Pope's speech distorted, catechumen, dissident bloggers arrested
J.B. An Dang8/30/2009
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The distortion of a Pope's speech on Vietnam state media has cast shadows of sadness among Catholics, and led to an on-going string of arrests.

A catechumen blogger who has been actively defending the Church in Vietnam was arrested on Thursday Aug. 27 and others are facing the same risk of arrest for their swift reactions against the distortion of Pope Benedict XVI's speech to Vietnamese bishops on their ad limina visit on June 27, 2009.

On Saturday Aug. 29, Reuters reported from Hanoi: “Bui Thanh Hieu, who wrote online under pen name ‘Nguoi Buon Gio’, which literally means Wind Trader, was picked up by police in Hanoi on Thursday and has not answered his telephone or been heard from since, said one acquaintance, who declined to be named out of concern for his own safety.”

Speaking to Asia-News, Redemptorist Father Peter Nguyen Van Khai of Hanoi monastery added: “I confirm that blogger Bui Thanh Hieu, a catechumen of Hanoi Archdiocese who has been actively studying catechism in order to receive Baptism, has been detained by police since Thursday.”

Alarmingly, "his arrest certainly is not the last one,” warned Sr. Emily Nguyen from Vinh Diocese.

“Many Catholic bloggers have criticized ‘a shameful distortion’ by state media against Pope Benedict XVI's speech to Vietnamese bishops on their ad limina visit. They are facing possible risk of an arrest,” she explained.

On Aug. 24, Vietnam Net, a state media outlet, published an article titled “A good Catholic is a good citizen” in which it quoted several phrases from Benedict XVI's speech to Vietnamese bishops on June 27, 2009 to promote the idea that “Pope Benedict XVI strictly warned Vietnamese bishops to concern more about priests who should strive for holiness in order to be able to guide their flocks to live as the pope expects: ‘a good Catholic is a good citizen’”.

Quoting two phrases from the Pope’s speech: "the priest must deepen his inner life and strive for holiness’, and ‘Lay Catholics for their part must demonstrate with their own life, which is based on charity, honesty and love for the common good, that a good Catholic is also a good citizen". By its own account, the article seems to paint a somber picture of the Church in Vietnam in which priests have neither deepened their inner life nor striven for holiness; and lay Catholics have been neither charitable, nor honest, thus can't be good citizens. Obviously, it tries to make an impression on readers that Pope Benedict XVI himself had insulted the Church in Vietnam for its spiritual corruption,” said Hanoi’s Fr. Joseph Nguyen.

“It has cast shadows of sadness among Catholics,” he lamented. “We all know that His Holiness Benedict XVI did not mean that.” The whole speech of Pope Benedict XVI to Vietnamese bishops on their ad limina visit on June 27, 2009 can be read here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2009/june/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20090627_ad-limina-viet-nam_en.html

At the meeting with Vietnamese bishops, Pope Benedict XVI told them: “You know, as well as I do, that healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community is possible.” The sentence was seized as “crystal clear evidence” that Church leaders in Vietnam have not been following the policy of peaceful dialogue with the government, yet maintaining a hostile attitude against the communist government.

Contrary to what the state claims, Church leaders and Catholics in Vietnam have been very patient in seeking peaceful dialogue with the government. Recently, in the incident at Dong Hoi where Vietnamese police brutally beat hundreds of Catholic in Tam Toa, reducing two priests to the point of death, Vietnamese Catholics have never called for "teeth for teeth, eyes for eyes". Rather, they have kept calling for peaceful dialogues. But all have gone into deaf ears. Ironically, the only response they get from the authority is the harassment and eventually an arrest of those who blew the whistle on the governmental mistreatment toward its citizens, namely the journalists and the bloggers

The government has refused any dialogue and later decreed to bulldoze the Tam Toa church while police and groups of thugs in Dong Hoi city have taken the streets and attacked those whom they saw wearing Catholic religious symbols.

The article also went as far as interpreting the “healthy collaboration between the Church and the government” that Pope Benedict XVI suggested as the submission of Catholics to the communist government.

