Saigon – On January 11, thousands of Catholics hold a prayer vigil at Saigon Redemptorist Monastery to ask for the restitution of more than 60 thousand square meters of Hanoi Redemptorist Monastery’s grounds that have been occupied by state buildings. The prayer vigil is seen as the largest protest, and probably, the first one since the communists came to power in 1975.

Parishioners read news on the dispute
and see pictures of the fight for justice in Thai Ha
Praying for justice to triumph
“The protest at Saigon Redemptorist Monastery tonight”, said a Redemptorist priest, “is to show our solidarity with our brother Redemptorists in Hanoi, to ask the government to stop militia’s intervention in favor of new constructions, and put justice into practice”.

In a message sent Monday to all Redemptorists, Fr. Joseph Cao Dinh Tri, the provincial superior of the Redemptorists in Vietnam, said the local government has illegally confiscated land belonging to their monastery at Thai Ha, Hanoi and is backing a business to settle there. Since Sunday, local government officials have placed security personnel in the area, enabling the Chien Thang Sewing Company to build new constructions on the land in dispute.

"Our Redemptorist confreres in Hanoi and their parishioners have responded by gathering people to pray at the construction site, asking the government to respect fairness and put justice into practice," Father Cao stated. "I would earnestly implore all of you, the whole province of Vietnam, to be in solidarity with our brother Redemptorists in Hanoi, in order to pray for our common apostolate."

Vietnam Redemptorists encountered many difficulties organizing the protest. On Wednesday, they found their Web site, with information about the protest, was hacked and forced to shut down. The site only returned to function at Thursday’s noon.

Redemptorists arrived in Vietnam in 1925. Since then, the order has taken the Good News to many provinces in the North of the country. In 1928, they bought 6 hectares at Thai Ha, Hanoi to build a monastery and a church. Mass for the Inauguration of the monastery was held on 7th May 1929. The church was inaugurated 6 years later, in 1935.

In 1941, there were up to 66 members including 17 priests, 12 brothers, 26 seminarians, and 11 novices living in the monastery. The number of members kept increasing steadily until 1954, when Vietnam was divided into two distinct states. In 1954, most Redemptorists moved to the South of Vietnam. Fr. Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich, Fr. Denis Paquette, Fr. Thomas Côté, Br. Clement Pham Van Dat and Br. Marcel Nguyen Tan Van remained in Hanoi. They lived under extremely harsh treatment by the atheist regime, and soon faced brutal persecutions. On 7th May 1955, Br. Marcel Nguyen was arrested. Four year later, on 9th July 1959, he died in the communist jail. Fr. Denis Paquette faced deportation on 23rd October 1958. A year later, Fr. Thomas Côté faced the same fate. Less than three years after that, on 9th October 1962, Br. Clement Pham was jailed. He died later in the communist jail on 7th October 1970 in a rural area of Yen Bai. Since 1962, Fr. Joseph Vu has 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 61,455 square meters was reduced to 2,700 square meters. The communist government converted the monastery into Dong Da hospital, and distributed or sold illegally large parts of the land to state-owned companies, and government officials.

Priests, religious and the laity of Thai Ha parish have repeatedly requested for the return of the land seized by the government. In support of their demands they note that the Redemptorists hold the legal land deeds and have never signed agreements to offer any part of the land to the government even under coercive conditions.

The Catholics, recalling that the constitution safeguards religious freedom and places of worship, have underlined in particular directive 379/TTG, which specifies that places of worship borrowed by the authorities must be returned to the churches or their owners when their use is no longer justified. Added to this there is decree 26/1999/ND- which provides that church properties must be kept under the management of the state, and the state should not let these places of worships be transgressed, as well as ordinance 21/2004/PL-UBTVQH11 of June 18, 2004 regarding Religious Belief and Religious Organizations, which elaborates that the legal property of places of religious belief and of religious organizations is protected by law; any violation of this right is forbidden.

Despite all of this, the local authorities of Dong Da district persist in their attempts to take even more land away from the parish. The January 6th protest has however forced them to stop the militia’s intervention in favor of new constructions.