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Church fights dirty war in Vietnam

HO CHI MINH (UCAN): State media accused the Church in Vietnam of playing dirty pool by attempting to dupe foreign organisations into supporting its observance of International Day for the Environment on August 7 in order to smear the country’s reputation overseas.

The media said that by observing the International Day of Care for the Environment, the Vinh diocese was attempting to cause social disorder by encouraging international criticism to foment internal unrest in Vietnam.

The diocese marked the day with a Mass and a cleanup of garbage in the areas around the parishes, as well as a motor bike rally to draw attention to the dumping of toxic waste in the sea by Formosa Plastics.

The Justice and Peace Commission initiated the event to raise public awareness about environmental protection.

A report on viet24h, a state-run news website, editorialised on the day prior to the Church initiative, “Holding a day for the environment is a conspiracy of (Bishop) Nguyen Thai Hop and his priests to get finance from foreign organisations and individuals.”

It accused the diocese of fighting a dirty war by “inciting and inducing local Catholics to participate in the event in negative ways… to cause social disorder.”

It also accused the Justice and Peace Commission of slandering the government response to marine vandalism in Ha Tinh, where the Taiwanese-built steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics was accused of discharging hundreds of tons of toxic waste into the surrounding waters and soil.

The report quoted the commission as saying, “The disaster has been made worse by the government’s slow reaction and lack of transparency… local people were suffering the consequences for the selfish intentions of government officials.”

This is the second time state-run media has criticised the outspoken Bishop Nguyen and his priests since the ecological maritime disaster in early April.

However, social media told a different story, with strong public criticism of the government media report. Many people said the report showed no understanding of Church social teaching and accused the media portal of lacking patriotism.

“Church leaders work for the common good and have responsibility for the environment and the nation, while government officials try to work for personal interests,” a reader named Diem Hong said.

A rights advocate based in Ho Chi Minh City said that the diocese’s activities on August 7 had three agendas; to “improve the environment after Formosa caused pollution, to raise awareness about environmental protection among communities and help people see the government failure to protect the environment.”

Around 5,000 parishioners from across the diocese travelled in a motorbike convoy to Manh Son parish church near the Formosa plant where they congregated. They held banners declaring, “Close up Formosa. Destroying the environment is a crime.”

Security officials and police were deployed along the route, while authorities cut mobile phone signals to prevent people from contacting one another.

Some 4,000 people from Cua Sot carried a Marian statue around the parish and marched to a local port to pray for the environment, while 700 from Dong Yen parish collected garbage and set fire to it in front of the Formosa Plastic steel plant in Ha Tinh.

Police were deployed in front of the plant’s gate and used fire engines to douse the flames.

On social media many people expressed gratitude to the diocese for leading the dirty war for environmental justice in Vietnam.

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