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Catholic prayer vigil turns into clash with Vietnamese police

.- Thousands of Catholics gathered in the streets of Hanoi to show their opposition to the government’s refusal to hand over buildings that originally belonged to the Catholic Church of Vietnam.  In protests today, some 2,000 Catholics marched from St. Joseph’s Cathedral to the building that was once the Vatican embassy.

The building, which is now a youth sports center, is one of many church properties taken over by the Communist government in 1954.  Church officials say they have documents showing the 2.5-acre property belongs to the diocese.

The morning “protest” was followed by a Mass for the birthday of Cardinal Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung, the former archbishop of Hanoi.  Following the celebration, a second peaceful demonstration began which became violent.

Fr. An Dang told CNA that some H’mong Catholic women climbed over the gate to bring flowers to a statue of the Virgin Mary.  When they were discovered by security personnel, the women were kicked and attacked with batons.  When nearby protestors saw this brutality, they broke through the gate and confronted the security officers.

As the conflict ensued, a few protestors were able to put up a large white cross in front of the former embassy.

Fr. Dang also reports that the protest today is the strongest challenge to the communist government not only due to its magnitude but also because it occurred just a few days after local authorities accused the archbishop of "using freedom of religion to provoke protests against the government." The government also claimed that the protests “damaged relations between Vietnam and the Vatican," and threatened that a crackdown was likely.

A local source reported that police forces are hunting down those who were actively involved in today's protest.

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