Local authorities threaten sisters of the Congregation of St Paul of Chartres in Vinh Long with extreme actions to silence their protest against the conversion of their monastery into a public square. The nuns keep challenging the local government decision despite all dangers awaiting them.

The sisters of St Paul of Chartres in Vinh Long, Vietnam have sent out another letter to the People Committee of Vinh Long city to protest its decision to demolish their home at 3 To Thi Huynh St, Vinh Long city to make room for a public square.

In her 5 part-letter, Sister Patrick de la Croix Huynh Thi Bich Ngoc, the provincial superior of the order, had reiterated the nuns' legitimate ownership on the property, and protested the government's decision to start building a public square and a park at the same place without an agreement from both sides.

According to Sr. Patrick de la Croix Huynh, the property in dispute, reportedly to be 10,235 square meters or about 2.5 acres, was established by the order in 1871, when the sisters transformed the wild, waste land into homes and hospitals, schools and orphan houses. They had used the complex to serve people from all walks of life, especially orphans until September 7, 1977, the day it was seized by the new regime following the collapse of South Vietnam into Communism in 1975.

On that “disastrous day”, as called by Bishop Thomas Nguyen Van Tan of Vinh Long, the nuns were kicked out of their monastery by the government forces. They were falsely charged of "training young children to be against the revolution and to oppose the liberation of the country."

“The police arrested all of our sisters and jailed them for months without any trials,” said Sr. Patrick de la Croix Huynh in an interview published on VietCatholic News on Nov. 2. “A month later, 17 sisters were released. But they were forced to return to their town of origin,” she added. In particular, “Sr. Le Thi Trach, the then Abbess of the monastery had been jailed for two months before being force to live in the Superior General’s Office in My Tho, Tien Giang province [hundreds kilometers away],” she continued.

On May 19, 2008 the government authorized a real estate company to build a 4 star-hotel on the land where the monastery once stood. It immediately faced strong protests from Bishop Thomas Nguyen Van Tan of Vinh Long, and the congregation.

At the start of December last year, the Sisters received a letter from the People's Committee of Vinh Long inviting them to a meeting to discuss the requisition of their home.

However, on arriving to the meeting on Dec. 12, they soon found out they were in fact the victims of a cheap trick played by the government officials.

The sisters entered the meeting with goodwill, trusting their government would do the right thing.

What happened during that meeting was enough to change drastically their view of the government's credibility

Sister Patrick de la Croix Huynh said in a letter to various state agencies that the congregation had been invited “to exchange and discuss.”

However, “there was neither exchange nor discussion at the meeting.” “Mr. Nguyen Van Dau, Head of the People's Committee simply announced the decision to turn our monastery into a public square.”

The provincial superior reported that prominent media organizations and personnel were present at the meeting, including the editor in chief of Vinh Long Newsmagazine and representatives of the radio and television stations of the province.

The sisters protested at the meeting. But their protest was not reported on state-run media.

Upon learning of the shocking news, in his December 18 letter, bishop Bishop Thomas Nguyen spoke out on behalf of sisters of St Paul's, verifying the origin of the property as well as the legitimacy of the ownership."I have been living in Vinh-Long since Sept 1, 1953. At that time, next to the old Cathedral there was a school, a convent and a chapel belonging to the sisters of St Paul Congregation,” he wrote. “Now all have been reduced to a vacant piece of land. I ask the government to reconsider the decision to demolish the convent and the chapel in order to build a public square on the property where the convent used to be. Let it be proven to all that this government is protective of all religions. I am in total unity with the view of Congregation of St Paul”

Since September this year, the congregation has received many threats from Le Van The, the vice chairman of People's Committee of Vinh Long. The ordered the sisters to stop all sorts of protests against the government's decision to turn their home into public square.

Vice- Chairman The has, in a more demagogical language, also promised the sisters that they might be granted another lot of land in the suburban area of Vinh Long. For the sisters, it’s only a cheap trick. They have rejected it and keep asking for the requisition of their home.

The on-going struggle to reclaim their home of the sisters of the Congregation of St Paul of Chartres in Vinh Long diocese is far from over, since the local government of Vinh Long is following the same tactics used by the government of Hanoi city in dealing with the Redemptorists and Thai Ha parishioners in the North. That is by using forces to inflict physical harm on the unarmed protesters and the courts to threaten jail sentences in order to silence the critics, not to mention the vicious, personal -attack the state run media are having in store for any one whose name appears on the government's black list on the issue at hand.