Son La Province: Among 3000 registered Catholics in Son La, a province located in the Northwestern region of Vietnam, the Hmong group was the one who suffered the most severe forms of prejudice from the local government in their religious practice. They have been giving up a lot in order to maintain a normal life in their homeland. All but their faith in God.

One of the most impoverished provinces in Vietnam, Son La has a population of mixture of ethnicities including the Kinh (Vietnamese) and Hmong people, 1000 of who had become Catholics as far as 20 years ago. To date, the Hmong Catholics have never enjoyed a single day of total freedom for religion despite a series of Governmental Executive Orders regarding faith and religious practice, the latest was issued in 2005 (22/2005/ND-CP) which dictated “Citizens or followers of a particular religion have the right to express their faith, to perform their religious ceremonies, prayers or to participate in their religious activities or study as offered by their church”

Before the first order of its kind was issued in 2005, Son La’s Catholics in general were not allowed to participate in any religious practice publicly. The Hmong in particular was subject to ridicule and harassment in worst forms, such as setting rice fields of those who refused to stop participating in religious activities on fire or having their land confiscated, not to mention threats, arrests, imprisonment or even tortures. Pham The Duyet, then head of the Committee for Fatherland’s Front of Vietnam was quoted as saying “Son La has no one who’s practicing Catholic faith”

The condition got even worst after order 22/2005/ND-CP was issued. By then both ethnic groups of Kinh and Hmong Catholics were getting more harassment and persecution for their faith. The local government has long connected the Hmong Christianity with the “receive the king” tradition of Hmong culture, which was interpreted as a harbinger of political secession, a serious threat for national security.

In June 2006 the Son La’s Committee for Population Propaganda released a memo urging local officials to take active measures in “resolutely subdue the growth of Christianity” because “Christians in Son La spent too much time on worshiping and take Sundays off from work” thus “undermine the revolution”

Despite such harsh treatment, the church and its faithful refused to give up their hope to exercise their constitutional rights by asking the local government repeatedly to let priests from Hung Hoa province to come officiate mass for Son La’s faithful. They routinely had to cross the river during the night to come attending mass in the neighboring province. When Fr Joseph Nguyen Trung Thoai was arrested by the police while making his way to Co Noi village to celebrate last Christmas with the Catholics, a crowd of 500 rushed to his rescue, demanding his unconditional release. To the local official’s order for dispersion, the crowd defiantly responded: “We would only go away when you release our priest”

The struggle is still going on a regular basis, but Catholics in Son La have never given up their faith in God as Jesus had promised us “Peace be with you. I am with you always and everywhere”