Vietnamese police attack Catholic parishioners in effort to destroy cemetery crucifix

A Vietnamese woman who was beaten by Hanoi police on Wednesday morning.
Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan 7, 2010 / 02:09 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Hanoi has condemned an early Wednesday morning attack on Catholics by city police involved in the destruction of a crucifix in a parish cemetery. Pictures of the bloody clash show several people injured. The archdiocese reported that police attacked Dong Chiem parish at a time when both its pastor and assistant pastor were at the annual retreat at the archbishop’s office, J.B. An Dang tells CNA.

An estimated 500 heavily armed police officers and a large number of trained dogs were deployed to the area to protect an army engineering unit. The unit was tasked with destroying a large crucifix erected on a boulder inside the parish cemetery.

The incident began at 3 a.m. Wednesday, when an army engineering team used an explosive to destroy the crucifix.

“On hearing explosions, parishioners rushed to the site to protect their crucifix but they were stopped by police who tried to drive them back,” said Fr. Joseph Nguyen Van Huu, pastor of Dong Chiem parish.

He reported that at least two parishioners were wounded and taken away. J.B. An Dang says the exact number of the injured has not been reported.

Parishioners said they were kneeling in prayer and asking police officers to stop the crucifix’s destruction when they were hit with tear gas canisters at close range. Some were beaten with batons.

Photos of the clash obtained by CNA show several injured and visibly bloodied Catholics. One woman was beaten “brutally.”

Asked by CNA what prompted the attack, J.B. An Dang explained that a policy requires all religious symbols to be inside a religious premise.

“They use the policy to persecute Catholics,” he charged.

A similar attack took place in Bau Sen parish in the Diocese of Vinh early in the morning on Nov. 5, 2009. The parish’s pastor was kidnapped by a group of local police while traveling to the annual retreat at the bishop’s office. During his detention, the statue of the Virgin Mary in his parish’s cemetery was removed.

Provincial authorities spent $68,000 for the demolition work, which J.B. An Dang describes as a “considerable amount of money” for a poor province.