1. The Church in Vietnam has been blessed with 118 martyrs who were canonized and perhaps there were a larger number of those who gave their lives to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. As a researcher on Church history, can you give us a preliminary sketch on religious intolerance of the secular authorities under the imperial dynasties of Vietnam in the past?

Since 1615, when the Jesuit missionaries came to Quang Nam, to 1886, when the Van Than persecution came to an end, more than one hundred thousands of Catholics died for their faith in Vietnam, of which 117 were canonized, and one was beatified. The communist regime in Vietnam often equates Catholicism with colonization process in Vietnam, suggesting that the said persecutions had been justified for political causes. In reality, it was a whole new ball game. Christians from that time weren't convicted for participating in the subversion of the government, but for refusing to give up their faith in Jesus Christ, and actively proclaiming and spreading this belief. The royal authorities as well as Confucian scholars back then- due to their lack of knowledge, being too conservative, too greedy, and partial to Confucianism...issued royal ordinances to prohibit Christian faith. Our followers or preachers were to be segregated, arrested, imprisoned or killed, their properties and worshiping places destroyed. Most devastating and deadly were persecutions during the reigns of emperors Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, and of Van Than movement during XIX century.

2. Moving on to the communist era, the situation seems to get worse. What are the most typical characteristics, father? Especially the events at the Hanoi Nunciature and Thai Ha parish that you had witnessed. Please give the readers and audiences more of your insight of those special events?

Yes, during the Vietnamese communist ruling era, the situation indeed got worse. Because communism is materialistic and atheistic, it also advocates for revolutionary violence. In the eye of the communist regime, religions by nature are antagonistic to them. In their view, in order to build up socialism, one must eradicate religions first. If eradication is not feasible, they isolate, overpower, divide, alienate, and degenerate all religions. In order to accomplish this goal, they set up branches of religious police and religious affairs committee in their government machinery. They exclusively manipulated the training, education system and communication apparatus to distort and attack religions. When or if necessary, they would mobilize the political system, including many different political, social, and "religious" organizations to blockade, isolate, attack and eradicate religions. Religious persecutions therefore still occur nowadays -regardless how audaciously or sophisticatedly, more frequently and even more brutal than in the feudal era. Victims of their persecutions are not just Catholic Church but all others such as Buddhism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Protestant Church, Cao Dai... Never before religions in Vietnam all had to face such tribulation as they do now under communism. Thai Ha parish along with the Redemptorists of Vietnam are typical cases. In these two places decades ago, several clergymen had been expelled, imprisoned and eventually died in the labour camps of the current communist regime. In 2008 Hanoi government attempted to divide among themselves a lot of ground belonging to the Archdiocese of Hanoi, where Hanoi nunciature previously stood; and another lot belonging to Thai Ha parish, where a church has long been planned to be erected. They produced false evidence to back their claim that the priests in charge had "handed over" (the land) to the government. Hanoi Bishopric and Hanoi Redemptorists in response presented specific evidences, citing provisions of Vietnam law to protect their assets. Despite the laws they wrote themselves, Vietnam authorities had illegally seized these two lots of land by force. The priests, the religious and lay faithful gathered at these two areas to pray for protection of justice and truth. The authorities sent units of military, police, civil defence, professionally trained dogs and socio-political organizations to suppress parishioners and arrested nearly 100 people, 8 of those were detained at length and later tried in court. More notably, to justify these robberies, the state media, public schools, political organizations, under the command of the government had waged a "war" against the Catholics by spreading propaganda, false accusations, distortions, labelling, and threatening the clergy and the faithful in many places using despicable, dirty tricks people in civilized societies cannot even imagine.

3. Father you have witnessed the traumas happened to the Church in Vietnam, especially in North Vietnam from 1954 to 1975 and from 1975 until now, could you tell the readers/audiences some specifics as to how the Reverend Vinh and his priests, other laity leaders were arrested, and the restriction of religions?

