.- The local government of Quang Tri province in Vietnam has agreed to return land it confiscated surrounding the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of La Vang.
The land being returned was seized after the Communist government took control of the country in 1975.
La Vang is one of the most important Catholic sanctuaries in Vietnam, according to Fr. J.B. An Dang. It was built to commemorate a 1798 apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The site has been rebuilt several times, and is a major site of pilgrimage for Catholics in Vietnam.
Archbishop Stephen Nguyen Nhu The and Bishop Francis Le Van Hong, respectively archbishop and coadjutor bishop of the Archdiocese of Hue, met with the local government of Quang Tri last Thursday.
Nguyen Duc Chinh, vice-chairman of the Peoples Committee of Quang Tri, said that the government had decided to return 52 acres to the Church. While 58 acres had been confiscated, 6 acres would remain government property. However, according to the vice-chairman, the Church may use the land for its own activities.
Bishop Francis Le Van Hong confirmed the news in a letter to the Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Reaction to the announcement has been mixed. Some believe the government wants to make a gesture of goodwill in its dialogue with the Catholic Church on land issues, while others think the move reflects the government’s desire to secure the benefits tourists and visitors would bring to the area. Many are skeptical, referring to past government promises that were not fulfilled.
On February 1, Hanoi Catholics agreed to stop protesting at the grounds of the former papal nunciature when the Vietnamese government promised to return the property. At present, no progress on that promise has been made. Some Catholic activists in Hanoi, viewing the promise as hollow, have called for protests to resume.
Dedication to Our Lady of La Vang dates back to the 261 years of anti-Catholic persecution in the country, which lasted between 1625 and 1886. The persecutions created about 130,000 victims. Persecution of the Church was at its worst under the rule of Minh Mang, called the “Nero of Indochina,” who reigned from 1820 to 1840.
Many Catholics took refuge in the forest of La Vang, and reported that the Virgin Mary appeared to them to comfort, heal and protect them.
The Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1961 designated the church of La Vang as the National Sacred Marian Center. The following year, Pope John XXIII elevated the church to the rank of Minor Basilica. In 1988, Pope John Paul II publicly recognized the importance of Our Lady of La Vang, expressing his desire to rebuild the La Vang Basilica to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first apparition.