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After 80 years under French domination, 20 years of civil war, 15 years of xenophobic isolation and entanglement in the Soviet economic web and ten years as a lost Marxist nation adrift in a world that has turned its back on communism, Vieät Nam has reached a crucial crossroads. Will it become another Thailand or a gradually evolving China, or will it regress like Cambodia or Laos? Of the five countries divided by the Second War World and the Cold War – the others are the two Germanies, the two Koreas, the two Yemens, and China/Taiwan - Vieät Nam was the first to be reunified. Its political achievements are notable. Economically and democratically however, it is at the same level as Cuba and North Korea. A land of paradox For tactical reasons, the Vietnamese authorities are desperately trying to maintain equal relations between China and the United States. Inside the country, they live with thousands of contradictions. They say they are the legal representatives of the Vietnamese working class but live in constant fear of a popular uprising. In 1975, the country was reunified during what is known as the forced "northernization" of South Vieät Nam. A Western-style democracy movement born in the South is threatening to engulf the North, a phenomenon known as "southernization". The greatest paradox is this: to shore up the crumbling government, Vieät Nam’s leaders are renovating the economy with the help of both Karl Marx and Adam Smith, and calling this hotchpotch "free economy under socialist guidance". Inside the Politburo, two sides vie for control, the conservatives and the reformists. The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) only has 2.5 million registered members, but it has 80 million Vietnamese under its control. The Party, the Government and the National Assembly are manipulated by the same puppeteers. In 1997, the 19 members of the Politburo decided on a compromise, the troika of Phan Vaên Khaûi, the reformist prime minister from the South, Leâ Khaõ Phieâu, secretary general of the party and an Army man from Central Vieät Nam, and Traàn Ñöùc Löông, head of state and a moderate northerner. According to rumors, Phieâu who currently has the upper hand, is plotting to get the 9th Plenum of the VCP at its next session in March 2001 to make him head of state while also retaining his current leadership of the Party. In case of a disagreement, important decisions require a unanimous vote from the Politburo. Often, this is enough to paralyze the whole government – for instance, during the trade agreement negotiations with the United States. Since the 8th Plenum five years ago, the administration has been functioning in slow motion, or sometimes not at all, because of disagreements within the Politburo. Renovation is thus a necessity. But how? Through revolution or evolution? Many analysts predict that the old men of Hanoi will make way, sooner or later, to a new generation, a trend precipitated by economic globalization and the new information technology. Although it is true that the "senior generation" – the French speaking men who contributed to national reunification – will soon exit the stage, the next generation, the 40, 50, 60 year olds, have started replacing them and are in no hurry to give up their powers and privileges. This "middle generation" was trained in Moscow and other capitals of the Soviet bloc, and remains devoted to the VCP. The "junior generation" who grew up in a freer environment in the last decade will have to wait its turn. Within this group, the competition among the sons and daughters of PCV loyalists for party privileges will be fierce. The youth are the key to progress According to the communist daily Nhaân Daân, a survey of which issues are of greatest concern to the youth – in higher education or otherwise – was made public by Hanoi in 1993. They listed, in order of priority, the necessity for reforms, economic reorganization, greater overture to the outside world. Patriotism ranks fifth, proving that the party’s old line about patriotism and loyalty to socialism has lost its power, and only 7.6% said they were interested in politics (this may be due to the respondents’ mistrust of the government and its spies). Since 1995, the National Youth League and the Students’ Union have had recruitment problems. The membership of the VCP’s youth wing is declining at an alarming rate, and those who do join do so because they want jobs or privileges, not out of enthusiasm or love for Marxism. The youth turn a deaf ear to the party’s calls for sacrifice for the good of the country. One only has to read the works of Baûo Ninh, Phuøng Quaùn, Buøi Minh Quoác and the interviews given by Döông Thu Höông to see how disillusioned and bitter the young people of Viet Nam have become with their leaders. The Politburo is not indifferent to this attitude and Pham Vaên Ñoàng, Leâ Khaõ Phieâu, Phan Vaên Khaûi and others have spent considerable time denouncing the social ills that plague the country, the harmful influence of capitalism… As in China, and to a greater extent, the generation gap is a real concern. The older people cling to the memory of their heroic struggle for independence under the red banner. They find it hard to adapt to the rapidly changing post-war era. As for the young people, they grew up without hate and resentment, and are more interested in defining who they are than in some vague ideologies. Young and old are not on the same wavelength. In many homes, they clash. Fortunately, family traditions are still strong enough to keep disagreements under control. For all these reasons, the transition is not without problems, both inside Vieät Nam and out. The question is - does the older generation have a torch to pass? What experience and what messages are being inherited? Is the new generation ready? And who is the new generation? What are their links with the mother country? And if there is no torch to pass, what should the new generation do ? So many questions. In any case, we are not recommending that the youth sit passively waiting for this hypothetical torch. The situation in Vieät Nam is too urgent for such inaction. To wait for an allied power to give us the green light is out of question too. The youth of Viet Nam has to get going, it has to be aware of the rightness of its cause, and