I had seen firsthand many Catholic neighbourhoods, many churches being wiped out or looted, appropriated. I had also seen many different forms of religious persecution, sometimes sophisticated, other times audacious. I had seen many priests, religious and followers harassed, arrested, arrest, controlled, and imprisoned. My father, a church volunteer was harassed and threatened frequently. My god father Anthony Vinh had been imprisoned for his active participation in parish activities. My spiritual advisor, Father Joseph Vu Quang Dien from my home village Phuc Nhac village was also harassed, threatened, and eventually imprisoned for many years, only to be released in 1988. In our Thai Ha Monastery, two Canadian priests were expelled, father Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich was arrested for six months and later subjected to being terrorized and murder attempts. Brothers Marcel Van and Clement Dat were arrested and eventually died in communist prison. Many Christians and priests from Thai Ha, me included have been threatened and prevented from living our faith. I had to study privately and became ordained secretly so as of now the Vietnamese government has not recognized my priesthood.

You have mentioned father Vinh, the pastor from Hanoi. When I arrived in Thai Ha for my study in 1987 he had already been arrested and later died at the "Heaven Gate" camp. I learned about him through recollection of father Vu Ngoc Bich, of Bishop Le Dac Trong, of Mr Kieu Duy Vinh, and of a number of his fellow prisoners and of elder parishioners who have been living in Hanoi. He was ill-treated up to the point of his death at Heaven Gate -dubbed the communist regime's hell on earth- only because he dared to prevent the communist tyrannical gross intervention in the Catholic Church's internal business. He was regarded by many in the North as martyr of modern times, and an unyielding attitude against religious persecution by the communist regime. How many bishops, priests, religious and laity who had paid the price with their own lives for practicing their faith as father Vinh did? I say a lot. No one could provide an accurate statistics. But from my home parish Tam Chau where I lived during my childhood to the parishes in different dioceses in the North where I came to serve, all share the same fate of having faithfuls imprisoned or killed for their faith. I once went to Cao Mai of Thai Binh, local people told me how their churches set on fire by the Communists and hundreds of parishioners were massacred. Some survivors showed me the scars from old cuts on their bodies. Fact is, a few years ago, as a new church being built people discovered the remains of their fellow parishioners killed and hastily buried next to the church. (Hence comes the Catholic phrase "Cao Mai painfully grieving, Phu Ninh actively squirming"). These people were typical victims of the communist regime and, according to what was shared by Mr Kieu Duy Vinh, a former political prisoner who met us Catholics in Hanoi; those who lost their lives in the communist prisons were saints.

Vietnam communists today continue to persecute religions in various forms and levels depending on area where Christians are living. Christians who live in remote areas where population of religion followers are a minority are being persecuted more severely. I was able to catch a glimpse of genocide and segregation from stories told by Catholic villagers. In 2005, I went to a Hmong village in Song Ma county of Son La, and learned that local people have become religious since the early 80s of the last century. Sadly, the old men who brought faith home were all arrested by government on the grounds of "drug trafficking" then were beaten to death despite receiving a sentence of just a few years. In that village l also met women who cried and told me they were forced to go to the hospital to let hospital staffs "pulled out baby from my stomach." As a result of this inhumane practice, in that village there are only a few men aged around 30, the oldest was 35 and the next age group are their children. There are females who cannot get married since males in their age group were all killed when they were foetus by the same method. By 2010 I learned a number of villages in Moc Chau County were segregated and isolated just because they are Catholics.

4. In some countries, especially in Asia, a special situation has been observed where religious intolerance can come from other religion, civil organizations or mass movements. Van Than movement and the Communist party of Vietnam were examples. Not to look back at the past but to the future of missionary in Vietnam, what do you say the Church in Vietnam could do to improve this situation?

Religious intolerance is common phenomenon observed throughout history. It comes from other religions or political and cultural organizations, from civil mass movements or the government... Not only in Asia, there have been religious intolerance in all countries, in every continent, every era under different forms. In Vietnam, Catholic congregations were attacked by fanatics. They can be atheists, or belonging to other religions, even in the name of Catholics. These are people who are organized and instigated by communist propaganda, acting against Catholics. Lay groups who call themselves "Catholic patriots" or "civil self-acting" groups had attacked the Thai Ha parish or Bat Nha (Prajna) Buddhist monastery are typical cases at present time in Vietnam. Experience had taught me well that there is no such thing as religious tolerance under communist regime. Therefore, in order to improve the situation, members of the Church should actively demonstrate their just cause to all people and other religious organizations present in Vietnam. Next is to conduct constructive inter-religious dialogues in different forms, to form association with different religions for the purpose of advocating for democracy and religious freedom in Vietnam, to work alongside with other religions in serving the poor. It is also necessary to reach out to and enlighten the good people who are being used as puppets to oppose Catholicism blindly, help them see the true face of evil, ugly, ignoble regime as well as its inhumanity. Above all, along with individuals, organizations and other religions in Viet Nam, the Church also needs to actively fight under certain forms which deem appropriate to help erase the dictatorial regime and build a democratic one. Only then religious intolerance can be excluded.

