Despite Vietnamese officials’ threats of “extreme actions,” many Catholic faithful are converging on Hanoi to join the demonstrations seeking the return of confiscated church property. Some laity, priests, and bishops have traveled more than 200 miles to join the demonstrations at Thai Ha church.
Writing in two newspapers on Monday, Lt. General Nguyen Van Huong, Vice-Minister of Public Security and Major-General Nguyen Duc Nhanh, the Director of the Hanoi Police Agency warned the Archbishop of Hanoi, Ngo Quang Kiet, of an imminent crackdown on the demonstrators.
Major-General Nanh even reportedly threatened to punish anyone who writes and distributes any internet articles about the Catholics’ demonstrations.
Francis Nguyen Van Sang, the Bishop of Thai Binh, responded to the officals’ comments in a Thursday statement titled “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” He warned the government “not to use the sword,” saying “using the sword against innocent civilians is shameful, and will be condemned by international public opinion.”
Bishop Francis Nguyen explained that the Thai Ha parishioners have repeatedly requested the return of their property, arguing that it was seized illegally.
“Only those who are totally devoid of all conscience can ignore the truth,” Bishop Francis Nguyen added in his statement, warning that “Dishonesty and brutality cannot dominate forever.”
Regardless of threats of violence from the government, “thousands of Catholics continue to gather daily here to pray,” Fr. Joseph Nguyen, a priest from Hanoi, told CNA.
“They go in procession from the monastery to the disputed land where, most of the time, they just stand in silence to pray for hours while braving cold rain and hot sun,” he added.
“The prayer protest is very peaceful,” Fr. Joseph explained. “Sometimes protestors sing hymns, sometimes they sing the rosary together. But they never yell or shout any slogans. They just stand there silently but stubbornly asking for justice.”
Several bishops from other dioceses, along with many priests and laymen, have joined the protest. Thousands of Catholics in nearby provinces had to ride bicycles to Thai Ha after police forced their buses to return.
The 82-year-old Bishop of Vinh, Paul Cao Dinh Thuyen, traveled more than 200 miles to Thai Ha on Wednesday.
“The problem of Thai Ha is also a trouble of Vinh and Thanh Hoa diocese, and of the entire Church in Vietnam,” the bishop said on his arrival.
Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, the Bishop of Thai Hoa, concelebrated Mass for protestors with Bishop Paul Cao and Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan of Lang Son, who has been with the protestors since last Friday.
“We are here to show our communion with you,” said Bishop Joseph Nguyen in his sermon. He asked everyone to pray intensely “for those who were arrested and for those who have been harassed somehow by the government.”
Another bishop had joined the protestors on Tuesday. Bishop Cosme Hoang Van Dat of Bac Ninh led 39 priests and hundreds of faithful from his diocese to Thai Ha to pray with the demonstrators.
“I have prayed for you from a far distance,” the bishop said. “Today, I want to be with you here at the church where I used to attend Mass in childhood… to show my solidarity with you.”
Bishop Cosme Hoang was appointed bishop of Bac Ninh on April 4. Last week he consecrated a church in Tam Dao which had been seized by the government 54 years ago. The church was returned to the diocese on August 8, after which the congregation of more than 2,000 faithful knelt down in front of the church’s altar asking God to forgive them for their failure to protect the Lord’s House.