Superior of destroyed convent speaks out. After 28 years, why the building was seized, orphans and the disabled dispersed and nuns arrested is now known. The authorities now offer land outside the city, but nuns want them to acknowledge that they never broke the law.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/EdA) – The Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres want a solution “based on the truth”, and an acknowledgement that they never broke the law. For this reason, they rejected a solution proposed by Vinh Long authorities to rebuild elsewhere the convent they demolished (illegally according to the Sisters), replaced with a public square and gardens in this southern Vietnamese city. This is what Sister Patrick de la Croix Huynh Thi Bich Ngoc said in an interview published on the Vietnamese Episcopate’s website, and reported by Églises d’Asie.

The first two Sisters of the congregation came to Vietnam in 1860 and in Vinh Long in 1871, Sister Patrick de la Croix Huynh Thi Bich Ngoc said. In 1874, “they bought land to build their convent’” at 3 Nguyên Truong Tô Street (Tô Thi Huynh Street). By 1977, it covered an area of 10,235 m2. “We still have the papers about the purchase and the construction. It is all perfectly legal,” she said.

“Between 1871 and 1977, a period spanning more than a century, our nuns engaged in charity work—education for children, medical care for the sick and help for the poor—throughout the six province region, in particular in Vinh Long,” she explained in response to a question..

“In the decades before 1975, our Vinh Long convent kept its doors open and fed orphans. This created a groundswell of sympathy for the nuns among locals, grateful for their daily charity and social activities.”

“But after reunification, especially beginning on 7 September 1977, the local (Vin Long) and provincial (Mekong) security forces took over the convent and kicked the nuns out. They were arrested and held at the Saint Paul School.”

A month later, the 17 nuns were released, “forced to return to their native villages. The nun in charge of the convent, Sister Lê Thi Trach, was taken to the Headquarters of the security forces and held for two more months and eventually forced to go to live at the congregation’s provincial house” in My Tho.

All this occurred “without a shred of legal document informing us about which articles of the Penal Code we were supposed to have violated in order to be dealt such a punishment: the dissolution of our community.”

The nuns had to wait 28 years, until 2005, before they found the reasons for the Security forces’ action. On 7 August of that year, they were told about ruling 1958/QD.UBT of 6 September 1977, which said that “since the orphanage on Nguyên Truong Tô Street is a social institution that belongs to a foreign religious congregation, built with foreign funds, for the purpose of training young dropouts to create forces that oppose the Revolution and the liberation of the Vietnamese people. . . ”.

Following that decision, the convent was turned into a hospital to serve Vinh Long province. Now it is slated to become a square. Yet, “before it was decided to transform the convent into a public square, the Province had authorised the Saigon-Vinh Long Travel Agency to build a four-star luxury hotel.” Then, on 12 December 2008, “as a result of changes in the cost of construction materials”, the People’s Committee decided to build a square with gardens.

In the last seven years, the Sisters turned to “every possible government office,” people’s association, “within the legality of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” journalists and public figures to fight for their right to rebuild. In 2007, the answer of the Building Ministry came, which said, “Any claim to the land and the property of the Congregation of Saint Paul of Chartres in My Tho cannot be met.”

Instead, what the authorities (the People’s Committee) did in 2006 was “to offer in compensation about 1.5 million dong (US$ 85,000) and 3,000 m2 of land on the outskirts of the city.”

“Recently, the Province asked us that, in case the assistance offered to us did not meet our needs, we could submit a construction plan for their examination,” Sister Patrick de la Croix said.

However, this is not what the Sisters want. “We want every solution to be based on the truth. Whatever it may be, if it does not guarantee us the truth, it cannot be right.”

“We want justice and what is right,” the superior said. “This means going back to what happened in 1977. All the solutions proposed are premised on the notion we broke the law and that our property came within the purview of the land reform programme. If we accept to swap land now, it would mean acknowledging that we are getting a favour. But we did not break any rule. We must go back to our convent.”

“The truth is that many generations of Sisters lived their religious life in that place, for more than a century.” For this reason, “we shall continue to voice our grievances.”