5. According to the Yearbook of the Catholic Church, the population growth of the Catholic Church in recent years fell below the growth in national population. What do you the main causes are, father?

The rate of population growth within the Church in Vietnam in recent years has been consistently below the population growth rate of Vietnam. That is true. Catholic population more than half a century ago has accounted for 10% of Vietnam's population. Today, it only made up just a little above 7%. Logically speaking, if not including catechumens, if the number of Catholic population increased naturally by mean of reproduction, then percentage of Catholics should be higher than ever before, since while non-Catholics are embracing contraception and birth control along with limited number of birth, Catholics, on the other hand seldom practice contraception and, should have more births. However, actual rate of Catholics are decreasing compared to more than half a century ago. The main cause of this decline is due to the fierce and comprehensive suppression of the communist regime. The acts of creating more difficulties for Catholics, of discrimination against Catholics, of carrying out distorted propaganda against Catholicism, of preventing religious practices of the faithful... all have contributed to the increased number of those who left the Church. I've seen many people received the Catholic faith, but meanwhile I've found a larger number of those who left Catholicism to seek a more favourable life in the communist regime. I do not know any dynasty in the history of Vietnam where Catholic persecutions are more thorough and comprehensive than in the Communist era.

6. In communist countries, the authorities usually form organizations within the Church to control and manipulate. The Catholic Patriotic Association in China is a typical case. What is your take on Committee for Solidarity of Catholics?

This committee in the North is called "Liaison Committee of Patriotic Catholics". After 1975 it was renamed Committee for Solidarity of Patriotic Catholics. Finally, in the mid-1990s, the word "patriotic" was removed from the title therefore it had been dubbed "no longer patriotic" committee. This is an institution wearing a Catholic hat but being born by the Communist Party in order to manipulate and undermine the Catholic Church, striving to build a state- owned church, independent from the Vatican, much like the Chinese style state- owned church.

Since its induction in the North until 1990's, this committee had little voice and influence, because right from its emerging, the bishops in the North had demonstrated a plain and simple yet determined and definitive attitude: excommunicate any priests, religious and lay people who would participate in the Committee, excommunicate parishioners who attended mass celebrated by the priests involved in the Committee, so Liaison Committee of Patriotic Catholics became boycotted, isolated and finally disabled. In Archdiocese of Hanoi, except a few state controlled priests, for decades no other priest or religious had joined this committee. However, in the South, after 1975, Committee for Solidarity of Catholics has been widely expanded in many local areas where the Committee's headquarter located and "patriotic" priests pioneered in sabotaging the Church is Saigon. In 1994 or 1995, regarding the Committee for Solidarity of Catholics, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples sent Bishop Nguyen Minh Nhat, then President of The Vietnamese Bishop Conference asking him to handle the issue of priests participating in Committee for Solidarity of Catholics. For unknown reasons, many priests kept joining the Committee. In recent years among the "leaders" of this Committee some had died, other lost his position as pastor, some retired or became withdrawn in the age of information technology explosion and online criticism. Needless to say, the Committee's activities have been less clamorous than previous years. Generally speaking, on the national level, Committee for Solidarity of Catholics though yet to achieve it original goal, it has nevertheless created harmful and long lasting effect to the Church, especially at locations where the Committee is thriving.

7. Father you're now in Rome, capital of the Church, and you have also been giving speeches in many places around the world, what is your take on the level understanding of the Catholic world in general on the current situation of the Church in Vietnam, realistically? How does it look to you, the realistic situation of the Church in Vietnam under this regime?

