Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh (right) and villagers pray at a lay leader’s house, where removed chapel items are now housed
Government authorities from a district in the Central Highlands last week compelled ethnic villagers to remove Catholic pictures and items from their chapel and replaced them with images of Ho Chi Minh last weekend. “After local Catholics finished prayers in the chapel on Sunday morning, local government authorities came and asked them to remove a cross and a Marian picture from the chapel,” a Church source said. The source added that authorities from Kon Thuc hamlet, led by two security officials from Mang Yang district in Gia Lai province, threatened that if villagers did not remove the items from the chapel, their lay leader “would be put in prison.” Villagers had to carry the cross, Marian picture, altar and tabernacle to the lay leader’s house, the source said. Authorities then put two pictures of Ho Chi Minh in the places where the cross and Marian picture were. On the following day, authorities dismantled the bell of the chapel after local Catholics refused to do it. The bell was also taken to the lay leader’s house. A lay leader said authorities told parishioners that the building was to be used “for village activities, not for worship.” Local Catholics said the building, sponsored by a France-based charity organization, was built in 1999 for villagers, most of them ethnic Bahnar Catholics, to worship and hold their common activities. Since 2007, priests from other places started to pay weekly visits and provide pastoral services for villagers at the building that has been used only for worship. The chapel is based in Dak Pnan village, whose members are lepers. On August 13, Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh of Kon Tum visited local villagers and encouraged them to live out their faith bravely and work for the common good. The prelate has not yet made any response to recent events.