More than 6000 members of Sydney's Vietnamese community are expected to attend an open air Mass in Bankstown on Saturday, 27 November to commemorate the feast day of the Vietnamese Martyrs. They will also pray for an end to the increasing persecution of Catholics by the government in Hanoi.

"Saturday is an important event for us as it gives us a chance to pay tribute to those who died for their faith dating back to the time of the first Portuguese missionaries to Vietnam, as well as helping us raise awareness about the Vietnam Communist Government's persecution of Catholics," says Fr Paul Van Chi Chu, Chaplain to Sydney's Vietnamese Community.

The Mass, which will be held at the Paul Keating Park, will be celebrated by the Archdiocese of Sydney's Auxiliary Bishop, the Most Rev Terry Brady and will feature young men and women in the brilliant red and yellow national costumes of Vietnam performing liturgical dancing. At least six priests will also be on hand concelebrating the Mass including Fr Paul, Fr Toan Khoa Nguyen and Fr Tuyet Nguyen.

Often referred to as the Martyrs of Indochina, the Vietnamese Martyrs - the known and unknown souls martyred in defence of their faith over the past three centuries - were canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

The feast day of the Vietnamese Martyrs on 24 November each year is an important date for Sydney's Vietnamese Catholics and always celebrated with a large outdoor Mass the following Saturday.

In Vietnam it is an equally important part of the Church year for the nation's 6 million Catholics. One of the largest and oldest Catholic communities in Asia, Vietnam's Archbishops and Bishops as well as ordinary Catholics nevertheless continue to face discrimination, intimidation and persecution.

In May this year, the courage and popular Archbishop of Hanoi, Joseph Ngo Qang Kiet stepped down and, although deteriorating health was cited as the official reason, the 57 year old is believed to have been forced aside by the Communist government which had long viewed him as a thorn in its side.

Risking his life and liberty, Archbishop Kiet had championed justice and freedom of religion as well as a return of Church property and land confiscated by the Communists when they seized power more than 50 years ago.

The courage and unwavering faith of Archbishop Kiet inspired hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics who rallied at huge gatherings to protest the confiscation of Catholic property, and in particular the historic and beautiful Nunciature, or Vatican Embassy which adjoined Hanoi's magnificent St Joseph's Cathedral.

The Government not only refused to return the property but thumbing its nose at the protests, and the nation's Catholics, proceeded to demolish the building and replace it with a park.

Mgr Peter Nguyen Van Nhon took over from Archbishop Kiet in May this year when the 72-year-old was installed as Bishop Co-adjutor of Hanoi. The appointment, as Vietnam's state media was at pains to stress, had been fully approved by the nation's prime minister, angering Vietnamese Catholics who launched a series of angry protests against the Archbishop's replacement.

Sadly, it now seems almost certain that Archbishop Kiet, who like his predecessor Cardinal Xavier Nguyen van Thuan, is undergoing medical treatment in Rome.

And like the Cardinal, he too could find himself exiled and refused a visa to return to his homeland.

Cardinal van Thuan, who died in Rome in 2002, was arrested by the Communists in 1975, just one week after he was installed as Co-adjutor Archbishop of Saigon. He spent the next 13 years behind bars, nine of which were in solitary confinement.

Fr Paul says Cardinal Van Thuan, whose mother and sisters fled Vietnam to make their home in Sydney, will also be remembered at Saturday's Mass.

Almost 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, religious freedom under Vietnam's Communist regime shows no signs of easing, despite last year's much publicised meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triket, and the resumption after half a century of diplomatic relations between Hanoi and the Vatican.

But it is not only leaders of the Catholic Church in Vietnam who suffer persecution, he says, and points out that ordinary people are having their land confiscated, Catholic journalists continue to be hounded, beaten up or imprisoned and in January this year Hanoi's police tore down a Catholic Cross and desecrated a Christian cemetery.

As recently as four weeks ago the independent US Commission on International Religious Freedom accused Vietnam of using violence and intimidation to force Catholic residents of Con Dau village to sell their land as a tourist resort and yet again, criticised the republic's record, citing abuses against Catholics, Christians, Buddhists and indigenous sects such as the Hoa Hao.

"On Saturday when we celebrate Mass, we will also be praying for justice and peace in Vietnam and will not only pay tribute to the Vietnamese Martyrs but also to those like Cardinal Van Thuan and Archbishop Kiet who defended their faith despite persecution and intimidation," says Fr Paul.