.- A Buddhist leader in Vietnam is now asserting a claim to disputed land that once belonged to the papal nuncio but was confiscated by the Vietnam government in 1959.
After a month of Catholic protest and prayer seeking the return of the former nunciature, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet announced an agreement on February 1 that would restore the property to Catholic ownership.
However, in a February 16 letter to the Vietnamese prime minister Venerable Thich Trung Hau, a leader of the communist-organized Vietnam Buddhist Church, now claims the land belongs to Buddhists.
Venerable Hau said that a pagoda named Bao Thien was built on the land in 1054. In 1883, he claimed, "The French colonists seized [the land] and gave it to Bishop Puginier."
Catholics see the claim as a government ploy to undermine the agreement announced on February 1.
The fence surrounding the former nunciature was broken through during the aforementioned Catholic protests and prayer vigils. Recently the gates of the fence have been strengthened, while new panels carrying Communist symbols and slogans have been set in place. Security officials now reportedly respond quickly to remove anyone who pauses to pray outside the building.
Father Joseph Nguyen, a Hanoi priest involved in the protests, said that Hanoi Catholics are facing “uphill battles” to regain the property. He also responded to the Buddhist leader’s claim, saying, "Except the strong support from the government, Venerable Hau has nothing to prove what he said. On the contrary, we do have all legal land titles."