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Vietnam: Archbishop of Hanoi: freedom of religion is a right, not a concession from the authorities
by J.B. An Dang

Freedom of religion is a human right, and not a favor granted by the government. This principle has been reiterated by various sources, in reply to the authorities of Hanoi which, as they continue their campaign of intimidation and abuse against the Catholics over the status of the former apostolic delegation and the parish of Thai Ha, are also seeking to eliminate popular support for them. This solidarity is arriving from outside of Hanoi, from other dioceses of the country, but also from abroad. The Vietnamese bishops are having the complete text of the statements by the archbishop of Hanoi read at every Mass. A prayer vigil has also been held in the United States, in California.

The campaign of violence and threats, meanwhile, has grown more severe. On Saturday, a gang of "state thugs" attacked the monastery of the Redemptorists in Hanoi. "In the afternoon", says Fr Joseph Nguyen, "about 100 thugs began to threaten the people coming to pray at the church of Thai Ha. Then they entered the church shouting obscenities at those who were praying". "This happened in broad daylight", he adds, "right in front of a large number of policemen. When the parishioners asked the officers to intervene, they refused". The Redemptorists were thus forced to shut the main entrance and cancel some of the scheduled activities.

That morning, Hanoi police officers had gone to Thai Ha to threaten "extreme actions". "The police", the priest says, "said that they are examining legal action against the Redemptorists, whom the authorities accuse of inciting and organizing protests among the faithful, to gain popular support for their cause".

Precisely in order to oppose this "support", the head of the people's committee of Hanoi has recalled that Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet - who had gone to the committee to present a protest - "facilitated the religious activities of Catholics, especially at Christmas". This has been presented by the state media, especially on television, as proof of the ingratitude of Catholics, who are subjected to a sort of public trial. "We knew", the archbishop comments, "that the relaxation of restrictions on religious activities would come with conditions. But there seems to be a psychological attitude according to which, in response to a request, I grant you a favor. But religious freedom is a natural human right, and everyone has the right to enjoy it. A government 'for the people' must feel the responsibility of allowing everyone the means to enjoy it. It is not a favor granted upon request".

On another front, the people's committee of the district of Hoan Kiem, where the former apostolic delegation is located, has notified the archbishop of Hanoi that it has confiscated the statue of the Pietà, saying that it was brought inside the building for the first demonstration, before Christmas. In reality, the statue has been kept inside the building since before it was confiscated by the communists in 1959.

In many Vietnamese dioceses, solidarity is being shown with the Catholics of Hanoi, especially after the statement from the bishops' conference in support of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet. In Haiphong, for example, the chancellor, Fr Paul Vu Dinh Viet, has provided for "the reading of the complete statement from the archbishop during the Sunday Masses, together with the necessary explanations". in Ho Chi Minh City, where every parish carries out pastoral and social activities to advance the traditions of the local Church, the parish of Binh Thuan is organizing monthly meetings for young people. This month, about fifty of them gathered to talk about "the lives and faith of the young people of our time".

The small groups examine and present the expectations of the young people to the parish. "This month", the leader of one group tells AsiaNews, "we prayed for Church leaders, asking God to grant them peace and to help the bishop of Hanoi, the priests of Thai Ha, and the people there". All of the groups have expressed their hope "that there may be peace in our lives, and that religion may not be discriminated against, that the human rights of all people be respected".

Abroad, in California, in Orange County, Buddhists, Catholics, and representatives of other religious groups led hundreds of people in a prayer vigil (in the photo) for the Catholics of Hanoi, and called upon the Vietnamese government to put an end to the persecution against them. They were joined on Friday evening by numerous political representatives, like Senator Lou Correa, assemblymen Van Tran and Jose Solario, and other members of the Senate and assembly of the state of California, and others from Westminster, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana.

Fr John Tran Cong Nghi of the VietCatholic News Agency illustrated the developments in the situation of the former apostolic delegation of Hanoi and in Thai Ha, asking for "justice for illegally expropriated property". "In Vietnam" he added, "many farmers and poor people have asked in vain for the restitution of their property. The authorities prefer to persecute them rather than caring for them. The right to private property is not taken into consideration, and moreover there is corruption and bribery, which have worsened the situation. The Church of Vietnam has always stood beside those who suffer injustice, to raise them up from their frustration and pain".

"I am here with you tonight", said Senator Lou Correa, "to ask the Vietnam communist government to respect human rights and justice, and to stop immediately all repression.”

J.B. Vu and Anthony Vu contributed to this report.
Source: Catholic News AgencyAsiaNews, Rome/Italy