Friday, September 19, 2008

Showdown in Hanoi

Back in February, after the Vietnamese government sought to proceed with razing the former nunciature in Hanoi despite the church's claims to the site, a monthlong protest -- which saw the city's archbishop volunteer himself for jail -- ended when officials yielded out of "respect for the Pope."

Earlier today, after bulldozers were spotted moving into the site, another demonstration quickly formed and tensions in the capital are said to be running "high":
"At 4 in the morning, about 200 police and two construction machines appeared at the site," said Father Nguyen Van Khai, a priest from nearby Thai Ha parish who is staying at the cathedral. "At about 4:30, they destroyed the wall and the other monuments on the site. They are blocking the whole neighbourhood. We cannot go out."

"We are clearing the land to build a library and a park, to serve the whole community," said Nguyen Thinh Thanh, chief of the secretariat of Hanoi's People's Committee. "We did not have to ask for the parish's permission, because that land belongs to the state."

Since 8 am, several hundred parishioners have gathered in the street in front of the site, watched by dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police.

"We are fighting for peace and justice," said Father Khai. "We are ready to die."
Police have closed streets to traffic in a one-block radius around the nunciature [above, in a February photo], but parishioners and students at the adjacent Catholic seminary were entering and exiting the area on foot.
In June, the Vatican's "deputy foreign minister" Msgr Pietro Parolin toured Vietnam, where the initial outcome pointed toward a likely accord with the government that all "nationalized" church property would incrementally be restored.

Over recent weeks, however, a similar stand-off to the winter vigil has broken out at Thai Ha, a Redemptorist-run parish near Hanoi's St Joseph Cathedral that was likewise seized. In response, state media has sought to paint the demonstrators as unpatriotic criminals for participating in "illegal and anti-revolutionary activities." Several have been jailed since August.