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Vietnam bars thousands from Christmas Mass

HANOI (AsiaNews): Christmas was banned in the Central Highland province of Kontum in Vietnam by government authorities forcing Christmas Mass to be cancelled in at least two parishes and leaving thousands of expectant people both surprised and disappointed.

In the parish of Đăk Lâk in the municipality of Đăk Môn, Đăk Glei, around 5,000 people had their Christmas expectations dashed and in Xê- Đăng, in the village of Kon Pia in the district of Tumơrôn, more than 3,000 had gathered only to be sent home again.

The area is home to the majority Montagnard people and tribal Kinh, SE-Jang, Ho-lang and Jeh peoples.

Father Dominique Trần Văn Vũ, the parochial vicar at Đăk Lâk, confirmed, “The authorities of Kontum prevented priests from celebrating Christmas Mass in the remote and mountainous areas.”

He described the government ban as an attack on religious freedom, with the government authorities blocking the celebration of the religious feast because the Masses were scheduled to be celebrated by two priests, who in their view are unwelcome because they did not seek prior approval.

“For the government,” he added, “we have no legal status in society, we cannot celebrate and we must entrust all our functions to the bishop.”

The government justified the ban saying that the two priests had previously been blacklisted. It said that the local People’s Committee (Communist Party) sent a letter to the bishop, stating their intention to stop functions in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities.

The authorities said they also invited the bishop to register and send a written request to the local committee for all future Masses to be celebrated, as well as send other priests to take the place of those deemed unwelcome.

Theresa Hoa, from Đăk Lâk, confirmed that the authorities prevented the priests from saying Mass and expressed the opinion that the government officials violated the constitution and the laws of Vietnam, which guarantee religious freedom.

Her opinion was shared by other parishioners, who denounced what they called a serious human rights violation.

The area has a population of about two million inhabitants, of whom around 300,000, or 16 per cent, are Catholic. There are 70 priests in the area and 347 religious, as well as around 1,400 catechists.

A few months ago, the new Bishop Aloisio Nguyễn Hùng Vi was placed in charge of the diocese.

The Church has faced constant attacks on religious freedom. In early October last year, then-Bishop Michael Hoàng Duc Oanh wrote an open letter to local authorities protesting against the decision of the provincial administration to demolish a House Church in a small village located in a remote area of the diocese.

In addition, the authorities have threatened to demolish 22 chapels in the area.

Religious freedom has been steadily eroded in recent years, as under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, boosting the power of the Communist Party and the one-party state to control all religious activities.

The authorities have targeted religious leaders, both Buddhist and Catholic, as well as entire communities.

 

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