Parish Under Siege - Catholics Persecuted

On January 6 Vietnamese officials dynamited a crucifix in a cemetery belonging to the Dong Chiem Parish Church, 40 miles from Hanoi. Parishioners who tried to prevent the destruction were beaten by police. Since then, Catholic priests and faithful have been assaulted by uniformed and plainclothes police, and Catholics who try to visit the parish are harassed and beaten; one journalist pummeled to unconsciousness. The latest outrage is a February 24 attack on a group of nuns visiting various parishes in the area.

The demolition of crucifix began at 3:00 a.m. with the use of explosives. “On hearing the explosions, parishioners rushed to the site to protect their crucifix but they were stopped by police who tried to drive them back, “said Father Nguyen Van Huu, pastor of Dong Chiem parish.

The Archdiocese of Hanoi immediately issued a press release denouncing the government’s actions: “Police attacked the parish today, in the early morning, when both its pastor and the pastor’s assistant were at the annual retreat in the Archbishop’s Office. An estimated 500 heavily armed and well-entrenched police officers and a large number of trained dogs were deployed in the area to protect an army engineering unit that destroyed a large crucifix erected on a boulder inside the parish cemetery.”

Parishioners recounted being shot at close range with tear gas canisters, even as they were kneeling in prayer, asking the police to stop the devastation. Other parishioners were beaten with batons.

“At least a dozen people have been badly beaten,” said Father Le Trong Cung, Vice Chancellor of the Hanoi Archdiocese. “Two of them were seriously injured and taken to a clinic in Te Tie, where, however, they did not receive treatment. Later, the priest and faithful found them and they took them to Viet Duc hospital, where doctors intervened.”

Agence France Presse reported police used “electric prods, tear gas and stones against the crowd.”

The government tried to justify its actions, claiming the crucifix was “illegally built” on the top of mount Che “which lies on the public land area under the direct management of the An Phu Communist People’s Committee.”

Father John le Trong Cung responded this was not true, since the crucifix was on Church property. “The hill has always been on parish grounds since its inception, more than one hundred years ago,” he said.

Parish priest Father Nyuyen Van Huu likewise confirmed the cross was built on Church land. The hill became a parish cemetery in the “Time of the Great Hunger” when two million people died between October 1944 and May 1945. The crucifix has been on the parish’s hill “for years,” he said.

From March to November 2009, the government had told Catholics to take down the cross. The parish refused since the cross was on Church property. In response, the government took the matter into its own hands on January 6 and blew up the crucifix.

The Archdiocese of Hanoi publicly denounced the demolition of the crucifix as a “sacrilege”.

Hundreds of Catholics have since defied the government’s brutality, climbed the hill and planted clusters of bamboo crosses where the original crucifix was destroyed. The government has sealed off the roads on the way to Dong Chiem, but the faithful still manage to get through.

More Bloody Beatings

A few days after the crucifix was demolished, a Catholic journalist visiting the area was attacked and beaten by government strongmen.

On the evening of January 11, Father Ngyuen Van Lien, parish priest of Dong Dhiem, and journalist J.B. Ngyuyen Huu Vinh were taking a motorcycle ride around the area. The priest said, “I was trying to get around a big pile of dirt placed on the bridge of the Nang — placed there to prevent access to the area — when a group of uniformed and plainclothes police attacked us.”

Father Van Lien continued, “Seeing that the journalist had a camera around his neck, a dozen policemen jumped on him, trying to snatch it. I left the bike and rushed to his defense, but the agents used sticks to threaten me and make me turn back. Then, once they had the camera, they ran away, leaving the victim in the street unconscious, and with his face bloodied.”

“If he had not had a helmet, he would be dead,” said the nurse who treated the journalist after the attack.

Around the same time, police also attacked two disabled Catholic war veterans on bikes heading toward Don Chiem.

The assault on the priest and journalist sparked strong response. Thousands of Catholics took to the streets of Dong Hai in a protest march. The protesters also demanded the release of five Catholic prisoners taken on the day the crucifix was demolished. The government had summoned five poverty-stricken Catholics to the service center of the government on the pretext of filling out forms for food aid. At the day’s end, loudspeakers blared that the five had “bowed their heads, pleading guilty” to having built a bamboo cross on the spot where the crucifix had been destroyed.

The priests of Dong Chiem have also been accused by police of stirring up anti-government sentiments, when the priests’ only “crime” has been resisting the anti-Catholic harassment coming from the Vietnamese government.

The faithful throughout North Vietnam continued to respond to these outrages with pilgrimages to Dong Chiem. Despite threats of violence, the pilgrims succeeded in planting crosses on the hill where the original crucifix was demolished. “We will make this hill a mountain of the crosses, like the one the Catholics created in Lithuania in Communist times,” said a student from Hanoi whose team planted dozens of crosses on the hill. The group of students accomplished this by passing checkpoints and other police measures aimed at blocking the faithful’s access to the cemetery. Asia News reports “hundreds of crosses” are now on the hill.