also of the difficulty of its mission. Its strength will be based on its faith and the openness of its mind. The older generation has the duty to lend its support, give its trust. In other words, "passing the torch" is not crucial, it may or may not happen. The heart of the matter is the will of our young people to commit themselves to the cause. They hold in their hands the key to democratization and to economic rebirth. They include both those who live in the diaspora and those who fight against authoritarianism inside Vieät Nam. A bridge must be built between these two groups who are working towards the same goal – rebuild a free Viet Nam on new foundations. What sets these two groups apart is that they live in different environments, with different opportunities, but they share the same shame, the underdevelopment of the mother country. As for the children of the elite, they are a minority and will be quickly swept aside by the popular uprising. Evolution is the traditional way of change for the Vietnamese. It is characterized by a gradual reform of the structures. A sudden, soviet-style demise of the party in the next decade is improbable, according to many experts, but not impossible - in the rural areas where poverty and corruption are rampant, a new uprising against local people’s committees can happen at any time. The urban areas are attracting more and more peasants in search of work, and are getting more and more congested, with the rate of unemployment steadily rising. Among the young, the ones who are educated and yearning for fundamental changes are getting restless. Religious groups and dissident communists are constantly criticizing those in power. There are countless social ills. The government is powerless to block the information that pours in through the radio and the Internet. The PCV is no longer able to live off its past military victories. Its legitimacy now depends on the effectiveness of its economic policies and whether or not it can generate prosperity for the country. How long can a one-party regime withstand these pressures before giving way to a pluralist democratic system? We don’t know. What is certain is that economic and political change will take time. Hoà Chí Minh and his followers used to say that the people and the party were one. Today, the party is moving away from the people and the people wants nothing to do with the party. Marxist-Leninism is a façade behind which the red mafia is working overtime to preserve its powers and privileges. The people is voiceless. The Cold War ended years ago. Viet Nam is a syndrome of the past, a disinherited nation begging for assistance from a free world. The irony is that its leaders are so afraid of the consequences of "peaceful evolution" and so obsessed with maintaining "stability" that they refuse to adopt the economic and political reforms required before aid is given. Without these reforms, Viet Nam will soon fall far behind the other ASEAN countries slowly emerging from the monetary crisis. The 9th Party Plenum meeting next March will plan the next five to ten years. With Secretary General Leâ Khaõ Phieâu’s assurances that Viet Nam will always remain faithful to socialism and to Hoà, the Vietnamese are not looking forward to anything new any time soon. Vieät Nam is rich in natural and human resources. It can do a lot better than it is now. Unfortunately, prosperity, democracy and pluralism remain wishes for the time being. Communism is the main obstacle to progress. As long as it remains in power, our country will remain an underdeveloped nation. We are walking backwards into the 21st Century.

 

Feedback, Commentaire, ý Kiến Shortly after President Clinton’s visit, Secretary-General Lê Khả Phiêu , warned the National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) against the "machinations of the enemies of the Republic aiming at destroying socialism". The struggle, he said, had become "inexorable and complex". Just before Christmas, Head of State Trần Đức Lương denounced "destructive hostile powers" on the front page of the daily Nhaân Daân and promised that "The Party and the Government will sweep away all maneuvers of peaceful evolution and all foreign-led movements for religious freedom". And in January, speaking to the annual meeting of national security agents, Prime Minister Phan Văn Khải explained that "the adversaries of the regime are using religious and minority groups to stir trouble." It looks like religion will be the nemesis of socialism in Vietnam and Hanoi knows it. And although the Vietnamese Constitution guarantees religious freedom, the regime has declared war on religious groups. "The policy of religious freedom as practiced by the communist government is the noose that strangles our religion," stated Mgr Nguyễn Kim Điền , archbishop of Hue. This statement applies equally to all other religious groups in Viet Nam today. The Churches are fighting back, making new demands, using new methods The religious card had been one of the Communists’ main weapons in bringing down the First and Second Republics of South Vietnam, so it is ironic that they should turn against religious groups after reunification. After the fall of Saigon in April 1975, and for the last twenty five years, these churches, with their followers, clergy and real estate, have been the only organized structures other than the Party. For a quarter of century, the Catholics, Buddhists, Protestants, Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo have endured harsh repression and their methods of resistance have evolved. They have a great psychological asset – the people’s deep alienation from the atheist socialist regime. The Vietnamese are deeply moral and spiritual and religion is a natural part of their being. Tensions between the Party and the churches have been increasing and at the end of 2000, reached boiling point. Religious groups were prevented from coming to the rescue of the victims of flooding in Central Vietnam and the Mekong delta. Protestant montagnards were forcibly moved from their homes and their churches destroyed. Several Buddhist leaders were forbidden to move and preach freely. Hoa Hao pilgrims on their way to their Holy Land, An Giang, to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the death of their leader Huyønh Phuù Soå, murdered on Hồ Chí Minh's orders, were brutally