.- Vietnamese Catholics have continued their prayer vigil in front of the former Vatican embassy in the face of government orders to cease their demonstrations petitioning to have the property returned to the Church, VietCatholic News reports.
Hundreds of Catholics continue to go to the site to pray, chant, and sing, some staying overnight to protect their cross and statues. A physical altercation between demonstrators and police on Friday has heightened tensions in the dispute.
Ngo Thi Thanh Hang, a deputy chairwoman of the People's Committee in Hanoi, accused Catholics of attacking security personnel, disturbing public order, erecting a cross illegally in the garden of the site, and spreading distortions about the government on the internet. Charging sit-in demonstrators of occupying state-owned buildings, she threatened extreme action unless they dispersed by 5 pm Sunday.
She also ordered the Archbishop of Hanoi’s office to remove the cross and all statues of the Virgin Mary from the site, demanding the archbishop “submit a report” to her before 6 pm Sunday.
Ms. Ngo recently accused the archbishop of "using freedom of religion to provoke protests against the government,” damaging relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.
State-controlled media have echoed Ms. Ngo, accusing Hanoi Catholics of attacking security personnel and calling for government action against the demonstrators.
Father Joseph Nguyen, who was at the vigil on Friday, called the accusations “a shameless distortion,” according to VietCatholic News. He said that during the demonstration a Hmong woman had climbed over a gate to place flowers on a statue of the Virgin Mary inside the building.
Discovered by security personnel, the woman was chased around the garden of the building. “Disregarding the woman's explanations for her venturing into the building, the guards kicked and slapped her severely. In the witness of more than 2,000 Catholics, a security commander even loudly ordered his subordinates to beat to death the woman,” Father Nguyen said.
Father Nguyen said that lawyer Lê Quoc Quan intervened, telling the security officials that their acts were unlawful and that they should stop beating the woman. “However, they turned to attack him and dragged him to an office where he was beaten cruelly," the priest said.
"Seeing all this brutality, in order to rescue Mr. Quan and the woman, the protesters had no other choice than breaking through the gate to confront the security officers," Father Nguyen continued. He said government authorities’ accusation that the Catholics had attacked first was “a blatant lie.”
Father Nguyen was also dismissive of Deputy Chairwoman Ngo’s orders that the archbishop write a report for her. “It’s completely ridiculous,” said the priest, “Is she a pope on demanding the archbishop to make a report to her?”
The Catholic community, Father Nguyen said, would be united in praying that God may bless, strengthen, and guide them in their “fight for justice” in the face of the government ultimatum.