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Vietnamese Priests Protest Construction on Church Land

Hanoi priests hold a meeting with local government officials at the headquarters of the People’s Committee of Hoan Kiem district on Dec. 3. They are angry that a state school is being built on church-owned land. (Photo courtesy of Truyen Thong Thai Ha)

Priests from Hanoi Archdiocese have stepped up their protest against construction of a state-run school on church property in Vietnam’s capital.

On Dec. 3, 17 priests including Father Alfonse Pham Hung, head of the archdiocese’s office, and Father Bruno Pham Ba Que, head of Caritas in the archdiocese, visited the headquarters of the People’s Committee of Hoan Kiem district.

Church sources said the priests wanted to discuss issues relating to the district’s construction of Trang An Elementary School on church-owned land opposite the main gate of the Archbishop’s House.

Father Hung said local Catholics are concerned that the archdiocese’s school buildings were demolished and a new school has been under construction.

The priest said the district had ignored an urgent petition against the project submitted by Cardinal Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi last month. Cardinal Nhon asked authorities to stop the construction on 6,737 square meters of land that was confiscated by the government in the early 1970s.

Sources quoted Father Hung as saying that the priests demanded the local government deal with the cardinal’s petition and immediately stop construction.

Father Joseph Do Van Tuyen said government authorities must answer civilians’ complaints within 10 days by law but district officials sent church officials details of administrative procedure instead of dealing with the petition. He accused them of “ducking their duties.”

He said government agencies transferred the church petition to one another and likened the situation to “a thief trying his own crime.”

Father Que said: “The archdiocese does not want the situation to grow increasingly tense but the government must respect the church.”

He warned that the local church will file petitions to Hanoi’s city government if district officials do not deal with its petition.

Father Paul Nguyen Trung Thien, pastor of Ham Long parish, suggested the district government arrange a meeting with the archdiocese before Dec. 18, the day when Hanoi Archbishop-elect Joseph Nguyen Van Thien is installed at St. Joseph›s Cathedral.

Church officials in Vietnam have been involved in many disputes over land grabs by the state.