stopped by local security forces. Many were beaten and arrested. Several Hoa Hao threatened hunger strike and self-immolation. In the Cao Đài Mecca of Tây Ninh, the VCP enthroned 1,400 dignitaries of its own choosing, although the Cao Đài rite prescribes the appointment of its high officials by means of the Turning Table. The official Cao Đài Church is replaced by a Leadership Committee picked by the Party. On December 24, Prime Minister Phan Văn Khải signed an executive order to nationalize 50 hectares of land belonging to the Trappist Monastery of Thieân An near Hueá. 13 priests, 75 novices, 23 interns and 30 applicants are thereby evicted. Exactly a month earlier, Father Nguyễn Văn Lý, from Nguyệt Biều, in Thừa Thiên province, who had been imprisoned twice by the Communists, exhorted his 200 parishioners to call for religious freedom and the restoration by local authorities of 1,500 square meters of confiscated parish land. Father Lý beseeched Catholic leaders to stop collaborating with the Communists until real religious freedom is given. "Freedom of belief or Death!" screams a banner draped in front of the church at Nguyệt Biều. This protest campaign is different from previous ones in many ways: this is now a collective struggle, the demands are for property rights and basic freedoms, appeals are made for non-violence and solidarity between all religious groups. For these reasons, it immediately struck a chord and garnered wide support, including outside the country, thanks to the Internet. On December 27, Father Lý, Father Chân Tín, the Venerable Thích Thiện Hạnh, and Lê Quang Liêm, the Hòa Hảo leader, jointly signed a statement demanding freedom of religion and calling for international support. Abroad, a committee is formed by representatives of several religious groups. Vietnamese immigrants in a number of countries show their support by organizing public demonstrations, seminars and prayer vigils. Two of the co-signers, Father Chaân Tín and the Hòa Hảo leader Lê Quang Liêm had co-signed a similar proclamation on September 5 of the previous year, together with the Venerable Thich Quang Độ and the Cao Đài leader Trần Quang Châu. In that proclamation, they asked Hanoi to abolish article 4 of the Constitution (which establishes the dictatorship of the VCP) as well as administrative texts limiting religious freedom. The proclamation of December 2000 denounces the anti-religious policies of the VCP (confiscation of church properties, suppression of cultural activities, detention of church followers, infiltration and sabotage, establishment of state-run entities within church structures, defamation of clergies…). It also demands real freedom of religion and belief, including the freedom to select and appoint religious officials without outside interference; the restoration of nationalized cultural properties; an immediate end to all measures aimed at limiting sacerdotal activities; the release of all religious personnel held without trial; and the respect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 16 December 1966 signed by Hanoi on September 24 1982. This time, the campaign has many resources at its disposal: radio, television, telephone and Internet. The "Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam" (CRFV), the "Committed Vietnamese Youth" network in Australia and the Buddhism and Hoa Hao websites in California are all very active and give daily bulletins about the campaign. Beware new Communist tactics Economic regression, the danger of deviationism within the ranks of the People’s Army, the growing opposition of the churches and the alienation of the young generation from socialism are all insurmountable problems for the VCP. Having failed to nationalize religion and bring about an ideological rebirth, the Party is trying a handful of new tactics. A - In the area of religion Hanoi is encouraging the establishment of several Zen centers in Vietnam and abroad. Zen is an important Buddhist school which originated in China and was introduced to Japan in the 7th Century, and which stresses the teaching of the student by his master over the scriptures. Vietnamese Zen is supposedly apolitical but it is a creature of Communism, and its covert aim is to distract the Vietnamese from their struggle for democracy. While restricting the activities of the traditional churches to the maximum, the government bestows a large number of privileges on the head of the Vietnamese Zen movement. His monumental temples are built everywhere. He can move and teach freely around the country and is allowed to travel abroad to proselytize to the Vietnamese diaspora. He refuses to go wherever the nationalist flag is displayed. In his sermons, he never mentions the lack of basic freedoms in Vietnam. He also never takes part, directly or indirectly, in relief actions for flood victims or in actions for the protection of human rights. The Politburo has found in him and his church the perfect supporters of their underhand policy for national reconciliation. His church is there to counterbalance the influence of the religious groups hostile to the government. Hanoi learned its lesson from China. Following in Beijing’s footsteps, it has outlawed the Falun Gong movement. Falun Gong is a Zen movement created by Li Hongzi in 1992. It was successively called Xulian, Qigong and finally Falun Gong or Falun Dafa. Its stated objective is spiritual and physical improvement through the combined practices of Zen, taichi, Taoist and Buddhist precepts and Li Hongzi’s personal ideas. It garnered an enormous following in a very short time and the latest statistics show that it now has 100 million followers, including 70 million in China (more than the membership of the Chinese Communist Party). The rest are scattered throughout Asia, Europe and America. Falun Gong followers deny that they are a religion, a sect or a cult. They like to think of themselves as a network for the free dissemination of information (especially via the Internet) and of several types of exercise. There is no formal structure and hierarchy, no membership list, and the movement is volunteer-based. In April 1999, Falun Gong organized huge demonstrations over several days in Tienanmen Square to peaceful demand freedom of religion and expression. Tens of thousands of the movement’s followers turned up. The demonstrations spread to thirty