Although the Vietnamese government has agreed to return the Nunciature to the Archdiocese of Hanoi, parishioners from Our Mother of Perpetual Help insist that the government is still holding 14 acres of land belonging to parish. In protest, hundreds of the dispossessed Catholics marched to the site on Ash Wednesday.
The weather did not deter the demonstrators who chanted, and sang for hours in front of dozens of crosses and icons of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which are hanging on the fence that surrounds the confiscated property.
According to the Redemptorists who run the parish, they originally purchased 15 acres of land in 1928, with plans to construct a convent and church.
In 1954, the Communist government took control of northern Vietnam and jailed or deported most of Redemptorists. This left Fr. Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich to run the church by himself. Despite Fr. Vu’s persistent protests, local authorities gradually seized the parish’s land one section at a time. Consequently, the plot of land was reduced from 15 acres to its present-day size of little more than half an acre.
For more than ten years, Redemptorists in Vietnam have petitioned the government asking for the return of their land, but their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
The government upped the ante at the beginning of this year by allowing construction on the Chiến Thắng sewing company to commence. The confiscated church property soon was surrounded by a fence and the presence of security officials.
The new construction on the land commandeered from the parish led a crowd of local Catholics to gather on the afternoon of January 7 in protest. Local authorities arrived on the scene and promised that the construction work would end. However, the next day the Hanoi People’s Committee issued an official order authorizing the company in question to continue its work.
Protestors have been gathering at the work site for over a month to prevent any further construction by the state-run company.
Since February 7 marks the Lunar New Year—called Tet in Vietnam—local government officials asked the Redemptorists to disperse the demonstrators who have been camped out at the site and send them home to prepare for Tet. The priests had in fact already told the people to leave out of concern for their health, given the cold rain and low temperature, but none of them were willing to leave.
“I keep telling my children that I have to stay here to protect Church land,” one a woman said. “People who want to tell me happy New Year can come here and see me. I will not go home.”