03/21/2008, 00.00
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Sisters demonstrate in Ho Chi Minh City asking for their home back

by Lan Nguyen
The building has belonged to the Vinh Son Charity Order since 1959. It was seized for social purposes but then turned into a dancing club. Now plans are to tear it down and build a hotel with night club in its place.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – A new controversy has erupted in Vietnam over Church property. After those at the start of the new year in Hanoi, protests concerning a building owned by the Sisters of the Vinh Son Charity Order have broken out in Ho Chi Minh City. Since 17 March a few hundreds of them (see photo) have been gathering every day to pray in front of their seized property which local authorities would like to turn into a hotel with night club.

The property in question on Nguyen Thi Dieu has belonged to the Order since December 1959 after the French Red Cross transferred ownership to the sisters. The nuns opened a day care center that operated till 1975 when the communists came to power. Eventually the archdiocese of Saigon and the Order had to agree to let the local government use the facility as a school for kindergarteners.

Over the sisters’ protest the authorities took ownership of the building in 1997 by simple administrative fiat (75083/QD-UB), arguing that the property was in the state of absentee-landlord. Soon, the property was rented out in order to financially support local government and converted to a dancing club. In 2007, police raided the club and reported that the property was actually being run as a brothel. The club was shut down.

In the meantime the sisters continued to petition the authorities demanding that the building be returned since it had no socially relevant function, but their demand went nowhere.

In November 2007 ownership was transferred to the Bureau of Railroad System Management which expressed the intention of tearing it down to build a hotel with night club.

The archdiocese joined the sisters, calling on the authorities to reverse the decision. All they got was that the sign advertising the future night club was removed whilst demolition continued.

On 15 December some 70 sisters took matters into their hands, organising a vigil prayer together with a group of students in front of news reporters. Their action momentarily stopped the demolition.

The sisters’ Order has called on all of its members to go to the site and urged all sisters in Vietnam to show their solidarity.

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