other cities. Stunned, President Jian Zenming declared Falun Gong public enemy no. 1 and accused the movement of stealing state secrets and of using superstition to trick people. On July 23, 1997, Li Hongzi appealed to the world for help. A week later, he asked for political asylum in the United States. In a recent statement, Falun Gong declared that no less than 50,000 of its faithful were being detained in China, and that 24 had died in detention. This non-violent movement which has mobilized huge crowds through sheer spiritual strength represents a serious threat to the Chinese government, and its fight against oppression is being closely followed by a sympathetic international audience. B - In the area of youth organizations For many years now, the young generation – the last hope to revive socialism – has been slipping from the grasp of the Communists. The slogans about patriotism and sacrifice, abused and over-used, now sound hollow. Communist youth organizations struggle to maintain their membership. It was recently reported by the international media that the chief editor and his assistant at Tuổi Trẻ, a Marxist newspaper, had been fired for daring to publish the results of a survey in which only 37% of the young people in Vietnam named Uncle Ho as their hero. To try and turn this around, the Politburo has tried to make membership of the Party more attractive. Party members are offered employment, children of high party officials are sent to study abroad in the hope that they will take over from their parents one day. The scout movement of Baden Powell is also experiencing a rebirth. During colonial times, when political parties were being harassed by the French authorities, the young Vietnamese who wanted to fight for their country would find refuge in two officially recognized organizations: The General Association of Indochinese Students (AGEI in French), and the Federation of Vietnamese Scouts (FSVN in French). The scout movement was introduced by a teacher, Trần Văn Khắc (who passed away in Ottawa in 1990) with the help of Hoàng Đạo Thúy, also a teacher. The FSVN’s main objective was to produce responsible citizens with a high sense of honor and civic duty. More so than the AGEI, the FSVN gave rise to some of the best among the nationalist and communist leaders. Notable among them were Tạ Quang Bửu, the renowned scientist and educator, who served as Minister of Defence (he was one of the signatories of the Geneva Agreement of 1954) and Minister of Education under Hồ Chí Minh. The FSVN was dissolved after April 1975, its goods were confiscated and many of its leaders were sent to re-education camps. Before his death in 1990, Hoàng Đạo Thúy, a Party member, had tried without success to establish a Communist Scouting Association. In late 1991, Vũ Xuân Hoàng , Secretary of the Movement of Marxist Youth, approached the Asia-Pacific office of the Scout movement. The General Secretariat of the international movement did not follow up on this approach since the organization cannot give allegiance to a national entity. After the troubled years of the revolution (1930-1946), the ensuing instability (1946-1955), and then continuous development in South Vietnam (1955-1975), the FSVN was finally banned by the Communists and forced to leave. The movement experienced a gradual rebirth, first in the refugee camps then in the host countries where the refugees have made their homes. In 1985, the Central Committee of Vietnamese Scouts was created. It is the umbrella organization for Vietnamese Scouts in the diaspora. The Committee sent a delegation to the 1998 Congress for the Asia-Pacific area which was attended by 150 nations. Today, over a thousand illegal Scouts are still secretly active around Saigon. Following President Clinton’s visit to Vietnam last November, Hanoi tried to jump-start a new Scout movement, thereby reviving its moribund youth organizations. The cost of silence Most Catholic priests have decided to side with Father Nguyễn Văn Lý. The Venerable Thích Thieän Haïnh has asked the Buddhists of Huế-Thừa Thiên to organize a week of prayers for freedom of religion and to commemorate the sacrifices made by combatants from the North and the South for the national cause. In the diaspora, many protests have taken place. But on the whole, senior church dignitaries have remained silent. This is most regrettable. There have been two notable exceptions however. The first is an open letter sent on December 18 by Mgr.Trần Văn Hoài, founder of the World Movement of Lay Catholics, to the Catholic symposium in Orange County, California, on the matter of religious persecutions in Vietnam. In this document, Mgr. Hoài examines Father Nguyễn Văn Lý appeal, without hiding his unconditional support. Secondly, on January 1, the Network of Committed Vietnamese Youth in Australia publicly appealed to Cardinal Phạm Đình Tụng, the Bishops’ Conference and the Vietnamese priesthood, to take position and to "guide and advise them". Religious groups have a leading part to play in the struggle for democracy because they alone have ready-made structures, a vast network of followers and moral authority. One last point: to speak about non-violence is one thing, to practice it is another. Non-violence is more than a political tactic, it is essentially a philosophy powerful enough to subjugate violence and totalitarianism. It is more complex than armed resistance because in order to make use of it, one needs to be more spiritual, more disciplined, more heroic. The faces and the means of execution of non-violence are many, ranging from boycotts to hunger strikes, from peaceful protests to civil disobedience, non-cooperation and the refusal to compromise. Mohandas K. Gandhi had said: "Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest wea[pon of destruction designed by the ingenuity of man." Sporadic and isolated acts of opposition will not move Hanoi. The turning point will be when the exasperated masses rise and have to be put down. The security forces will then have to decide between siding with the people or saving the Party. Judging from the current situation, it looks like they will side with the people, like they did in the Soviet Union and other Marxist countries. May this campaign to save the Vietnamese soul and the preservation of Vietnamese identity become a crusade, a Crusade for Non-Violence!

