Vietnam: Brutality Confronted through Prayer
By: Elizabeth KendalReligious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 017 | Wed 12 Aug 2009
VIETNAM: BRUTALITY CONFRONTED THROUGH PRAYER
As reported in the Religious Liberty Prayer bulletin of 17 September 2008 (link below), a prayer movement erupted in Vietnam's Catholic Church in December 2007 after Vietnam's religious liberty advocates, mostly Catholic priests frustrated by years of futile political activism, simply asked the people to pray. And pray they did. In Hanoi, some 10,000 Catholics came onto the streets to sing hymns and pray for religious liberty. They held flowers and crosses, and candles on dark nights and umbrellas on rainy days. The Hanoi prayer vigils for religious liberty have been the largest public demonstrations Vietnam has seen since the Communists came to power. As the prayer vigil movement spread, the clearly rattled Government lashed out with a virulent anti-Catholic propaganda campaign in the State-run media while blocking access to at least six major Catholic news agency websites. The authorities also started physically attacking the vigils -- beating even women, publicly shaming young children, arresting priests and their lawyers, and demolishing church properties. But despite abuse, slander, beatings and imprisonments, the public prayer vigils continue.
The parish of Tam Toa in Vinh Diocese (300km south of Hanoi) is a historic parish for Vietnamese Catholics. Founded in 1631, it quickly became the largest parish in the diocese, running a convent, orphanage and school. A beautiful Cathedral, opened there in 1887, was destroyed in an American bombing raid during the Vietnam War. The parishioners, whilst unable to rebuild the church, continued to meet and worship at the site in the open air until March 1996 when the Communists seized the property and declared it a War Memorial. Ever since then, the church has been seeking the property's return. The parish has over 1,000 parishioners.
On Monday 20 July, a team of Catholics was erecting a cross and temporary shelter at the site when they were confronted by some 100 police. Using tear gas, stun guns and batons, the police brutally beat the Catholics into submission. About 20 were arrested while others were made to sit on the ground where a Communist vigilante group was given permission to beat them. One of the wounded, Father Paul Nguyen Dinh Phu, suffered broken ribs and head injuries. When Father Peter Nguyen The Binh visited Fr Phu in hospital he was beaten and hurled from a second floor window. Fr Binh is now hospitalised in a coma. On the night of 8 August, all 178 parishes in Vinh Diocese held simultaneous processions that saw some half-a-million parishioners come out onto the streets holding candles and signs calling for religious freedom. According to several reports, many locals came out and applauded the Catholics for having the courage to stand up against tyranny. Standing in solidarity with Vinh Diocese were some 3,000 Hanoi Catholics who held a simultaneous prayer vigil at the Thai Ha Church. The next day some 2,500 Catholics in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) held a prayer vigil in solidarity at the Redemptorist Monastery.
Meanwhile, as reported in the RLPB 009 of 17 June 2009 (link below), Vietnamese Protestants have been experiencing escalating persecution ever since December 2006 when the US deemed Vietnam's religious liberty reforms sufficient to be rewarded with Permanent Normal Trading Relations status. Communist authorities, who will not register Protestant house churches, are raiding and breaking up house church meetings on the grounds that they are unregistered and therefore illegal. Pastors are beaten, publicly denounced and sentenced to 're- education' while members are fined and terrorised. Church leaders say the harassment is so widespread that it must have approval from the top level of the central government and be part of an unofficial policy to stop the spread of Christianity.
During raids on Protestant house churches, not only do the police confiscate property (from hymn books and Bibles to motorbikes and cash), they also tend to be very violent. Compass Direct reports that the Agape Baptist house church in Hung Yen province, led by Pastor Duong Van Tuan, was raided several times in June. On one occasion police assaulted Pastor Tuan's wife, Nguyen Thi Vuong, seizing her by her arms and repeatedly banging her head against a wall until she collapsed unconscious.
VIETNAM: Prayer vigils confront government.
WEA RLP 496, 17 September 2008
VIETNAM: Greater destruction as persecution escalates.
RLPB 009, 17 June 2009