HA NOI (UCAN) -- The cardinal-archbishop of Saigon has asked local Catholics to pray that northern parishioners, Redemptorists and government officials will be able to resolve a land dispute through dialogue.
Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man reiterated fraternal communion with Thai Ha parish in Dong Da district, Ha Noi, in a letter to all priests, Religious and Catholics in his archdiocese.
"We sincerely ask God and Our Lady of Perpetual Help to offer peace and strength to parishioners, Redemptorists and related parties so they can dialogue frankly to resolve the land dispute in the light of truth, justice and charity," he wrote.
The Sept. 1 letter, which has been posted on church bulletin boards, will be read out during Masses in his archdiocese this weekend. Saigon City lies 1,710 kilometers south of Ha Noi.
Cardinal Man, 74, says the Church wants to resolve all social issues through dialogue among involved parties with respect for truth, justice and charity. Truth reflects reality correctly, justice reflects morality and common good, and charity involves loving and serving people, he explains.
The Church leader reveals that many Catholics in the archdiocese told him local media reported the controversy partially, not in a balanced way. Such communication aims to serve the interests of individuals and factions, but not the common good or the country's sustainable development, he notes.
In the letter, he points out that according to Redemptorist provincial superior Father Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, local Redemptorists and the parish have legal papers proving ownership of the controversial plot of land in hand. And no paper exists showing the local Church offered, presented or changed the ownership of the land to any other organizations or legal entities, he adds.
Father Thanh has said local Redemptorists and the parish are determined to seek justice from the government and get back their property in accordance with the country's constitution and international laws the government is committed to respect, the cardinal continues.
The Church leader complains that many items in the latest amendment of the country's land laws are illogical. Government authorities in many places only act on their superiors' orders, do not dialogue with people and do not properly examine land disputes that have gone on for a long time, he adds.
Cardinal Man also warns in his letter that acting just on orders and using power or violence will not resolve problems and only create much injustice and unrest in society.
The archbishop's letter is a reaction to recent incidents surrounding the disputed plot of land.
Last year, a state-run company began building houses for sale on the 14,000-square-meter plot, adjacent to the parish church, but local Catholics protested and forced the work to stop. The company and two other companies use the plot.
Wary that construction might resume, parishioners have gathered to pray outside the controversial plot since Jan. 6. Shifts of young and elderly Catholics stay all day and night in two tents erected outside the site's barbed-wire fence, on which they hang statues of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, crosses and flowers. After daily Mass in the nearby church, they also conduct prayer sessions outside the fence.
Plainclothes police officers have been on duty at the place and follow local Catholics' activities. State-run media have reported on the standoff, accusing the Catholics of violating laws, intending to damage public property and creating public disorder.
On Aug. 31, following evening Mass at the parish church, 2,000 Catholics gathered at the site to pray in front of the Marian statues and crosses. Thirty people, including some children and women, apparently were overcome by tear gas and were carried to the nearby monastery for medical attention.
People then asked policemen, including plainclothes officers who had been hiding in the dark, to file a report on the incident. Only one policeman confirmed that he sprayed tear gas, but he refused to sign any record or statement, sources said.
Earlier in August, hundreds of Catholics from Thai Ha parish occupied the controversial plot of land next to the parish church on Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary. They placed crosses and Marian statues. According to local Church sources, district police accused local Catholics of having intended to damage public property and creating public disorder, and arrested four Catholics on Aug. 28.
In Saigon that day, about 3,000 Catholics attended a special evening Mass Father Thanh led with 75 local Redemptorist and Dominican priests concelebrating. Members of 22 Redemptorist communities throughout the country joined the Mass at Redemptorist-run Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.