 

Code: ZE03070502 Date: 2003-07-05 NEW YORK, JULY 5, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Recent reports are confirming the long-standing worries over religious liberty in Vietnam. The just-released "Violence Against Christians in the Year 2002," published by Aid to the Church in Need, contained detailed information on the plight of Vietnam's citizens. The report accused the Hanoi government of "misleading the international community by pretending to be making improvements in human rights and religious freedom." In fact, authorities have been intensifying the anti-Christian campaign, notes Aid to the Church in Need. People who convert to Christianity face discrimination and government surveillance, and risk losing their jobs. Their children might be banned from schools. Hardest hit are the Hmong of the Chinese border region, the report said. They number about 600,000. Part of the difficulties stem from long-standing animosities between the Hmong, who fought as U.S. allies during the Vietnam War, and the Communists. Many of the Hmong Christian pastors have been hauled from their homes at night and imprisoned in forced-labor camps. In Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), police halted the construction of a church building, the organization Compass Direct reported on June 30. It was the authorities' second such intervention against the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) in three years. About 200 police arrived at the site June 9 to halt construction, eventually taking away all the building materials. Authorities destroyed a similar church construction site in July 2000. Following that first incident, the congregation applied for official government approval for the project, which was granted in April 2001. A positive outcome of the latest incident was that two Catholic priests stepped forward to give support to the evangelical group. Compass Direct reported that on June 24, Fathers Peter Nguyen Huu Giai and Peter Phan Van Loi published an unprecedented "Letter of Solidarity with the Protestant Church in Vietnam." The two are also supporters of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a well-known priest who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for saying Vietnam lacked religious liberty. In their letter of solidarity, the priests thanked one of the pastors, Nguyen Hong Quang, for his courageous support of Father Ly's three relatives who are charged with treason. They also expressed strong support for the persecuted Montagnard Protestants and for the Christians involved in the church building project. Beatings and detentions Other groups have assailed the lack of freedom in Vietnam. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2003, commented: "Despite promises by the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) to accelerate the process of reform and promote democracy, Vietnam's human rights record continued to deteriorate during 2002." It observed that officials continue to suppress and control the activities of religious groups, including ethnic minority Christians in the northern and central highlands, members of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and Hoa Hao Buddhists in the south. Evangelical Protestants, particularly those worshipping in house churches, remain under official surveillance. Human Rights Watch also noted that ethnic Hmong and Tai Christians in the north, particularly in Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces, were beaten, detained and pressured by authorities to renounce their religion. On April 15, Amnesty International USA in a press release took note of Father Ly's prison sentence. It noted the irony of the timing of the persecution: close to Easter, a time of resurrection. It reported that all religious organizations must be approved by the state and affiliated with the Communist Party's Fatherland Front. Members of groups that are not affiliated are pressured with harassment and even imprisonment. There are about 8 million Catholics in Vietnam, the release said. Amnesty explained that Father Ly was "unjustly imprisoned for publicly criticizing government policy on human rights and religious freedoms." Moreover, the government has brought an espionage case against his nephews and niece. The charges, which can result in the death penalty, are part of a "vindictive attempt to further punish this family for providing information about their imprisoned uncle to the outside world," Amnesty said. Father Ly was first arrested in 1977 after he distributed copies of a bishop's letter criticizing the religious intolerance in the country and the arrests of Buddhist monks. The second arrest occurred in 1982, when he led a pilgrimage to a site venerated by Vietnamese Catholics. His most recent arrest occurred on May 17, 2001, when local police arrested him during Mass. In February 2001, Father Ly had submitted testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in which he stated, "In the realm of religion, the control of the Communist government has stripped all churches of their independence and freedom." Oppressing the Hmong Government opposition to religion extends to the minority Hmong Christians too. In an April 28 press release, the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom expressed shock at reports that the Hanoi government continues to violently persecute the Hmong. "The Vietnamese authorities are continuing to persecute tribal Christians in ways not only brutal, but bizarre," said Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Freedom House center, citing what he contended were reliable sources. "The U.S. government should continue to raise these issues until the Vietnam government allows general religious freedom." The reports fit a pattern of official Vietnamese repression of minority faiths, the press release said. Last November, Freedom House had reported on the beating death of Mua Bua Senh, a young Hmong Christian. Similarly, the group International Christian Concern reported March 18 on the findings of a team of its members to Vietnam. They visited 10 cities and spoke with 21 of the country's 54 ethnic groups. Christians in the central highlands indicated that persecution is worse than it was at the end of 2002. For example, in Dac Lac, out of a total 417 house churches, only two remain open. Police frequently interrogate Protestant pastors and even target their wives. The team from International Christian Concern was able to confirm reports that the government continues to deny jobs to believers as well as cutting off benefits to the elderly and disabled who are Christians. Converts are even beaten to the point of requiring medical care. And things could get worse. On Jan. 28, Compass Direct reported that authorities are determined to intensify their campaign against believers. The 7th Plenum of the Central Committee of Vietnam's Communist Party, held Jan. 13-21, passed a resolution calling for the establishment of cells of Communist Party members within the approved religious organizations. The government also called on religious believers to "volunteer" in the struggle "to foil hostile forces who abuse religious and ethnic minority issues to sabotage the great national unity and act against the political regime." Religious believers have a lot to pray about. email this article To receive ZENIT News Services by e-mail ! 