The current situation of the Church in Vietnam is not understood thoroughly and comprehensively. Even (Vietnamese) Catholics do not really understand the real status of their (local) Church let alone the Catholic world in general. In fact the awareness of many local and foreign people stops at the magnificent churches, at the crowded religious festivities, at the statistics on increased number of religious and priests, without seeing the missionary dynamic of the Church is on the decline, and the Church is still in state of unequal competition for a chance to teach religious faith under a regime filled with religious freedom violations, which still considering Catholicism is the enemy and waging war on the Catholics, sometimes subtly, other times publicly. Overall, Catholic Church in Vietnam is still being persecuted and yet to enjoy freedom of religion. The government is still blatantly interfering with the processes of the Church's training, ordaining, appointing, and transferring her priests and bishops. The Catholics are not allowed to teach outside their church. The government doesn't grant the Church the kind of freedom and equality as local or foreign organizations and individuals in Vietnam. Specifically, Church is not to open schools, hospitals, charities, to do business, not even to open bank accounts, operate a radio or television station, publish any newspaper or own publishing company, rent TV or radio program for the purpose of broadcasting religious programs. The seal or signatures belonging to any religious organization or agency are not to be recognized by the political or civic organizations. Non Catholics are not at liberty to be converted to Catholicism. Catholics are not eligible to become government officials, to join government administrative or managerial apparatus, to enrol into any police, national defence, security, fire fighting/prevention or cadre training academies. Organizations, facilities that belong to Church and followers are frequently subjected to be discriminated against at school or at work. The government even utilizes education and media systems to distort and defame Catholics

8. What do you think the Vietnamese Catholics can do to increase the amount of information about the Church in Vietnam for the world to know?

We need to educate people to raise their awareness on communicative means and techniques. Vietnam's communist government often makes false accusations, distorts labels, harasses, represses, robs, and refuses to take responsibility, portraying victims as criminals. Therefore in our home parish Thai Ha we determine to turn each parishioner into a citizen educator. Thus we have enough evidence to testify to the truth and justice and the intrigue of having the fire out of the hands of the communists. However, know and speak the truth in Vietnam was dangerous. Just have faith and love and justice loving the new misery we have the courage to speak up.

9. The diplomatic talks between the Holy See and the government of Vietnam have been dragging on for many rounds. Do you see any hope coming from these talks?

These talks did not bring us the desired result. The Vatican and Vietnam government have been talking since 1990. As far as diplomatic relation goes, after 23 years of diplomatic talks, the two sides have yet to normalize (their relation). Perhaps never in its history the Vatican had held such long talks. This situation will probably last since Vietnam may not dare to bypass China in its (process of establishing) relations with the Vatican. Furthermore Vietnam Communist regime is very arrogant, yet self- conscious and known to carry out petty, pragmatic, short-sighted, lacking vision attempts. They do not seem wanting to normalize diplomatic relations with the Vatican because they think it can be profitable to them.

On the issue of religious freedom, the Vatican so far has achieved only modest results, agreements on single, non-decisive issues and certainly not on basic terms of religious freedom. At the same time, fundamentally and collectively speaking, there is still no freedom on religion in Vietnam, the Church in Vietnam and its followers are still being prejudiced against, even suppressed.

What Vietnam government agreed to satisfy at Vatican's requests through diplomatic talks are the same ones other religions in Vietnam also achieved through negotiations. What Vietnam government doesn't respond at Vatican's request are also the ones other religions did not get as a response.

Vietnam has about 92 million people, Catholics only made up 7% of the population, so I do not believe the diplomatic delegation of the Vatican can bring religious freedom to Catholics in Vietnam, because this issue would relate to all religions in Vietnam. Living under this communist regime we have learned one thing that our freedom would never be respected if we do not put up a mighty fight for it. Of course, it has to be achieved by peaceful means. Only the naive would believe that for a regime which bears hatred for religions, a stubborn regime, as unscrupulous and brutal as the Vietnamese communist regime, only a diplomatic major organ just as the Vatican is enough to resolve all issues related to religious freedom without a fight by the Catholic communities and by believers of all religions. Vatican diplomatic talks with Vietnam government are necessary, but the solidarity among all individuals, organizations, and religions in a common front should be the deciding factor which truly brings religious freedom to Vietnam. Since the Vietnamese communist regime trusts and applies the principle of actual fighting while negotiating, and in reality the front decides the result of negotiation and not the other way around.

Reality is, from the end of 2006, when the US removed Vietnam out of the list of the CPC, especially at the beginning of 2007, after Vietnamese communist leaders' meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Vietnam authorities had suppressed the all religions in general and the (Vietnamese) faithful in particular even more blatantly than previous years.

