As part of their intimidatory action police “turned their backs” on four Catholics whose boat sank off the coast of central Vietnam near Hue; “one even tried to prevent their rescue,” said Fr Peter Nguyen Huu Giai. The incident occurred last Monday near the church in An Bang parish, in Vinh An, a village in Thua Thien province, Hue archdiocese.
The church is not a real building; it is only a cross and altar set in the ground. The land on which they stand belonged to a parishioner, Mr Le Khinh, who died a few years ago. Both he and his children had agreed to have the “church” built for Vinh An parishioners, who are mostly poor fishermen and farmers. “His children are still the land’s legal owners,” Father Peter said.
Things turned ugly when Vinh An authorities decided they wanted to turn the area in a tourist resort following the death of the congregation’s benefactor. Back in October they issued a removal order for cross and altar, claiming that the area as public land.
The parish priest rejected the order, demanding the authorities show a proof of ownership.
The controversy echoes similar happenings in Hanoi and Vinh Long where local authorities have seized Church property.
Here too the tug-of-war between Catholics and local authorities involves a campaign of intimidation and harassment on the latter’s part.
For example, “at 5.30 every morning loudspeakers blare out the government religious policies, saying how much it respects the Catholic Church,” Father Peter said. “Many parishioners have also been summoned to appear before the authorities,” he added.
On Monday “when parishioners were meeting in church to prepare for Christmas, hundreds of policemen swarmed the area to seal it off,” the parish priest said. “They told me and the members of my congregation that we were not allowed to celebrate Christmas here.”
Upon hearing about what was happening, many faithful rushed to the place. At 12.15 a boat carrying four Catholics overturned in the waters. The police saw it but did nothing. “One even tried to prevent their rescue,” Father Peter said.
Other faithful “jumped into the sea and saved them, but everyone was taken aback by the authorities’ behaviour.”
Now the latter have set up three police booths near the altar where officers can tape people coming to Mass.