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OPINION No 20/2003 (VIET NAM) * Communication addressed to the Government on 28 May 2002. Concerning: Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest The State is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was established by Commission on Human Rights resolution 1991/42. The mandate of the Working Group was clarified by resolution 1997/50 and extended by resolution 2003/31. Acting in accordance with its methods of work, the Working Group forwarded to the Government the above-mentioned communication. The Working Group conveys its appreciation to the Government for having submitted information concerning the case. The Working Group regards deprivation of liberty as arbitrary in the following cases: (i) When it manifestly cannot be justified on any legal basis (such as continued detention after the sentence has been served or despite an application amnesty act) (category I); (ii) When the deprivation of liberty is the result of a judgement or sentence for the exercise of the rights and freedoms proclaimed in articles 7, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also, in respect of States parties, in articles 12, 18, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (category II); (iii) When the complete or partial non-observance of the international standards relating to a fair trial set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the relevant international instruments accepted by the States concerned is of such gravity as to confer on the deprivation of liberty, of whatever kind, an arbitrary character (category III). In the light of the allegations made, the Working Group welcomes the operation of the Government. It has transmitted the reply provided by the Government to the source, which provided the Working Group with its comments. The Working Group believes that it is in position to render an opinion on the facts and circumstances of the case, in the context of the allegations made and the response of the Government thereto. According to the information received, Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly a Vietnamese citizen, Catholic priest, professor at the Christian Seminary of Hue and former secretary of the Bishop of Hue, was arrested on 17 May 2001 in central Thua Thien-Hue Province, by police officers under order of the provincial People's Executive Committee, for his alleged "failure to abide by the decision of his probation issued by authorized State agencies". It was alleged that at the moment of his arrest the police made an excessive use of the force, beating some parishioners. Police officers were armed with electric whips, rifles and pistols. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly had just published on the Internet at testimony on the situation of human rights and religious freedom in Viet Nam. It was said that this documents was widely available internationally but unlikely to be read by the majority of Vietnamese people. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly had been sentenced in December 1983 to 10 years imprisonment for "opposing the revolution and destroying the people's unity". He had previously spent one year in prison from 1977 to 1978, without charge or trial. He spent nine more years in prison, deportation and forced-labour camps, between May 1983 and July 1992. Released, he was kept under strict police surveillance. Authorities first detained Father Ly in 1977, after he distributed copies of a bishop's letter criticizing arrests of Buddhist monks and alleged religious intolerance in Viet Nam. In November 1994, he published a "ten points statement on the state of the Catholic Church in the Hue Diocese"., criticizing the alleged State's appropriation of church propriety, the interference of the State in Church teaching and the lack of places in seminaries for men to train for the priesthood. In 1999, he organized relief distributions to people who had lost basic necessities in the heavy flooding that affected Viet Nam during that year, and established various relief projects after the flooding. According to the source, these activities, financed with aid from abroad, were regarded with suspicion by the authorities. In December 2000, Father Ly became involved in a stand-off with the authorities over the right of villagers to cultivate Church land, which the authorities reportedly wished to confiscate, he then issued several appeals calling for more religious freedom; for the return of Church properties; for the end of the State interference in religious affairs and for the release of all prisoners detained for their religious beliefs. The official media in Viet Nam has on several occasions waged a public denunciation campaign against Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly. On 26 March 2001, an article was published in Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the army newspaper, accusing him of be "a puppet for the reactionary and hostile forces in foreign countries", and asking why, in spite of the surveillance order imposed on him, he continued to display provocative behaviour and spreading words against the party and the State, with the intention to incite and cause rifts among Catholic followers. On 19 October 2001, Father Ly was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years in probationary detention by a People's Court in Hue in application of articles 87 and 269 of the Penal Code. He was found guilty of undermining the national unity, sabotaging the national solidarity policy and refusing to obey his house arrest order. Father Ly was then transferred to Thua Phu Prison at Hue. In November 2001, he was taken to Ba Sao Nam Ha Camp in Phu Ly District, Ha Nam Province, in North Viet Nam, a forced-labour camp under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. It was alleged that Father Ly's last trial took only fours hours and was held in closed session. He was not allowed to be assisted by a defence lawyer nor allowed to call witnesses in his favour. According to the source, his trial did not conform to international minimum standards for a fair trial. Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly has spent much of the last 27 years attempting to exercise peacefully his rights to freedom of expression, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and worship. He has never used or advocated violence. He has been detained and sentenced solely for his non-violent religious and political views. In its reply the Government stated that it is totally untrue that Nguyen Van Ly's detention and sentence are a punishment for peacefully exercising his rights and freedoms that in Vietnam no one shall be detained or punished for exercising his legal rights and freedoms and that only those who are charged with having violated the law, shall be tried in strict compliance with the law. According to the Government, Nguyen Van Ly is a recidivist. In 1983 he was convicted by the provincial People's Court of Binh Tri Thien province to 10 years of imprisonment for having violated the law by committing crimes of undermining the people unity bloc and provoking serious public disorder. On 17 May 2001, Ly was arrested for repeating acts in violation of the law as such. After a thorough investigation process, a public trial on his case was held on 19 October 2001 by the People's Court of Thua Thien - Hue province. The trial was conducted in strict accordance with the law. There were two prosecutors defending for Ly, whose names are: Hoang Minh Duc and Tran Dinh Chau. The Court convicted Nguyen Van Ly for having committed crimes of undermining the national unity policy (article 87, 1 of the Penal Code of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam) and rejected to abiding to relevant administrative decisions of competent State agencies (article 269 of the Penal Code of Viet Nam.) Acting in accordance with its methods of work, the Working Group forwarded the information supplied by the Government to the source, so that it could make additional comments, which it has done. The source stated that the Government response failed to supply facts or additional information to support allegations regarding compliance with Vietnamese laws and procedures, and also failed to provide any documentation and information to support their assertions. The source concluded that the Government detained Nguyen Van Ly in connection with the peaceful expression of their beliefs and has failed to afford him the procedural protections guaranteed by domestic law and international treaties. It results that the Government has declared that Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly has been condemned for endangering national unity and disrupting public order and that the national law has been applied accordingly, without giving any specific details on the nature of the charges against him and without invalidating any argument submitted by the source, in which the detention and sentence of Nguyen Van Ly followed his peaceful exercise of religious, trade union and political activities. The Government has not presented convincing arguments to invalidate the allegations from the source who argues that Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced to 13 years of detention because he had published articles critical of the Government and of the Communist Party and had not benefited from the norms of a fair trial. Consequently, the Working Group is led to conclude that Father Nguyen Van Ly was arrested and sentenced to jail for having peacefully exercised his right of freedom of opinion and expression guarantied in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As the Working Group has indicated in several opinions concerning Viet Nam and in the report following its visit to this country, vague and imprecise charges as those mentioned in articles 87 and 269 of the Penal Code carry the disadvantage not to allow distinction between armed and violent acts that endanger national security and the peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression. This is why the Group is convinced that Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly has been arrested and detained only for his opinions, in violation of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Viet Nam is a party. In the light of the foregoing, the Working Group renders the following opinion: The deprivation of liberty of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly is arbitrary, as being in contravention of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and falls within category II of the application categories to the consideration of the case submitted to the Working Group. Consequent upon the opinion rendered, the Working Group requests the Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, and bring it in conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its 38th Session on 27 November 2003. Référence * à la Lettre du Groupe de Travail des Nations Unies sur la Détention Arbitraire du 15.1.2004 adressée à la Ligue Vietnamienne des Droits de l'Homme en Suisse: Cette Opinion No.20/2003 (VIET NAM) sera aussi reflétée dans le prochain Rapport que le Groupe de Travail des Nations Unies sur la Détention Arbitraire présentera à la 60ème Session de la Commision des Droits de l'Homme.

 

Date: Feb 23, 2004 9:30 PM This is a rather long e-mail and for that I apologize. However, I think it is well worth reading, even if I did write. Recently, State Senator Pam Roach introduced two resolutions in our State Senate. The first dealt with recognizing the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam. The second dealt with support for a proposed Freedom Fighters Memorial to be built here in Washington State. Senator Roach then received a letter from the ambassador for communist Vietnam that protested both resolutions. I have re-typed the ambassador's letter. If you wish a copy of the letter with the letterhead on it, please e-mail me back and I will see that a copy of it is FAXed to you. After the ambassador's letter is my response to him. Please feel free to pass this e-mail to any one you wish. Terry Minarcin Dear Senator ROACH: February 10, 2004 It is with particular concern that I am writing to you regarding a second attempt to recognize the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam, as expressed in SJM8045. This is to reaffirm that the people and Government of Vietnam cannot agree with the proposed Memorial. Let me share with you my thoughts. First, the proposed Memorial runs counter to international conventions and practices. Now that the so-called Republic of Vietnam ceased to exist over thirty years ago, its flag therefore no longer has legal standing in Vietnam. Like a number of similar bills or resolutions, the language of the proposed Memorial clearly negates the existence of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam that has established full diplomatic relations with the United States since 1995. Secondly, since the start of the new phase of normalization and reconciliation in 1995 with your country, Vietnam has been doing her utmost to put the past aside and look forward to the future, striving to build a relationship that benefits both sides. In your State, Boeing has been selling airplanes to Vietnam and the Port of Seattle maintaining a sister port exchange program with Vietnam's northern port of Hai Phong. In my opinion, the proposed Memorial, languaged to revive the past of hatred and sadness, does not serve the interests of either Vietnam, or the United States, or Washington State. Thirdly, as a consistent policy, Vietnam welcomes active participation by Vietnamese Americans in expanding the mutually beneficial relationship between