BANGKOK, Thailand, September 17, 2008--Church leaders have visited and comforted family members of Catholics police have arrested or interrogated for involvement in a land dispute between a Ha Noi parish and the government.

Redemptorist Father Pierre Nguyen Van Khai told UCA News that Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi and Auxiliary Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van De of Bui Chu visited family members of Le Thi Hoi, Le Van Kien and Nguyen Van Lan at their homes.

Redemptorist Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, pastor of Thai Ha parish, other Redemptorists and priests from the archdiocese, and some lay Catholics from Ha Noi parishes accompanied the bishops, added Father Khai, who was with the group.

A message Thai Ha parish released on Sept. 11 said seven Catholics have been accused of damaging public property or causing social disturbance. Among them three had been detained, two had gone into hiding and two were under house arrest.

Father Khai, stationed at the Redemptorist-run parish, said Hoi, from Thai Ha, and Kien, who belongs to neighboring Hang Bot parish, are two of the three detainees. Local police have questioned Lan, another Thai Ha parishioner, many times, he added.

The 38-year-old priest said Archbishop Kiet, Bishop De and the visitors had asked family members about the detainees' health and situation. They were told relatives have not been allowed to meet the detainees.

Antoine Nguyen Dinh Loc, a lay leader at a parish in the capital, told UCA News Archbishop Kiet and Bishop De appreciated the three Catholics' bravery and consoled family members. They asked them to trust in faith, knowing the local Church is in communion with them. The Church leaders also prayed and blessed their hosts, Loc added.

On the previous afternoon, Archbishop Kiet and Bishop De had visited and prayed at the contested property, near the Thai Ha church.

In a letter dated Sept. 14 that Father Vincent Pham Trung Thanh sent to Redemptorist communities in Vietnam, the Redemptorist provincial superior urged all his confreres to pray especially for lay Catholics who "have been detained or questioned continuously for their praying for justice." He also asked them to pray for the people who were beaten or sprayed with tear gas.

Father Thanh, 53, voiced Redemptorists' great gratitude to all people who bravely voice the truth and vouch for justice. He said they also thanked local bishops, priests, Religious and laypeople who visited, celebrated Mass and prayed at the contested site or sent messages of support.

The provincial asked his confreres to continue conducting novenas, nine days of special prayers, to Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the peaceful resolution of the situation. Heads of Redemptorist communities are continuing to send members to Thai Ha so they can provide pastoral care for people, he added.

"This is an opportunity for us to be salt and yeast in the world," he exhorted.

Loc observed that during recent days, local state-run media have reduced reports vilifying and criticizing local Catholics and Redemptorists.

He also said that 1,000 lay Catholics, 70 priests and 100 nuns walked in procession on Sept. 13 from St. Joseph Cathedral to the gate of the nearby former apostolic nunciature and prayed after attending a special Mass at which 32 Lovers of the Holy Cross nuns took their perpetual vows.

Many Catholics resumed prayer gatherings outside the former local Church property on Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption, and on Sept. 2, Vietnam's National Day, when Catholics attended Masses at many churches to pray for national justice, peace and happiness.

The lay leader noted the local government has not yet adopted a "proper" resolution returning the nunciature building to the local Church.

Authorities seized the building in 1959, five years after northern communists defeated French colonial troops. The post of apostolic delegate to Vietnam has been vacant since the last delegate was reassigned elsewhere in 1975, the year communists reunified northern and southern Vietnam. The first delegate was appointed in 1925. (UCAN)