Since 1988, I have never seen the Vietnamese government persecuted the faithful more savagely and blatantly than they did in the past 6 years

10. Position of the Holy See in diplomatic talks with all countries is not to ask for any privilege for the Catholics but it only hopes Catholics would be treated as equally as all other citizens. Therefore, when the land and properties dispute of the Church at the Hanoi Nunciature or at Thai Ha, many people said that the Church should not ask for any specific property to be returned to it, but it should fight against the unjust policies which has led to such acquisition. As someone who directly involved in the activity which was to reclaim Church's land and properties illegally seized, what would you think about this viewpoint?

Regarding the first issue, I think it is true that Catholics have never been treated equally as with other citizens, because they are discriminated against in many different areas, typically in business or in education. They are regarded as second or third -class citizens.

However, even when Catholics being treated as equally as other citizens, the truth is CURRENTLY, human rights for all, Catholics included, is not guaranteed. Therefore, all talks must reach a goal which aims to bring respect to the dignity and fundamental rights of all citizens and not to stop at the first level which is intended to give all Catholics equal rights that other citizens are enjoying

Regarding the second issue, from which a question being raised "when the church's land and properties dispute was taking place at the Hanoi Nunciature or at Thai Ha parish, many had argued that the Church shouldn't ask for any specific pieces of property back for herself" First of all, we can see that the very word "Church" is quite ambiguous. Who is "the Church" they are mentioning here? A general legal entity under the name "The Catholic Church in Vietnam"? Or the "Vietnamese Catholic Bishop Conference”? If so, one cannot say "The Church should not ask for any specific piece of property back", since these legal entities do not own any land or property. In reality all religious land or buildings are owned, managed and utilized by a Bishopric, a Religious Order, or a parish. In the case of Thai Ha, the ownership belongs to the Redemptorist monastery. The Hanoi Nunciature belongs to the Archdiocese of Hanoi. In both cases, for as long as the Redemptorist Order and Archdiocese of Hanoi existing, neither the subject "The Church" nor "Vietnamese Catholic Bishop Conference" have the legal status to decide on whether (the land or property) should or shouldn't be returned, but (the subject) can negotiate or ask the government to present applicable laws to ensure fairness to all citizens and organizations including the Catholic Church in Vietnam and this action would neither supersede nor exclude the efforts to defend justice, to reclaim land and properties by the Redemptorist and the Hanoi Archbishopric.

Next, we see throughout Vietnam nowadays the government using the excuses of planning projects to justify robbing land from individuals and groups, including religious land. This process is not done in accordance with the current laws of the State of Vietnam. Knowing Vietnamese (land) laws are inadequate, even unjust, but Thai Ha parish and the Archdiocese of Hanoi still rely on these laws to protect their rights at the least. During the "dialogues" with the government, we cited the provisions of the relevant laws and true and correct evidences to protect our rights. Hanoi government on the contrary had neither been able to refute those evidences of what was, nor could they produce true and correct evidence and the law necessary reason to justify their appropriation of our land. So in the dark of night they used violence to seize lands of the Archdiocese of Hanoi and of the Redemptorists. They were in contempt of the laws they set out themselves.

Vietnam government does not respect the existing laws which are composed of unjust policies that are more favourable to them, yet they chose to disregard those, then who dream of them making new laws? Suppose there are land laws that are suitable, which ensure fairness to all, would Vietnam government, with violence capability in hand, show any respect for those laws? It would be illusion to believe that the government of Vietnam made fair rules and would conduct themselves accordingly with those. In the name of this illusion to deny the rights to protect properties of specific Church organizations such as in (Hanoi) Nunciature or in Thai Ha case it would be considered an act of aiding and abetting to the tyranny to bring more robberies. In fact, the protection of legal properties of individuals and organizations in or outside the Church, along with the struggle of the Church as well as of all other individuals and groups against unjust policies are two facets of the same issue, with both reciprocating each other for the same purpose of protecting justice for all individuals and groups. Whoever thinks giving up one of these two things and justice still can be guaranteed would be naive, who does not understand the tendency to rob of the communist regime AND WILL NEVER ACHIEVE THE GOAL OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND BEYOND THAT, THE GOAL OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY FOR VIETNAM.