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Blockades to protect Church buildings

HO CHI MINH (Agencies): In an open letter to the local authorities, Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, from Kontum in Vietnam, defended a campaign run by local Catholic people defending themselves against ongoing attacks on religious freedom in the Central Highlands in early October.

The most recent episode was a decision by the provincial administration to demolish a house church in a small village located in a remote area of the diocese. In the letter, Bishop Hoang appealed to the government—both local and national—to protect the right of worship for the Christian community.

His diocese was erected in 1884 and has a Catholic population of about 250,000, or just under 25 per cent of the total population, half of whom belong to ethnic minorities.

Local authorities have threatened to demolish 22 chapels used for functions and prayer gatherings.

VietCatholicNews reported that in his letter the bishop listed the attacks on the Catholic Daknu community in chronological order, adding that the government has long ignored the people’s request to build a new church to meet the demands of an expanding congregation.

The local government has already cleared the way for the demolishing of all the houses of prayer without distinction of building material or their size. The first episode dates back to June 28, when one group tried to enlarge its chapel.

The government issued a demolition order and tried to bribe the local people with alcohol. The pastor was also summoned and threatened. 

However, the people ignored the warnings and, in a manner reminiscent of Christians in Zhejiang, China, organised themselves into shifts to keep watch over the building, to prevent the demolition.

Bishop Hoang is requesting that religious freedom be respected in practice, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Vietnam. 

He has also expressed a willingness to pay a penalty, in order to preserve the church used by the faithful of Daknu, or to submit the matter to a court.

“I urge the authorities,” the bishop wrote, “to calm down and take a look around the area and see who is really undermining the people’s trust in the government.”

Vietnam’s 87 million people are 48 per cent Buddhist, more than seven per cent Catholic, 5.6 per cent syncretistic and 20 per cent atheist.

As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs.

The Vietnamese bishops have strongly criticised a bill on Faith and Religion, which they say violates freedom of religion and limits worship. 

They stressed that the proposed norm contrasts with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam which, in principle, protects the right to worship.


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