Vietnam: hundreds in New Year protest over confiscated church land
Hundreds of Catholics demonstrated on Ash Wednesday in Thái Hà parish, in Hanoi, to demand the restitution of 60 thousand square metres of parish grounds that have been increasingly occupied by state buildings. Dozens have camped at the site despite the Vietnamese New Year Tet celebrations
Redemptorist priests, carrying a large cross, led a procession to the site. There they prayed, chanted, and sang for hours, braving cold rain and biting winds before dozens of crosses and icons of Our Mother of Perpetual Help hanging on the fences.
Thai Ha parish is run by the Redemptorists. In 1928, they bought six hectares at Thai Ha, Hanoi to build a convent and a church. After the communists took control the North of Vietnam in 1954, most of Redemptorists many died in prison or were deported, leaving Fr Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich to run the church alone. Despite Fr Joseph Vu's persistent protests, local authorities have managed to nibble bite by bite the parish's land. The original area of 60,000 square metres was reduced to 2,700 square metres.
For more than ten years, Redemptorists in Vietnam have forwarded their petitions to the government asking for the return of their land, but all have gone unanswered.
At the start of the year the authorities put up fences and installed security officials in to protect the Chin Thng sewing company which had begun to build a factory there. Some parishioners started a protest. In the afternoon of 7 January the authorities came to allay the concerns of the crowd, promising that construction work would end. Instead the next day the Hanoi People's Committee issued an official order authorizing the company in question to continue its work.
Since then, the clergy and faithful of Thái Hà parish have gathered at the site to hold daily protests. Some protesters even have camped there for more than a month now. Last week officials asked the Redemptorist Fathers to tell protesters to go home for preparation of Tet. The priests had already actually had told them not to stay because of the cold rain and low temperatures, but none agreed to leave.
"I keep telling my children that I have to stay here to protect Church land." a woman said. "People who want to say Happy New Year to me can come here and see me. I will not go home."
JB An Dang