Hundreds of Catholics held prayer vigils in the Vietnamese capital over the weekend as part of a continuing effort to recover confiscated church lands, Agence France Presse reports.
After Saturday and Sunday Masses clergy and laity lit candles, placed flowers, and sang at the iron fence surrounding land once possessed by the Holy See’s delegate to Hanoi before his expulsion in the late 1950s.
"It's the land and the property of the church. We have the certificate of ownership of the property since 1933," one priest from the Hanoi archdiocese, told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
The 2.7-acre lot and the large French-colonial villa it holds have been put to other uses by the Vietnamese government. The building has been used as a discotheque, while its garden has been turned into a parking lot.
Undercover police took video and photographs of the protesters, the priest said. "Some Catholic followers were questioned by security officials, and some say they were pressured not to attend the prayers."
Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s second-largest Catholic community, with some six million adherents among a population of 84 million.
The officially communist government continues to control religious activity and forbids Catholics from studying to become diplomats or police officers. The Church remains barred from operating its own newspapers, schools, and hospitals.
Conditions for Vietnamese Catholics are reportedly improving. Christian festivals such as Christmas are increasingly popular even among non-Christians.
In a December meeting with Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pledged to consider the property disputes.