Hanoi (AsiaNews) – All that remains of the historic church of Tam Toa (pictured), built at the end of 1800 and hit by American bombing in 1968, has become grounds for confrontation between Catholics and the government. Yesterday, police charged and beat hundreds of Catholics from the Diocese of Vinh (334 km south of Hanoi), who had erected a cross and an altar on the grounds of the church.
"The Police - tells father Thanh Hong, pastor of the parish - launched tear gas bombs on people, before kicking and beating them with sticks and stun guns. Many priests and faithful were injured”. "Some – he adds - were forced to lie on the ground, where they were again beaten by groups of young thugs hired by the police. Dozens more were loaded onto police vans and we still do not know where they have been brought”.
For Catholics in Vietnam the Church of Tam Toa has a special value of its own. Evidence of the church stretches back to 1631 and in the seventeenth century it was the largest in the region, then known as Sao Bun, with 1,200 faithful. The current building, built in Portuguese style, with a typical large bell tower, was opened in 1887 and was considered one of the most beautiful churches in the country. During the war it was hit by American bombing, but the facade and the bell tower are still standing. Once the bombings were over, the parishioners were so impoverished that they could not restore their church. However, religious ceremonies were regularly held on its land. Until 1996, when the People's Committee of Quang Binh province confiscated it, ruling that it would become “a memorial site” and that it was to be “preserved and protected for future generations, in memory of the war crimes of the Americans ".
The Archdiocese of Hue protested against the decision, but in vain. In May 2006 the parish was transferred to the diocese of Vinh, where Bishop Paul Maria Cao Dinh Thuyen, repeatedly asked in vain the restitution of the church. On 2 February this year, despite the threats of the authorities, the bishop and 14 priests went to Tam Toa and celebrated Mass there, attended by thousands of Catholics. Tensions were rekindled when rumours surfaced of a project that aims to transform the church into a tourist resort. Tam Toa today is "the parish" for a thousand faithful, many of whom desire to breathe new life into it for their spiritual needs and to involve more people in religious activities.