“In essence, we have been alarmed and disgusted at the attempt of the writer to depict The Successor of Peter as an ally of one of the most tyrannical regimes in the world, and its implication that the Church would require complete submission to government in all circumstances” Fr. Joseph Nguyen added.

More outrageously, a phrase in the speech when Pope Benedict XVI stated: “Her [the Church] intention is certainly not to replace government leaders”, was interpreted as Vatican had known in advance a plot of Catholic priests to overthrow the government, suggesting all Vietnamese bishops to extinguish such attempts at once.

“The next day, television channels, radio stations, and newspapers re-broadcasted the article with great emphasis and calls for urgent arrests and punishments against some Catholic priests in Thai Ha and Vinh diocese,” Sr. Emily Nguyen reported.

This is not the first time state media has distorted of Catholic leaders 'statements to incite violence against Catholics.

Almost a year ago, reporting on the meeting between the delegation of Hanoi archdiocese’s office, led by the archbishop himself; and Hanoi People’s Committee, led by chairman Nguyen The Thao on Sep. 20 2008, state media had seized on an isolate phrase in a comment by the archbishop and pulled it out of context in order to condemn him. Here is the full text of his comment: “Hence, we want to repeat here our wish to build up the nation as a great united block. Travelling overseas often, we feel humiliated to be carrying a Vietnamese passport because wherever we go, we are always examined scrupulously [by customs agents]. We are really sad. We desire our country becomes stronger so that we can be like Japanese citizens who can pass through everywhere without being inspected. Koreans already enjoy that. We hope Vietnam becomes a strong, united country, so that we are respected everywhere we go."

His comment was condensed by state-controlled media into a few words: “we feel humiliated to be carrying a Vietnamese passport” in order to condemn him of smearing the nation, and thus causing the fury of people in the capital. Obviously, the quote was left out of context to interpret the speaker's comment in the opposite way.

The next day at the sacred shrine of Our Lady at Thai Ha parish at 0:05 am Monday Sep. 22 2008, it would make one’s hair stand on end listening to the scream of hundreds of government thugs who in their fury smashed everything within their reach, shouting slogans and calling for Archbishop Joseph Ngô Quang Kiệt’s head. It should be noted that everything happened clearly in view of a large number of officials who were in charge of keeping security and safety in the area.

For months following the incident, the archbishop had been under virtual house arrest. The archbishop's office was closed. His staff had locked the gate outside the office to prevent sudden attacks by the pro-government mobs that gathered regularly outside, yelling slogans in praise of Communism and questioning the prelate's patriotism. Some of his normal activities had also been delayed or cancelled due to security reasons. Archbishop Ngo could not leave his residence without confronting the mobs, and the faithful dared not call on him for the same reason.

The distortion of a statement of the highest leader of Catholics in the world has cast shadows of doubt and frustration among Catholics throughout Vietnam and abroad. Catholics have since shown strong, swift, defiant reactions through Internet blogs - the unique way to express peacefully their opinions as all other public media are in state control.

Some have simply delivered the Vietnamese translation of the Pope Benedict XVI’s speech. Others have argued that the Church would not require her faithful to obey unquestioningly tyrants and governments which promote injustices and policies that go against Church teaching. "Surely, no Catholics should follow the policy of Population Control through Abortion as Family Planning. they should rather condemn it," blogger An Dan wrote.

Arguments on the submission to government have gone as far as calls into question the very legitimacy of the communist’s rule. Some bloggers have argued that a government has just power only if that power has been bestowed by the people. Historically, communists took control of the government by violent force, and so far no democratic elections have been held.

Vietnamese government seems to be ready to take extreme steps to silence the dissents. Hieu’s arrest occurred just days after another dissident blogger Huy Duc, a journalist of the newspaper Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) was told to leave the newspaper he worked for. Early this week, he had been forced to leave the paper due to his posting that praised the fall of the Berlin Wall and criticized the former Soviet Union's Communist leaders, saying their rule had led to years of misery for the people of Eastern Europe. Notably, the wall was referred in his article as "the wall of shame".

The fate of the bloggers remains unknown as of now, even to their families.

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