Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – The People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City issued a statement in which it slammed the city's Redemptorist community for going against "the Party's policies and the nation's laws". Catholics now fear more anti-priest violence. Signed by the Committee's chairman Pham Ngoc Huu, the statement was released on 28 December and published by all state media.
The statement accused the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is located on the south side of the city, of organising mass prayer vigils "with the participation of many priests, religious and lay people from other regions of the country without the permission of local authorities in order to distort, falsely accuse and criticise the government."
The press release also said that the Redemptorists used the church bulletin board to "post articles and images leading believers to misunderstand the Party's policies and the nation's laws".
In the last two years, the Redemptorists' church has indeed held a number of prayer vigils in support of its sister church in Thai Ha (Hanoi), which has been fighting to regain its land, unfairly seized by the city.
Since then the Church and the faithful of Our Lady of Perpetual Help have been under close surveillance by uniformed and plain clothes police, who tape and take picture of those who take part in their activities.
Local authorities have also installed loudspeakers on buildings surrounding the church to disrupt the church's services, including the vigils.
The statement singled out the vigil of 27 July, which was held for two priests brutally beaten up in Dong Hoi (cf J.B. An Dang, "Priest beaten into a coma by police. Catholics Protest throughout Vietnam," in AsiaNews.it, 28 July 2009).
Similarly, People's Committee Chairman Huu singled out Fr Joseph Le Quang Uy, a well-known local pro-life activist, for giving "a hand to hostile forces, and reactionaries to conduct propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam "
Father Le Quang was equally accused of “taking advantage of his role in leading prayer vigils to distort the social, political and economic situation of Vietnam," which in turn gave him an opportunity to "denounce the government for human rights violations” and thus "undermine national unity.”
In the last few months, the clergyman also criticised the government for allowing bauxite mining in areas in central Vietnam inhabited by Montagnards. For this reason, he was attacked by state media, which called for his conviction on charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison (see J.B. An Dang, "Redemptorist priest could be accused of plotting to overthrow Vietnam’s Communist regime," in AsiaNews.it, 2 July 2009).
More broadly, Huu has accused the Redemptorists of failing to heed the Pope's instructions. During an ad limina visit by Vietnamese bishops, Benedict XVI had in fact said that "a good Catholic is a good citizen."
A Redemptorist spokesman, Fr Peter Nguyen Van Khai, responded by accusing the authorities of distorting the sense of the Pope's words, because the Holy Father had also called for "a healthy collaboration between the Church and the State through dialogue.” Unfortunately, the government seems unwilling to accept such collaboration.
For many Catholics, the authorities seem more likely to resort to violence and the campaign against the Redemptorists appears to be but the start of a new anti-priest campaign.