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Vietnam officials storm Mass in ‘illegal chapel’

Communist authorities in Central Highlands take away copy of the Missal tell priest to report for investigation
Officials tell Father Francis Xavier Le Tien to stop celebrating Mass at a house in Kon Tum province on March 22

Officials tell Father Francis Xavier Le Tien to stop celebrating Mass at a house in Kon Tum province on March 22. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: March 27, 2023 05:20 AM GMT
Updated: March 28, 2023 07:32 AM GMT

Government officials in Vietnam's Central Highlands have sparked outrage by storming and breaking up a Mass because worshipers held the service in an ‘illegal chapel’.

Father Francis Xavier Le Tien, pastor of Dak Giac Parish in Kontum Diocese, was celebrating Mass on March 22 in a house attended by Catholics in Dak Nong commune in Kon Tum province in the Central Highlands, bordering Laos and Cambodia, when he was told to end the service.

“It is shameful the way the authorities blatantly disrupted the sanctity of Mass,” Father Thaddeus Vo Xuan Son, head of Kontum Diocese’s Communication Committee, said on March 25. 

They offended Catholics around the globe, he observed.

"We must have a responsibility to protect the sanctity of the Mass. No one has the right to offend God," The 45 -year-old pastor of Vo Lam parish said.

Son, who visited the local Catholics and Tien, who serves as head of Dak Mot deanery, after the incident praised the priest for avoiding unnecessary tension between the communist authorities and local people.

A video clip that went viral after the incident showed up to 10 officials insisting Tien end the service while some of them took videos and photos of him and the participants. They were seen shouting angrily.

A man who identified himself as a vice-chairman of the People’s Committee was seen asking Tien, “What are you doing here? Where are you from?”

He told the priest to present himself at the People’s Committee headquarters in Ngoc Hoi district for an investigation.

Tien, who has been providing pastoral care to local people for years, and a few faithful pleaded with the officials to let them complete the Mass. But they refused, saying that the house was not a place of worship.

They turned off the lights and a female official took away a copy of the Missal from the altar.

A senior diocesen priest said local authorities in Ngoc Hoi and Dak To districts are not forthcoming in issuing permits for religious activities.

When prayers are held, the authorities accuse the faithful “of gathering for prayers without permits," he said.

Dak To district authorities are infamous for restricting religious activities and dismantled 20 “illegal chapels” in 2015. 

After the incident, Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh of Kontum said “local Catholics have no choice but to erect chapels underground" as permits are difficult to come by.

In December last year, the US State Department put Vietnam, ruled by the Communist Party, along with Algeria, the Central African Republic, and Comoros in the group of countries on its Special Watch List under the Religious Freedom Act for engaging in or tolerating  severe violations of religious freedom. 

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