implemented real threats and coercion against a priest (J.B. Lê Đăng Liêm) , while he was in poor physical condition in a hospital bed . However, the pastor of Thu Thiem did not budge and told them that he was "ready for martyrdom for the parish and the Church of Vietnam."

A faithful of the parish of Thu Thiem told AsiaNews that the administration of Ho Chi Minh City has "covered the abuses committed by the leadership of District 2,"and that these , as is always the case when it comes to money and business, do not hesitate to perpetrate all forms of abuse and rights violations . This is echoed by another parishioner, according to whom "the city authorities consider money more important than historical and cultural traditions". The urbanization projects , warn the people, destroy the environment, pollute the area even more and will further damage to the population, especially the younger generation .

In recent years, the Vietnamese Church and the Catholic community have repeatedly clashed with the authorities for events related to the possession of land and buildings , most of which are of great historical and artistic value . Moreover, the age-old question of the property ( land and buildings ) in the country is a source of repeated abuse and forced evictions of individuals and communities , a practice that not only violates the law and the Constitution , but is also a major factor hampering the economic development of nation. And the alarm is not only raised by senior clerics but by World Bank experts, according to which the phenomenon can trigger "social unrest".

Vietnam has a population of 87 million, 48 per cent Buddhists, more than 7 per cent Catholics, 5.6 per cent syncretistic in their religious practice and 20 per cent atheist. As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs. Conversely, religious freedom has been steadily eroded. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, increasingly subordinated to the Communist Party and the one-party state.


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