Son La, Where Celebrating Christmas is Forbidden
A small city south of Hanoi, in Vietnam’s northern highlands, did not celebrate Christmas this year. Authorities in the community banned all religious events on the claim that “there are no religious followers” in Son La, even though the town is known to have at least three thousand Catholic believers.
12/29/08 Vietnam (AsiaNews) This year it was again impossible to celebrate Christmas Mass. A curfew was even imposed on Christmas night to prevent Catholics from meeting in private homes.
The situation has been ongoing since 2004 when Mgr Anthony Vu Huy Chuong, bishop of Hung Hoa diocese, petitioned local authorities for the right to celebrate Mass twice a year, at Easter and Christmas.
The then chairman of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, Nguyen The Thao, rejected the request arguing that “since there are no religious followers in Son La, there is no need for [religious] services.”
No only was Thao’s statement a violation of religious freedom in Vietnam and an attempt to hinder the Church’s missionary efforts, but it was also a brazen lie since the town is home to at least 3,000 Catholics from 40 different ethnic groups. The Church in fact has records of at least 700 Catholic families as far back as 1985.
In the absence of official recognition the faithful do meet for prayer meetings in underground locations, like the basements (pictured) of private homes or in stores, spreading the information by word of mouth to avoid retaliations.
Priests involved in local pastoral work are not treated any better. They put their own safety and dignity at risk and are subject to harassment by the authorities.
Many locals remember in fact what happened last year to Fr Joseph Nguyen Trung Thoai when he tried to celebrate Mass. When the police found out they took him into custody and tried their best to discourage the faithful from celebrating the birth of Jesus in any formal or meaningful way.
Although Father Joseph was in prison, he was not forgotten. In fact his parishioners did not abandon him, standing in front of the detention centre where he was being held they demanded his release. Although Christmas celebrations were wrecked, the Christmas spirit was alive and well among believers, experiencing together Jesus’ love.