A group of religious sisters who responded to an invitation to meet with the local Vietnamese government last month were very surprised and dismayed when the so-called meeting became a press conference announcing that the government would seize their monastery to convert it into a public square.
At the start of December, the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres received a letter from the People's Committee of Vinh Long inviting them to a meeting to discuss the requisition of their home.
“For a long time, they had never seen such a polite letter from the local government,” Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA. “However, on arriving to the meeting on Dec. 12, they soon found out they were in fact the victims of a cheap trick played by the government officials.”
According to Fr. An Dang, the sisters entered the meeting with goodwill, trusting their government would do the right thing.
“What happened during that meeting was enough to change drastically their view of the government's credibility,” he said.
The nuns’ provincial superior Sister Huynh Thi Bich Ngoc said in a letter to various state agencies that the congregation had been invited “to exchange and discuss.”
However, “there was neither exchange nor discussion at the meeting.” “Mr. Nguyen Van Dau, Head of the People's Committee simply announced the decision to turn our monastery into a public square.”
The provincial superior reported that prominent media organizations and personnel were present at the meeting, including the editor in chief of Vinh Long Newsmagazine and representatives of the radio and television stations of the province.
J.B. An Dang told CNA that although all the sisters at the meeting stood up and strongly protested the property seizure, state media reported that the sisters were happy with the decision and cited their presence at the meeting as strong evidence of their contentment.
Bishop Thomas Nguyen Van Tan of the Diocese of Vinh Long wrote a letter to the government concerning the action, saying:
“I have been living in Vinh Long since Sept 1, 1953. At that time, next to the old Cathedral there was a school, a convent and a chapel belonging to the sisters of St. Paul Congregation. Now all of it has been reduced to a vacated piece of land.
“I ask the government to reconsider the decision to demolish the convent and the chapel in order to build a public square on the property where the convent used to be. Let it be proven to all that this government is protective of all religions.
“I am in total unity with the view of Congregation of St. Paul.”
In a December 18 letter to the priests, religious, and lay people of Vinh Long diocese, the bishop said the action was “so embittering” for the sisters, himself, and all Catholics.
“How we can help not become bitter when running an orphanage is distorted into ‘training a generation of unfortunate youth to be an anti-revolution force to oppose the liberation of the country’? How can we help not feeling pain at seeing the sisters being kicked out of their monastery empty-handed after 31 years of serving the poor and the unfortunate?” he said, according to VietCatholic News.“How sad to see the ruin of the monastery which our brothers and sisters had contributed countless efforts to build for more than a century. And how sorrowful to see a place for worshipping God, for praying to Him, for spiritual training, and for providing charity services being converted into a place for entertaining.”