In a pastoral letter, Mgr Michael Hoang Duc Oanh slams the attack against Fr Luy. He announces that he would celebrate Easter Mass in the place where the violence took place. In 2011, the prelate had already challenged the authorities, celebrating Easter in a Montagnard community that he had been unable to visit for Christmas.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - In a pastoral letter for Lent, Mgr Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, bishop of Kontum, noted that new anti-Catholic attacks in Vietnam might generate "more frustration and misunderstanding". The prelate's statement comes a few days after Fr Luy Gonzaga Nguyễn Quang Hoa was attacked, suffering multiple wounds and lacerations.

The attack was carried out during the time the third meeting of the joint Vietnam-Holy See working group on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (where Christians continue to be the victims of persecution) and the Vatican was underway in Hanoi.

Human rights activists and Catholics have condemned the attack, saying it undermines the sense of trust towards the government.

On 23 February, Fr Luy Gonzaga Nguyễn Quang Hoa, curate in Kon Hring Parish, was attacked by three hooligans connected with local authorities as he made his way home after celebrating a funeral Mass in the village of Kon Hnong. He was beaten with steel rods at the head and the back. After he lost consciousness, the attackers fled.

Similar groups of hooligans are armed and used to attack clergymen and believers in an area, Kontum (central plateaus), which the government has defined as a 'no religion zone'.

In an open challenge to the authorities, the prelate slammed the new case of violation of religious freedom and announced that he would celebrate Mass during Easter week in the parish where Fr Luy was attacked.

Mgr Michael Hoang Duc Oanh (pictured here talking with an official) is not new to such actions of defiance against Communist authorities. Last year, he celebrated Lent and Easter Mass in the Montagnard village of Son Lang where he had been prevented from celebrating Christmas services a few months earlier. On that occasion, the local Christian community rallied around the bishop and took place in the Mass.

In Vietnam, the authorities often hire such groups to disrupt religious services and the sacraments and harass people attending religious functions and celebrations who have to put up with the slogans, booing and catcalls.

At the end of the Mass last Easter, police detained the bishop and the local priest and held them at a local police station for hours of interrogation.

The authorities accused Catholics of failing to respect the terms of their permits, which limited their activities to "the celebration of Easter Mass". They accused them of carrying out a number of baptisms. The bishop and the priest told the officers that they did not perform any baptism but simply heard confession.

Like in 2011, this year's celebrations are expected to be tense. Mgr Michael Hoang Duc Oanh and a number of priests are prepared to challenge the ban in the name of the inviolability of religious freedom, slamming the attacks by "hooligan gangs" at the pay of the authorities.

Violence and attacks of this kind generate "more frustration and misunderstanding" among the faithful, Fr Luy said.