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Historic cathedral slated for demolition

HANOI (UCAN): Plans were announced on April 17 to demolish the 134-year-old Cathedral of Mary Queen of the Rosary in the Diocese of Bui Chu, part of the Archdiocese of Hanoi. The wreckers ball is scheduled to bring down the historic structure on May 13, though there have been calls to conserve it rather than resort to redevelopment.
 
The iconic Baroque-style cathedral in the Xuan Truong district of Nam Dinh province, which measures 68 metres in length, 16 metres in width and 15 metres in height, guards the relics of many Vietnamese martyrs and bishops of the diocese.
 
Bishop Thomas Vu Dinh Hieu of Bui Chu said the cathedral, built in 1885, “is one of the most ancient churches and one of the great religious centres in the diocese.”  He said it had seriously deteriorated due to the tropical climate and annual storms, and that the condition of its walls and ceiling posed a danger.
 
“To protect our religious and cultural inheritance, local priests and Catholics have decided to overhaul the cathedral,” the bishop had said in a March 11 letter appealing for donations. 
 
Bishop Vu explained that most local Catholics could not afford to cover construction costs because they have low incomes from working on farms and fishing at sea.
 
On May 2, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that local Catholics and government authorities supported the diocese’s plan.
 
The newspaper said local authorities had granted building permits for the building of a new cathedral on the same site.
 
However, architects asked Church leaders in Vietnam’s oldest diocese to conserve the cathedral instead of pulling it down.
 
Tuoi Tre reported that architects from the University of Architecture in Ho Chi Minh City asserted that the building is a unique architectural and artistic heritage site which should be protected.
 
The newspaper said the group examined the cathedral from April 29 to 30 and concluded that the building had only slight damage and could be reinforced.
 
It reported that the group petitioned the prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Culture, Sports and Tourism minister, Nguyen Ngoc Thien, as well as provincial leaders “to temporarily halt demolition of the cathedral and wait for a holistic evaluation made by the National Council of Cultural Heritage.”
 
A Dominican nun from the diocese said the new cathedral would be larger to meet increasing religious needs in the area, where tens of thousands of people attend big feasts at the cathedral.
 
However, she warned that destroying the historic cathedral would erase the memory of the diocese’s official history. 
 
Bui Chu Cathedral is as old as Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City and St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi.
 
“I believe that diocesan leaders are wise enough to listen to public opinions and make good decisions,” the nun said, adding that the local church needs public support to renovate the cathedral or build a new one.
 
Catholicism was introduced to the area now served by Bui Chu Diocese as early as 1533. The diocese, Vietnam’s cradle of Catholic culture and traditions, is rich in religious sites and ancient churches with Gothic, Spanish, French and Vietnamese influences.

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