In one of the largest protests to be held in Vietnam in decades, more than 5,000 people gathered in a candlelight vigil on Sunday evening at Saigon Redemptorist Monastery to demonstrate support for eight Catholics who will be put on trial under false pretenses.
Government authorities have charged the eight parishioners of Thai Ha Church with “damaging state property and disorderly conduct in public,” while Catholics claim the charges are false.
For more than a year, Catholics have faced off with the Vietnamese government as they seek to reclaim property confiscated by the communists, property which includes a former papal nunciature.
At Sunday’s protests, 160 priests from various religious orders in Saigon and nearby provinces concelebrated Mass to pray for the Church in Vietnam and in particular for the eight faithful scheduled for trial, Father J.B. An Dang reports to CNA.
Prelates addressed the crowd and rallied support.
“At the former nunciature in Hanoi and at Thai Ha parish, the authorities buried Jesus Christ, justice and truth. But from there, Jesus Christ will rise, and justice and truth will be resurrected,” Fr. Michael Nguyen Huu Phu, the Superior of Saigon Redemptorist Monastery, told the protesters.
Pictures of the eight accused Catholics were displayed on a big screen as protesters were told of the difficulties faced by the accused.
The denial of their access to lawyers was particularly criticized. Le Tran Luat, who is defending the accused Catholics, said on November 24 that he had not been able to meet with Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nhi and Mrs. Ngo Thi Dung, who are being held at the Hoa Lo prison.
Another point of contention raised by Catholics is that the government has set the trial date for December 5, the day on which the new Auxiliary Bishop of Hanoi, Laurent Chu Van Minh, will be installed. Bishop-elect Van Minh’s installation will take place in Nam Dinh, which is 55 miles away from Hanoi, the location of the trial.
Mr. Le also alleged that the government is disobeying its own laws about who can attend the trial. According to Mr. Le, Vietnamese law allows anyone over 16 to attend a trial, but he claims that the People’s Court of Hanoi has ordered that “except defendants and their lawyers, anyone wishing to attend the trial must submit an application form.”
On Saturday thousands of Catholics reportedly gathered for another candlelight vigil in Hanoi to protest the Communists government’s dishonest tactics. They were strictly monitored by hundreds of police who took photos and filmed video in what J.B. An Dang calls “an obvious intimidation tactic.”
During the vigil, students performed a play depicting the sufferings of martyrs from previous eras when government authorities tried to destroy Catholicism in Vietnam.
Fr. Vincent Nguyen Trung Thanh, the provincial superior of the Redemptorists in Vietnam, sent a letter to all Redemptorists in Vietnam asking them to pray intensely for the eight parishioners of Thai Ha.
“More than anyone, we know well that they are innocent, not only innocent according to their own conscience, but also according to the law. However, they are still charged and prosecuted,” he wrote.
He praised the arrested parishioners for following their Master who “more than 2,000 years ago was prosecuted and killed for his insistence on defending the truth.”
“The Beatitudes are an invitation for us and these faithful to accept adversities and tragedies, and to put our trust in God who will transform our sufferings into benefits for those who love Him,” he said, concluding by asking the Redemptorist communities in Vietnam to pray for the eight parishioners.