The Catholics of the Archdiocese of Hanoi, northern Vietnam, have shown their surprise and deep rejection of the interruption of a mass by a group of government officials in a church in Vu Ban , in the province of Hoa Binh . The celebration was presided over by Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien , Archbishop of Hanoi . As reported by Agenzia Fides, the incident took place on Sunday, February 20, in one of the largest parishes in the area, which accommodates more than a hundred people.

Some Vietnamese officials wearing helmets, for unknown reasons, interrupted the Mass. “It was quite unpleasant and worrying to see the liturgy interrupted by the presence of various state officials ,” says a statement from the Archdiocese of Hanoi, referring to the outrage expressed by the local community. These officials were plainclothes security agents led by the head of the local branch of the Communist Party, according to the sources. They made their way to the altar, ordering the archbishop in an altered voice to immediately stop the liturgy and disperse the assembly.

Bishop Vu Van Thien was celebrating the Eucharist on the seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time with other diocesan priests on the occasion of the Archdiocesan Mission Day . Concelebrants and parishioners went to great lengths to protect the archbishop and asked officials to leave the church, allowing the liturgy to end. After the unfortunate incident, the holy Mass resumed although the assembly was shocked.

Both Catholics in Hanoi and believers of other religions in Vietnam have condemned the blatant violation of human rights and religious freedom. “For the first time, I see local government officials approach the altar and interrupt the mass without waiting for it to end, as they used to do in the past , and for the first time we see them violently address the priests, disrespecting the ministers. This is a brutal and illegal action. It is flagrant blasphemy and sacrilege ”, said Father Peter Nguyen Van Khai, a Redemptorist religious from Vietnam.

Christians in Vietnam are about 10% of the population, about 9 million people, according to the ACN Religious Freedom in the World Report . Vietnam remains a “country of particular concern” in terms of religious freedom, as it allows its citizens to practice their religion freely, but “government persecution remains a harsh reality against independent and unregistered religious groups,” as noted by the study recently published by the International Commission for Religious Freedom of the United States government (USCIRF, for its acronym in English). In addition, the authorities continue to subject believers and defenders of religious freedom to long prison sentences.