Large gatherings of Catholics in Hanoi to pray for a high-profile legal activist are scheduled to take place this weekend. The move has irritated State authorities.

On the eve of a controversial trial of a high-profile legal activist, scheduled on Monday next week, Catholics will gather at Hanoi Redemptorists’ Monastery to pray for the defendant, a non-Catholic, as a gesture of protest against “blatant injustices that are prevailing and have gone unchallenged in our society,” announced Fr. Mathew Vu Khoi Phung, the Monastery Superior.

“Candlelight Vigils on April, 2 and 3 will be held at Thai Ha church to pray for lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, justice and truth,” said the Superior.

The vigils would make Redemptorists in Vietnam be one of the few if not only group inside the country who dare to raise their voice against the trial. At the time when massive riots in Mideast and North Africa have put the regime on high alert, there is a concern that such vigils would cause more troubles for Redemptorists who already have had lots of problems with Hanoi authorities.

“If the vigils might cause more troubles for us, it is beyond our control. Anyway, we have the responsibility to stand up for justice and truth,” said Fr. Mathew Vu on addressing the concern. “We do not have the policy to create ‘sensitive situations’,” he explained further. “Now and then we have to face problems ‘extremely sensitive’ by their own nature, we can’t actually do anything about that.”

Hanoi authorities have repeatedly requested the transfer of Fr. Mathew Vu and other Redemptorists out of the capital.

After the removal of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet and a series of harsh crackdowns against Catholics, State-Church relation has seemed to slip back into the era before 2008, when Catholic protests started erupting throughout the country.

On one hand, there are forced renunciation of faith, harassment, violence, and arrests against Christians in the country's Central Highland provinces. Priests and even bishops are still banned to say Mass and carry out their pastoral activities in large areas in North and Central Highlands. These acts of persecution have gone unchallenged as Catholics ease their protests after a series of harsh crackdowns.

On the other hand, activities of “patriotic” Catholics blossom again in large cities. Articles and speeches praising “contributions of Catholics to the country” have been flooded again in State media and on the lips of officials as if communist authorities now can enjoy the complete submissions of Catholics.

“Catholics have contributed enormously to the cause of national reconstruction and development”, said President Nguyen Minh Triet during a meeting of the Committee for Solidarity with Catholics in HCM City on Jan. 22.

“The next vigil in Hanoi is a reminder to the authorities that despite their repression, we always ready to stand up for justice and truth regardless of potential risks,” said Fr. Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi.

Elaborating more on the reasons of the praying services, Fr. Mathew Vu said: “Candlelight Vigils on April, 2 and 3 will be held partly due to the request of the family of the lawyer. They are not Catholics. We are deeply touched by their earnest request which, in my view, is a visible sign of their faith in God.”

The lawyer became famous after he filed a law suit against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for allowing Chinese-run bauxite mines in the Central Highlands. Last October, he again sued the Prime Minister over a decree that bars groups from filing petitions or complaints against the government.

He and his wife, Duong Ha, expressed support for the cause of the six Catholics at Con Dau, Da Nang and volunteered for their defence. But finally, they were denied permission to defend them.

As part of the preparation for 11th National Congress of Communist Party of Vietnam held from 12-19 January, he was arrested along with other rights activists.

Under an indictment signed February 17, Vu stands accused of spreading propaganda against the state, publishing articles and taking part in interviews with foreign media aimed at 'smearing the authority of the people's government, carrying out psychological war, asking to overthrow the regime and demanding a multiparty system.'

Vu could face up to 20 years in jail, if convicted.

Vu comes from no ordinary background. He is a son of an eminent poet Cu Huy Can, who gained his political position in Vietnam thanks to being a companion with the communism-led revolutionist Ho Chi Minh during Indochina War and Vietnam War from 1945.