Not all the Vietnamese Catholics who depart for Dong Chiem manage to skirt the government’s obstacles.

Father Joseph Pham Minh Trieu, who was leading a group of a thousand people to the hill, said he had to cancel the trip: “The police confiscated the licenses of all our bus drivers." Nonetheless, hundreds of parishioners at Ham Long used motorcycles to penetrate through police obstacles. Among them was the group of Hanoi students, who reached the summit of Nui Tho, which is now called “the mountain of prayer" where they enacted the Way of the Cross.

“Other faithful managed to arrive by boat,” reported Asia News.

As news spread around the world of this persecution of Catholics, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam denied any repression of Catholics in Dong Chiem. “Vietnam asserts ‘no suppression’ of parishioners at Hanoi’s outlying district”, headlined the state-run Vietnamese News Agency.

It was here the government asserted the cross was built illegally on public land. The report also claimed the government simply “dismantled” the cross, and was careful not to mention they destroyed the crucifix with explosives.

The story was an obvious falsehood, particularly since an Agence France Presse reporter had already been denied access to the area. The January 8 Manilla News reported that a journalist had been blocked from entering the Dong Chiem parish area. “This is by special order” said a plainclothes policeman as the journalist tried to enter the one road leading to the Dong Chiem parish. At the only other access, said the Manilla News, “several other policemen also refused to let the reporter pass.”

By mid-January, police had poured reinforcements and set up roadblocks to stop pilgrims from going to the hill at Dong Chiem parish. The violence against Catholics continued.

On January 20, a Vietnamese Catholic monk was beaten and seriously injured as he tried to reach the parish church. Agence France Presse reported, “About 20 uniformed and plainclothes officers on Wednesday [January 20] stopped Brother Nguyen Van Tang and several other Catholics from entering the Dong Chiem parish.”

The police seized the Brother’s camera and mobile phone. When he was making his way back, he was “attacked by unknown assailants and left with serious head injuries.” He was taken to a hospital for treatment.

By the beginning of February, the parish was still under siege; the police would threaten and attack anyone who approached it. Three students from Saint Anthony of Padua parish were attacked by police for just that reason. One was arrested.

The three students had gone to Dong Chiem to attend a Eucharistic adoration. On their way home, says Father John Luu Ngoc Quynh, “a group of police agents stopped them and savagely attacked them.”

One of the students “tried to run in a field but was chased and beaten,” continues Father Luu Ngoc Quynh. The next day, “at 11:30 p.m., police brought him to his dormitory and after searching the premises, took away two other students who shared his room.”

The priest denounced these actions as “continued violation of the law against Vietnamese citizens and against Catholics. Calling for the release of the students, for an end to the siege of the Dong Chiem parish, and for the right of Catholics to move freely, Father Luu Ngoc Quynh urged the Vietnamese government “to investigate the latest attack in order to bring the culprits to justice.”

The government continues its brutal harassment, the latest being an attack on nuns visiting the area.

On February 24, a group of nuns from the Lovers of the Holy Cross, who went to Ho Chi Minh City with dozens of lay Catholics to visit parishioners of the area, were attacked and beaten by plainclothes officers at the town’s entrance. Asia News reported the sisters were not seriously injured, “but the Hanoi volunteer who was their guide had to be admitted to the Viet Duc hospital in serious condition.”

Church Targeted

It is obvious the Church is being deliberately provoked. Redemptorist Superior Vincent Pham Trung said in late February, “The government is trying its best to lure the Archbishop of Hanoi and Thai ha Redemptorists into a trap in which the tiniest mistake [on their part] would give the government the excuse for open persecution, or at least an excuse to launch accusations against them.”

It is also obvious that Catholics alone are the targets of this brutality since those who visit the famous Huong Pagoda, in the vicinity as Dong Chiem, are warmly welcome and protected by agents who belong to the same department as those persecuting the Church.

The clash between the Church and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an ongoing conflict. In 2009, the government demolished a large statue of the Blessed Mother that had been erected by the poor parishioners of Bau Sen.

On the day of the statue’s destruction, government police with batons and dogs kept the parishioners back from the demolition site, and the faithful could only watch helplessly. This past January the government compounded the sacrilege by demanding the parishioners pay the $15,000 the government spent on the statue’s destruction.

Whoever believes the Consecration of Russia as requested by Our Lady of Fatima is accomplished need look no further than today’s Vietnam. The atrocities of the Vietnamese government bear all the hallmarks of Communist harassment of the Church throughout the Twentieth Century. The “period of peace” has yet to be granted to the world.

Despite what a highly placed churchman has said about Fatima’s prophecies belonging to the past, the “tragic human lust for power and evil” has not come to an end.

Let us pray for our fellow Catholics who daily face this brutal persecution, and let us learn from their fortitude as they publicly defy Vietnam’s anti-Catholic campaign.