Hanoi, Dec. 11, 2008 (CWNews.com) - Eight Vietnamese Catholic activists who were found guilty of criminal charges earlier this week view their conviction as a badge of honor, Church officials in Hanoi report.

The Catholic defendants, who were convicted on December 8 on charges of destroying public property, in connection with peaceful protests at a Redemptorist monastery, wore their best clothes to the courtroom. "They dressed so beautifully like that to tell everyone that they were innocent, they had nothing to be ashamed of; and that they were proud and happy to be witnesses of the truth and justice,” explained Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, the Redemptorist superior.

Although they saw their prosecution as a show trial-- in which the government was determined to send a strong message to Catholic activists who are pressing for return of Church-owned property seized by the Communist regime-- the eight defendants received only suspended sentences. They attribute the light sentences to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, noting that the trial, which had originally been scheduled for December 5, was actually held on December 8: the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Although prosecutors had done their best to discourage attendance at the trial, hundreds of Catholics stood outside the courtroom building to express their support for the defendants. Father Father Pierre Nguyen Van Khai, the only priest allowed to attend the 7-hour trial, reported that " judges, lawyers, defendants and all those attending the trial could hear very clearly thousands of Catholics protesting outside the courthouse, who kept yelling ‘Innocent, Innocent!'"

When the trial concluded, the convicted defendants received a warm welcome from their supporters as they emerged from the courtroom. The convicted Catholic activists were lifted on the shoulders of their friends and carried through the streets of Hanoi to their Thai Ha parish church where they continued their celebration of the Marian feast day.

(Source: Catholic World News (CWN), http://www.catholicculture.org/news/features/index.cfm?recnum=60257)