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Over the last few years both the United States and the Holy See have acknowledged some improvements in the situation concerning religious freedom in the country. The government has sanctioned the construction of churches and the training of priests and religious and has permitted the expansion of religious charitable activities. In December 2009 Vietnamese President Nguyên Minh Triêt met Benedict XVI, the first visit of its kind by the head of a communist country. 345 Vietnam and the Holy See subsequently agreed to a Vatican appointment of a non-resident representative as a first step toward the establishment of full diplomatic relations.
However, there continue to be serious concerns about human rights and religious freedom. While the US State Department removed Vietnam from its list of “countries of particular concern” over religious freedom in November 2006, there were calls to return it to the list in 2010. An emergency session of Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (which promotes Human Rights in the US House of Representatives) highlighted incidents such as the disruption of a Catholic funeral in Con Dau by riot police in May 2010 and called on the US administration to formally recognise Vietnam’s human rights abuses.
Incidents of persecution against Christians have continued. Some Christian groups reported government harassment and excessive use of force. A number of churches claimed government forces had either sanctioned or actually taken part in violence against them. Some Protestant groups reported undue delays in obtaining government registration, while others reported being verbally abused. After five years, the government had still to approve a translation of the Bible into an important local language. A particular problem has been the requisitioning of land, but reports suggested this had more to do with rising land prices than anti-Christian sentiment.
The case of Tam Toa Church, in Vinh diocese, south of the capital, Hanoi, illustrates many of the problems. During the Vietnam War, the historic church was bombed by US planes, leaving only the façade and the tower standing. Parishioners were too poor to rebuild the structure, but continued to hold religious services there. In 1996, the People’s Committee of Quang Binh Province confiscated the property to turn it into “memorial site”. In July 2009, rumours began circulating that it was due for demolition so a tourist resort could be built. During a protest against the plans, plainclothes police and party activists attacked Catholic worshippers, beating men, women and children. Seven Catholics were arrested. Two priests, Fathers Paul Nguyen Dinh Phu and Peter Nguyen The Binh, ended up in Dong Hoi Hospital, the first with broken ribs and head wounds, the second in a coma. General Hoang Cong Tu, from the Public Security Ministry, denied that any violence had been used against the priests. The diocese responded by posting online pictures showing the priests and the wounds. General Tu announced that the seven Catholics accused of “disorderly conduct” would be put on trial. A few weeks later bulldozers demolished what was left of the church, leaving only the tower standing.
Despite all these difficulties, reports have shown the Catholic Church to be growing quickly. In Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) 2,000 young people were baptised at the Easter vigil in 2009. Seminarians have grown in number by up to 50 percent and now total nearly 1,500. Reports suggest Protestantism is also growing rapidly in the country, although Protestants outside of the state-sanctioned Evangelical Church of Vietnam frequently experience difficulties, particularly small independent house churches. However, both the Baptist and Mennonite communities were granted state recognition in 2007. Reports state that the Baptists have attracted more than 18,400 members since they were established in the country in 1989.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) supports several projects in Vietnam. You can support these projects by donating via their national offices.
Below you can find one or more finished projects ACN supported in the past.
Vinh Phuoc lies in the south of Vietnam, in the region of the Mekong Delta. Here too is a contemplative convent, which currently has 18 young novices still undergoing their formation. The first Catholics to settle in the region of Vinh Phuoc came here towards the end of the 17th century after fleeing persecution in the central and northern regions of the country. Read more >>
Sister Rosalie belongs to a local congregation. She works in a clinic, which welcomes many poor and needy patients who do not have the financial means to pay for standard medical treatment. There are some 225. Read more >>
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