Authorities in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City have listed a more than hundred-year-old Catholic convent and church as a "heritage site," raising the concerns of parishioners who fear they will now not be allowed to build on the land, sources say.
The listing of the Thu Thiem Convent and Church will also block building on the land by developers, who had earlier eyed the site as a location for commercial use in an ambitious project since shelved by city authorities following protests by parishioners and social activists.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Thursday, Sister Maria Nguyen Thi Hau said that Thu Thiem, located in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, is one of five places designated at the end of 2019 as city-level heritage sites.
And though Article 2 of Decision 5386 ordering the designation bans “construction or exploitation of a protected heritage site,” she said, the new restriction has also caused concern to members of the local Catholic community, as any new use of the land must now be approved by the party chairman of Ho Chi Minh City.
Also speaking to RFA, Sister Agatha Tran Thi Sanh said that Thu Thiem parishioners must be allowed to raise new buildings on the site, “because heritage sites must be redecorated to attract tourists and other people.”
“This is the right thing to do, and the local government must allow us to do it,” she said.
Local parishioner Cao Thang Ca added that although Thu Thiem may now be protected from commercial use, the city’s new designation of the site carries many risks. “It is as if you own a house, but it is managed by someone else,” he said.
Authorities had selected the Thu Thiem area of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, in 2014 as the site of a “new urban area” with zones created for commercial, residential, administrative, entertainment, and educational purposes.
Strong protests stopped government plans in May 2018 to move the Thu Thiem Convent and Church from its land, however.
Authorities in Vietnam have long repressed the Catholic Church in the one-party communist state and subjected it to forced evictions, land grabs, and attacks on priests and their followers, sources say.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.