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  • Vietnam Local Church Wants Archbishop Understood Correctly In Land Dispute
    BANGKOK (UCAN) -- Priests in Ha Noi have asked state-run media to stop spreading false information against their leader and Catholics in general.

    Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi and his priests met Ha Noi city authorities on the morning of Sept. 20. Two state-run television channels later quoted Archbishop Kiet as having said at the meeting: "We have traveled to many foreign countries. We feel ashamed of our Vietnamese passports."

    In those reports, local authorities accused the archbishop of not taking pride in the nation and wondered whether Catholics could trust him. They also accused the Church leader of making illegitimate requests for the return of Church properties.

    The meeting came one day after government authorities on Sept. 19 suddenly began building a flower garden on the grounds of the former apostolic nunciature and began to repair the building for use as a library.

    Hundreds of local policemen, mobile units and plainclothes security officials have erected iron barriers blocking off the former nunciature. Some security officials also stand guard along the street, while others patrol the area with guard dogs.

    Workers have been working all day and night at the site, and local media reported the project would be finished this week.

    In a letter dated Sept. 21 to Vietnam Television, Ha Noi-based Radio and Television, and city officials, Father Anthony Pham Van Dung, on behalf of local priests, said the two channels had broadcast "untrue reports" on Archbishop Kiet's statement at the meeting. Local newspapers also quoted from the television reports.

    Archbishop Kiet's statement "was truncated and separated from its context by you so as to.. . slander the archbishop and comment about him in an offensive way," Father Dung noted.

    The Vietnamese Catholic bishops' website posted the full text of Archbishop Kiet's statement. In it the remarks cited in the news reports read: "We travel to many foreign countries. We feel ashamed of our Vietnamese passports, which are always scrutinized by others. We are very sad. We wish our country would become a power... . Japanese go everywhere and no one examines their passports [in this way]. We also wish our country would develop.. . so that we can be respected by others in places we visit."

    Father Dung said Archbishop Kiet's statement shows he wants to have dialogue, to build national solidarity and develop the country to become as strong as other countries. Statements from Archbishop Kiet and priests at the meeting were documented on audio and video by authorities as well as Church representatives, he added.

    Father Dung said local priests suggested local media officials should apologize in writing to Archbishop Kiet and the Catholic community, and retract their false reports. Local priests also asked local media to stop publishing wrong and distorted information about the archbishop, as "you have done so far" in the nunciature dispute.

    Archbishop Kiet told government authorities at the meeting that they have not presented the local Church with any legal papers saying they confiscated the nunciature or that they gave it over to a government body.

    The Church leader said his archdiocese petitioned the government 15 times and the Vietnamese bishops also sent many petitions to authorities for the building's return. "Our aspirations have never been fulfilled," he noted.

    Archbishop Kiet insisted the local Church does not cause the government trouble but "raises the voice of justice."

    The Church has not asked for the return of 95 facilities confiscated in the past by local governments that are now used for the people's benefit as schools or hospitals. The Church only asks for the return of facilities used for business purposes, he explained.

    Archbishop Kiet noted the former nunciature had been used as a discotheque and business place, with signs at one time that a shopping center might be opened there. Earlier this year, thousands of local Catholics occupied the premises but left it after the government promised to return it to the local Church.

    "We eagerly want to develop national unity," the prelate stated.

    Admitting that the government has created better conditions for the local Church in recent years, the archbishop observed this "remains an asking-granting mechanism."

    Rather, he said, "religion is a right people enjoy" and the government has the responsibility to create conditions for this. "Religious freedom is a right, not an asking-granting thing," he stated.

    Bishops and priests from Bac Ninh, Ban Me Thuot, Hai Phong, Hung Hoa, Lang Son, Thai Binh, Thanh Hoa and Vinh dioceses have sent letters of solidarity to Archbishop Kiet. Thousands of Catholics from many parishes in Ha Noi archdiocese gathered and prayed peacefully outside the former nunciature on Sept. 21.

    Posted on 27 Sep 2008

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