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 CNS Story:

VIETNAM-NUNCIATURE Sep-19-2008 (390 words) xxxi

Vietnamese government starts building on former nunciature grounds

By Catholic News Service

HANOI, Vietnam (CNS) -- Government authorities have started a construction project for a park and library at the former apostolic nunciature, a building Catholics have been trying to get returned.

Local church sources told the Asian church news agency UCA News that beginning early the morning of Sept. 19 hundreds of local police, mobile units and plainclothes security officials erected iron barriers blocking off the street from the former nunciature. Security officials also stood guard along the street.

Signboards saying "Construction site, taking photos banned" were put up near the barriers, the sources said. Two trucks and a crane were taken into the compound, they said, and workers toppled the iron fence in front of the building in the morning and moved some furniture out of it.

State-run media reported that district government authorities announced their construction plan at the nunciature Sept. 18, saying they would develop a flower garden on the 1,370-square-yard compound. The nunciature building will be repaired and renovated for use as a library, the report said.

Authorities confiscated the building in 1959, after which the Vatican's delegate to Vietnam shifted to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, in what was then South Vietnam. The post of apostolic delegate to Vietnam has been vacant since 1975, the year communists reunified Vietnam.

According to the sources, the sudden government move at the nunciature caught local church officials by surprise, and they wrote the president, premier and Hanoi city authorities to protest the project.

Church officials rang bells at nearby St. Joseph Cathedral and other churches in the capital. Hundreds of seminarians, nuns, priests and lay Catholics gathered nearby at the gate of the Hanoi archbishop's house to protest the construction by singing hymns and reciting the rosary, the sources said.

In his petition to government leaders, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi asked the government to stop damaging the nunciature site, which he said should be returned to the local church for religious use.

Last year, Archbishop Kiet petitioned the government to return the nunciature, which had housed a restaurant and gym club, to the church. Thousands of Catholics occupied the compound early this year but left after the government promised to return the property after the Feb. 7-9 Tet festival for the Vietnamese lunar new year.

END


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