Local authorities in Saigon have summoned a Redemptorist provincial superior after repeated raids on a monastery church.
The preparation for Christmas at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Saigon has been repeatedly interrupted by raids by local officials who have been insisting that the Redemptorists who are in charge of the church must remove from their bulletin boards what the authorities had described as "anti-regime" articles, and stop delivering homilies calling for justice.
On December 8, local officials abruptly raided the church-- the second largest in Saigon-- interrupting scheduled liturgical celebrations. The next day, government officials backed by security police in plain clothes raided the church again, taking photos and filming activities with video cameras, Father Joseph Dinh Huu Thoai, chief of the secretariat of the local Redemptorist province, reported in a letter circulated among all the Redemptorists in Vietnam.
Father Joseph Dinh lamented that the harassment did not stop there; on next day, officials summoned Father Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, the provincial superior, to attend "working sessions" at a local government office. At the meeting, representatives of state administration for religious affairs and local officials took turns criticizing Redemptorists for allegedly "preaching anti-government sentiment, instigators of disorder, inciting riots, falsely accusing the government, disrespecting the nation, breaking and ridiculing the law, and instigating others to violate it."
A the same "working session" the provincial was told that he would be held personally liable for homilies by other Redemptorist priests, and for articles posted on church bulletin boards regarding clashes between the government and Catholics demanding return of confiscated parish properties. From the government's point of view, they are "non-religious issues" that priests are not allowed to mention. Any violation of the government rules, the provincial was warned, could result in charges of conducting anti-government activities.
Father Vincent Pham rejected the accusations against the Vietnamese Redemptories, and said that the members of his community were working for the welfare of the people and in service to the Gospel. In response, Nguyen Thi Le, who chairs the district "People's Committee," said that there would be more raids on the Redemptorist church in coming days.
The Redemptorist province in Vietnam is the largest religious community in Asia. Over the past twenty years, the province has grown in size from 179 professed members in 1983 to 278 today, including 168 priests who live in about 20 houses scattered throughout the country. There are also 222 postulants.