Vigil Prayers at Hamilton, Canada, for Catholics of Thai Ha Parish
Dear Fathers, honoured elders and my brothers and sisters. We are gathered here today to pray for and to show our compassion and solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Vietnam and India. I am glad that so many of us are here this evening to bear witness and offer support to the Catholic Church in Vietnam and India.
I would like to thank the Development and Peace group of Canadian Martyrs parish for their support.
We Canadians are privileged to be able to express ourselves and choose our own way of worship without fear of reprisal. Imagine living in a country where the place in which you worship can be torn from the ground and you would be helpless, unable to protect it. Imagine living in a country where you could not appeal to the government because it is the government itself that has taken away your rights. Imagine living in a country where the police, those called to protect the citizens of the country, will use violence to silence you, demolish your sacred place of worship, look you in the eye and call it justice.
On the 19th of September 2008, this is what happened in Thai Ha, one of the Catholic parishes in Vietnam. Documents of questionable origin appeared in the hands of government officials proclaiming the right of the government to confiscate, seize and consequently demolish Church property. Imagine if that sort of thing were to happen here. What would we do? We would gather as a community and let our voices be heard! This is injustice and we will not stand for it! That is exactly what our brothers and sisters in Vietnam did and what kind of response did they beget? Violence and intolerance. Even the media, hearing about this outrageous breech in conduct were beaten and forcefully denied any right to document the events taking place.
But in spite of the efforts to conceal these acts of brutality, we have heard and we stand here today in opposition of the events that have occurred in Hanoi. This is what we know:
The church has long been property of archdiocese in Hanoi. The government unjustly seized it, with the intention of turning it over to private buyers for their own profit. Vandals were hired to deface the altar in an effort to discourage members of the community from attending. Bulldozers were brought in to destroy Church property. The people who stood against them were beaten and imprisoned. 5000 people stayed to pray and protest in non-violence. By September 24 they drove everyone out. Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet tried to reason with them but could not deter them from their path.
The Archbishop, normally soft spoken could not be silenced. He stood against them using prayer and courage as his main tools. The government responded by enlisting thugs to come and disrupt the gatherings by shouting obscenities, spitting on the parishioners and using large speakers to drown them out. The archbishop was called a traitor and his words were twisted by the government to discredit him. Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet has a history of love and compassion for his people. He is noted for his efforts in relieving flood victims in Vietnam. He went to the remote areas of Vietnam where these floods had occurred to personally offer the victimized families comfort. And the government brand him "traitor”. To this day, agents watch archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet day in and day out, keeping him from disturbing their twisted "peace”.
This issue has become about more than one place in Vietnam. It has become more significant than any one Church anywhere in the world. This has become an issue of social injustice and an affront to the rights and liberties of people everywhere. The persecution of the church. It sounds like an old ancient concept from the dark ages. But it is not a thing of the past. As we have heard during today’s assembly, injustice and persecution are both alive in the world around us. We hear about it every day in the news, on the TV and in the paper. But it never hurts as much as when it affects our homes and our heritage. Today we look at where we are and what we have achieved here. We are free to live and worship without fear that our liberties will be taken away.
So what now can we do for our brothers and sisters, our community and our Church back home? Among other things we pray. We pray that we will find the courage to help change the circumstances that afflict our brothers and sisters back home. We bear witness and we remember. When I was younger, I asked my teacher "Why doesn’t God just make things better?”. She told me a story that I will always remember. She told me a story of a girl who wondered the same. She asked, "Lord, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? You said you loved us and so why do you not take away all the injustice and heartache in the world? Why don’t you do anything?” The Lord looked at her and He replied, "My child, of course I have done something. I made you.”
We are called to act. Whether we choose to write to our local MP, donate to charity or perform a small act of kindness to another or go ourselves and make a difference, the power is in us to act. Whatever small service we can perform in the name of justice contributes to the greater whole. This evening we stand together and pray for justice. Tomorrow we must act. Challenge yourself. "What have I done to bring some measure of justice into the world?” Please, do not go home and forget about those in the world who do have not their measure of justice. I offer no promises save one. I promise you, that if you do nothing, nothing will ever change. The persecution of the church will continue unchecked and the daily injustices will continue to erode the hopes of those who need it most. Be the change you want to see in the world.
My brothers and sisters, honoured elders, and dear fathers, I thank you for this opportunity and for your time.