By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
HANOI (Worthy News) - Devoted Christians in northwestern Vietnam faced a challenging Easter after government officials raided a Catholic Church service in the region.
Worshippers at the largest Catholic church in rural district Vu Ban “were shocked” when two government officials rushed into the sanctuary on February 20, Christians recalled.
The officials, some wearing helmets, were seen interrupting the Sunday Mass celebrated by Joseph Vu Van Thien, the archbishop of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital.
Backed by plainclothes security officers, officials shouted before taking the microphone, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
They were heard demanding that “everyone disperse immediately” or "appropriate measures" be taken.
As congregants continued to sing hymns, some priests and lay leaders prevented the intruders from reaching the altar and nearing the archbishop, footage showed. After several minutes, the church leaders could get the officials to leave the service, Christians said.
It wasn’t immediately clear why authorities intervened, but Christians expressing their faith openly have complained about government persecution in the Communist-run Asian nation.
One of the officials in the recent incident was also identified by Christian witnesses as the head of the local branch of the Communist Party. "It was rather unpleasant and worrying to see the liturgy interrupted by the presence of several state officials," added the Archdiocese of Hanoi in a statement.
Vietnam has been designated a "country of particular concern" by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Government persecution is prevalent, and Christians face pressure or violence for their faith, especially in remote areas of central and northern Vietnam, activists say.
Christians are also harassed in the workplace and may face discrimination for their faith, according to advocacy group Open Doors. Additionally, Christian children “are ostracized at school and may be pressured to reject their faith,” Open Doors added.
Communist authorities view Christianity as a threat to their ideology and power base in Vietnam, where cultural Buddhism also plays a major in society, according to a Worthy News assessment.
Christians urged prayers that Vietnam’s authorities “respect religious freedom” of all and that those responsible for raiding a church “realize the need to place their faith in God.” Despite reported hardships, at least seven percent of Vietnam’s roughly 104 million people identify as Christians, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).