Over 100 policemen and security officials attacked Catholics from a parish in central Vietnam as they were erecting a temporary structure for worship.
In a message posted on Vinh diocese's website, diocesan secretary Father Antoine Pham Dinh Phung said that "more than 20 local Catholics were hit severely, pushed into military vehicles and detained" in the incident.
Photo from Vinh diocese’s website showing police
The priest said that on July 20 morning, 150 Catholics from Tam Toa parish were setting up a temporary worship structure in their church compound when they were prevented from doing so by the officials.
He urged "all local Catholics to pray for Tam Toa parishioners," especially those who have been hurt and detained in the incident.
Father Pierre Le Thanh Hong, who provides pastoral activities to the parish, said many people resisted and were hit.
He said the officials pulled down a wooden cross and even attacked women who tried to prevent them from carrying it away. They also carried away iron sheets and other building materials as well as two generators, he added.
Father Hong, who is pastor of Sen Bang parish, said many Catholics' cameras were also confiscated.
The parish is in Dong Hoi city, capital of Quang Binh province.
According to local Church records, Tam Toa church was damaged during the Vietnam War (1959-1975). Only its bell tower and walls are presently standing.
Local Catholics have been attending Mass held in the open in the church compound or at their homes since the end of the war. The parish also has not had any resident priest from 1964 to 2006, until Father Hong was assigned to serve the area, which now has about 1,000 parishioners.
In 1997, the government declared the place a historical site without the approval of the local Church. Declaring a place a historical site implies that it is public property. The church was damaged by American bombing in 1968.
However, parishioners insist that the property belongs to the Church.
Father Hong said that he has also sent a report on the incident to Bishop Paul Marie Cao Dinh Thuyen of Vinh, 82, who has been abroad since June 19.
In a July 21 letter to the People's Committee of Quang Binh province, Father Phung said the local Church strongly opposes and condemns the violent police action, the arrests and confiscation of Church belongings. He also urged the provincial authorities to immediately release those detained, saying the injured people have to be given medical care.
He also asked for Church belongings to be returned.
"If our requirements are not fulfilled, the provincial government has to be held completely accountable to the law," he stated.
Redemptorist Father Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, provincial superior of the Redemptorists, also sent a message to diocesan officials and Catholics. He asked local authorities to provide a list of the injured and ensure they receive medical care.
Father Thanh said Redemptorist-run parishes will hold gatherings and pray for the injured and detained.
Photo from Vinh diocese’s website showing
Vicar General Father Francis Xavier Vo Thanh Tam has asked Catholics in the diocese to express their solidarity with Tam Toa parishioners by praying for the injured and supporting them materially and spiritually.
On July 21, 50 Catholics from Hanoi visited the scene of the incident.
Earlier reports on the diocesan website said that Bishop Thuyen has had discussions with provincial authorities regarding Church property. However the details of the discussions are not known.
Father Hong said he and local Catholics wanted to erect the temporary structure for their urgent religious needs. They also plan to build a new church on the foundations of the old one.
This was the first time such a structure had been built in the Church compound.
In January, Bishop Thuyen decided to establish one parish and re-establish five sub parishes whose buildings were in ruins.and here as well.