Vinh Long nuns keep fighting for justice and truth
Joseph Dang7/11/2010
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Their convent has already been bulldozed to build a public square but the defiant Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres in Vinh Long still refuse to let themselves submitted to injustice.

“The local government of Vinh Long province must rectify its mistakes consistent with the moral tradition of the nation,” cried out Sister Patrick de la Croix Huynh Thi Bich Ngoc, the Superior of the congregation.

In her letter signed on July 3, sent to “every possible government office within the legality of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, journalists and public figures”, the Superior continued to fight for justice in a battle seen by many as emblematic of the aspirations of Catholics in Vietnam for their dignity to be respected, and their rights be protected.

The Superior bravely requested an apology of the local government for false accusations against her congregation and a compensation of up to an equivalent of 6,376,400 USD for the illegal seizure of "a property of the Catholic Church in the diocese of Vinh Long built since 1871 by generations of nuns.”

The property mentioned by Sister Patrick de la Croix Huynh was her convent, of 10,235 m2, located at 3 Nguyên Truong Tô Street (Tô Thi Huynh Street).

Between 1871 and 1977, a period spanning more than a century, Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres in Vinh Long had engaged in charity work—education for children, medical care for the sick and help for the poor—throughout the six province region, particularly in Vinh Long.

In the decades before 1975, the convent kept its doors open to the poor and orphans. This created a groundswell of sympathy for the nuns among locals who were grateful for their daily charitable and social activities.

On Sept. 7, 1977, without any warning, a military police regiment blockaded and raided on Holy Cross College, St. Paul monastery, and the Major Seminary, and arrested all those who were in charge of the premises. Seventeen nuns of the congregation were arrested and held at the Saint Paul School. A month later they were released only to be forced to give up their vocation ad return to their home villages.

Since then, all the three Catholic properties have seized by the government.

In 2008, the local government authorised the Saigon-Vinh Long Travel Agency to build a four-star luxury hotel but it faced fierce protests of the sisters. Applying a similar strategy that had shown its effectiveness in Hanoi, on Dec. 12, 2008, the People’s Committee decided to build a public square with gardens instead.

The local government carried out that decision with a rude and threatening tactic to intimidate the vulnerable, peace-loving nun. It falsely accused Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres of having used “the orphanage on Nguyên Truong Tô Street, a social institution belonging to a foreign religious congregation, built with foreign funds,” to “train young dropouts to create forces that oppose the Revolution and the liberation of the Vietnamese people”, an extreme accusation that can cost the lives of the sisters.

Facing such a death threat, the sisters have been still standing their ground, with no intention to submission to injustice. Every day, they come to the site where their convent has been bulldozed and a public square is on construction to pray. “We shall continue to voice our grievances,” said the sisters.

Recent months, State media have often portrayed the removal of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet as a warning verdict for religious leaders who dare to raise their voice on property disputes with local authorities. The brave letter of Sister Patrick de la Croix Huynh came at the surprise of many, in both Catholic and Vietnamese government’s circles.

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