A member of his order says authorities may want to influence upcoming church leadership elections.
RFA | 2022.10.24
Father Truong Hoang Vu, a Catholic priest assisting disabled veterans who fought for the South during the Vietnam War, has been temporarily banned from leaving the country, he said Monday, ahead of church leadership elections.
Vu, a member of the Can Gio Redemptorists Church under the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, told RFA’s Vietnamese service that he was stopped by security at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport prior to boarding an 8:45 a.m. flight to Manila, where he had planned to change planes and proceed on to the United States.
“I was temporarily banned from leaving the country while on a business trip to the U.S.,” he said in an interview by phone. Authorities told him “the ban was for social order and safety reasons.”
He was instructed to contact the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department with any inquiries about his exit suspension, but said he had no plans to do so as “it will just be a waste of time.”
Vu runs a program at the church named "Paying Tribute to Disabled Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam," referring to the short-lived country formed in the wake of the 1954 division of Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh City – formerly known as Saigon – as its capital. It was reunified after North Vietnamese troops seized control of Saigon in April 1975, at the end of the war.
Vietnam’s government provides no social benefits to the disabled veterans of the Republic of Vietnam, who are estimated to number around 20,000 individuals, according to Vietnamese state media. Unable to work, many are forced to earn a living by selling lottery tickets or begging.
The program Vu oversees was created to provide material assistance to the veterans on holidays, as well as occasional checkups from volunteer doctors, nurses, and social workers. Its funding comes from both inside and outside Vietnam.
Vu hopes to provide New Year’s gifts to more than 6,000 disabled veterans of the former republic between December 2022 and March 2023, and said he was traveling to the United States to seek funding for the campaign.
Influencing Redemptorist elections
While the government has shown little interest in supporting the veterans of its former enemy, Father Le Ngoc Thanh of the Long Xuyen Redemptorist Church suggested that Vu’s exit suspension could be related to this week’s election of the Provincial Conference of the Redemptorists.
“The key thing is that [authorities] want to influence the Redemptorists’ 2022 annual meeting,” which starts on Tuesday, he said. “This meeting will elect the new Conference of the Redemptorists in Vietnam for the term beginning in 2023.”
Thanh said that by blocking Vu’s travel, authorities were sending a message to the conference’s delegates that they should select a moderate leader who will be more receptive to efforts by the government to exert control over the Redemptorist order.
He said officials had recently contacted several delegates with messages of support for the existing Redemptorist leadership and calling for the selection of similar candidates in the coming term.
Vu is one of six priests banned from leaving Vietnam over the past few years. Others include Fathers Le Xuan Loc and Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong from the Ky Dong Redemptorist Church, Father Dinh Huu Thoai from the Ba Ria Vung Tau Diocese, Father Le Ngoc Than from the Long Xuyen Redemptorists Church, and Father Pham Trung Thanh – the former Provincial Superior in Vietnam.
All were suspended from traveling abroad for “national security” or “social order and safety reasons.”
Father Thanh told RFA that Ho Chi Minh City police seized his passport in 2015 and have yet to return it to him.
Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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