On Sunday, February 20, 2022, representatives of the Vietnamese government interrupted, the mass being celebrated by Msgr. Joseph Vu Van Thien, Archbishop of Hanoi, in the parish of Vu Ban, in the province of Hoa Binh. On a two-day pastoral visit, the Archbishop was traveling to remote parishes in Vietnam's mountainous northwest province.
At the time of communion, two Vietnamese officials went to the altar, and taking the microphone from the lectern, ordered the archbishop to stop the ceremony and for everyone to disperse. “Otherwise, we will report and take appropriate action,” they threatened, reports the Catholic agency Uca News.
The priests and parishioners present protected the archbishop and asked the officials to leave the church. After which, the Mass resumed, in front of the amazed and shaken faithful. One of the two government officials was the head of the Communist Party of the town of Vu Ban. The reason for this intervention has not been clearly established.
However, the Catholic Church in Hanoi sent a letter to the civil authorities of the provincial government to ask the People's Committee of Hoa Binh Province to respect the religious freedom and pastoral activities of Catholic faithful in the province.
Forwarded to Fides the Vatican Missionary Agency, the letter is signed by Fr. Alphonso Pham Hung, Pastoral Director of the Archdiocese of Hanoi: “This is a disrespectful act, an abuse of power that seriously violates the right to religious freedom, the right to religious practice of bishops, priests, and laity, and which denigrates the holy rite of the Eucharist, which is the most sacred and important liturgy for the Catholic faith.”
“This gesture is unacceptable in a country where the rule of law prevails; it has sparked outrage and pain from those who were assisting at the Mass as well as anyone who saw the images on the web and on social media.”
The note from the Church of Hanoi has been distributed to all the faithful of the archdiocese. Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien asked the faithful to pray “that the problems of the practice of our faith in the province of Hoa Binh will soon be resolved.”
Hoa Binh is a mountainous province in northwestern Vietnam, covering an area of 4,595.2 km2 with a total population of 854,000 people from six ethnic groups: Muong, Kinh (Viet), Thai, Dao, Tay, and Hmong .
According to 2019 statistics, the province has about 21,000 Catholics, partly in the territory of the Hung Hoa Diocese and partly in that of the Archdiocese of Hanoi. Among the 11 parishes belonging to the Archdiocese of Hanoi, that of Vu Ban, 120 km from Hanoi, consists of 450 faithful served by Fr. François-Xavier Tran Van Lien, appointed in December 2020.
A recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom states that Vietnam remains a “country of particular concern” when it comes to religious freedom, because while it allows its citizens to freely practice their religion, “government persecution remains a harsh reality in the face of unregistered religious groups.”
In addition, authorities continue to subject believers and religious freedom advocates to long prison terms.
And in fact, the Vietnamese government is undoubtedly one of the harshest towards the Catholic religion, refusing – with very few exceptions – to return the ecclesiastical property seized during the Communist takeover, and regularly interfering in the life of the Church. It is surpassed in this area only by China, North Korea, and perhaps Cuba.