Vietnam and US and their effective integration into the mainstream of the US life. It is Vietnam's strong hope that the community of Vietnamese Americans, about nearly fifty thousand of whom have chosen your State as their new home, will also adopt the spirit of friendship and cooperation. Finally, at the federal level the Secretary of State and other senior US officials have repeatedly stated that the US does not recognize the former Republic of Vietnam flag. In his meeting with me last summer, Governor Gary Locke said he and the State of Washington are supportive of the acceleration of mutually beneficial ties between Washington State and Vietnam. As you may recall, the similar Senate Resolution 8659 was withdrawn from consideration last spring when those thoughts were taken into account. Last but not least; I believe the proposed Memorial, once passed by your legislature, could run afoul of the very US Constitution that vests the powers to conduct foreign policy solely in the federal system. Furthermore, by calling for the recognition of the former flag "as the only legitimate flag of the Vietnamese people," it also renders the freedom of expression questionable. In light of these considerations, I respectfully urge you not to act in favor of the proposed Memorial. I thank you for your consideration and cooperation. With my best personal regards, (signed) NGUYEN TAM CHIEN Ambassador Mr. Ambassador; February 23, 2004 I recently received a copy of your letter to State Senator Pam Roach dated February 10, 2004. I would like to respond to that letter. If any other country had written this letter, it would be, simply put, laughable. But it was your country, Mr. Ambassador, communist Vietnam. Your country has never honorably or honestly met the protocols of any international agreement that you are a signatory to. Yet, you hide behind these agreements only when they suit your fancy. When individuals, such as myself or Mr. M. Benge, or organizations, such as Amnesty International or Freedom House, or Human Rights Watch, charge your country with numerous counts of violations of human rights or worse, you immediately respond by saying that the matters we are concerned with are internal matters and that we are interfering with your country's policies. So be it. You are interfering with due process here in the State of Washington in matters that do not concern you. How we honor the contributions of individuals or ethnic communities here in Washington is of no concern to you. Quit interfering in our internal matters. You want us to recognize and honor your flag. The flag represents a country that has promulgated pogroms of genocide, fratricide and international slave trafficking. I, as a resident of the State of Washington, can not condone such behavior. How dare you insist that I do? To do so makes me an accomplice to your egregious crimes against humanity. You state that the proposed Memorial negates the existence of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It does nothing of the sort. In contrast to your museums and memorials, this Memorial pays tribute to those who paid the ultimate price for Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights in the former Republic of Vietnam. The flag of the former Republic has since come to be recognized as the flag for the struggle for Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights throughout the World. The colors are quite symbolic. The three bands stand for Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights. While the gold shows how precious these ideals are, the red stands for the blood shed for these ideals, both in the past and for those who will defend these ideals to the death. I, for one, am glad to recognize the Freedom Flag and to pay honor to it. I will be glad to recognize your flag when you recognize mine. Until then, your flag, for me, stands for murder, persecution, duplicity, slave trading, and human rights violations. You state that you are trying your utmost to put the past aside. With your country's past records of abuse of all standards of civilized behavior, I fully understand your desire to brush the past aside. After all, your cause for recognition is only hurt by your past actions. All of the residents of Washington will be more than happy to extend to you the hand of friendship and cooperation when you fully embrace Freedom, Democracy and to extend Human Rights to all Vietnamese. Until then, stay out of our internal affairs. The proposed Memorial is not a statement of foreign policy. Where you got that idea is beyond me. Once again, you try to cloud the issue. What the people of America do is not your concern. It is an internal affair of the State of Washington by private citizens to honor those who gave their lives defending Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights, ideals which are anathematic to your despotic government. That is what that flag of gold with three horizontal red stripes stand for. Now let us look closely at what your country has done and continues to do. Communist Vietnam has engaged in genocide. This began in earnest during the Second Indochina War. You declared it the Second Indochina War. By definition then, it was a war. As such, you were bound by the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs). But, as I stated before, you have yet to honestly and honorably meet the tenets of any international agreement to which you are a signatory. Your treatment of POWs testifies to this. In addition, you executed at least 11 American POWs who were in your custody. This is a war crime and genocide. To this day, you try to commit genocide. Take the matter of Ly Tong, a Vietnamese-American. You tried to interfere in a Thai court of law and demanded that Thailand execute Ly Tong. His crime? Telling the Vietnamese about Freedom, a condition that you can not tolerate. Communist Vietnam has engaged in and continues to engage in fratricide. This began in 1956 when the communist regime in Hanoi started their land reform programs. While it would be easy to blame the agent provocateur of the Communist Internationale, Ho Chi Minh, the real architect was Truong Chinh. How many Vietnamese died under this pogrom? 10,000? 50,000? 100,000? More? Even one victim of this pogrom constitutes fratricide. The pogrom initiated against the Vietnamese minorities in northwest Vietnam fall into this same category. The aim of this pogrom was to "ethnically cleanse" Vietnam of those minorities who had helped the French. I mention this to show that you continued this policy after the conclusion of the Second Indochina War with the start of your forcible relocation of Vietnamese who were associated with the former Republic of Vietnam to those areas you so blithely called New Economic Areas. You continue your ethnic cleansing today under the guise of religious persecution, which is also a blatant human rights violation. Any one executed under this pogrom is a victim of your genocidal and fratricidal policies. Let us take a look at your country's involvement in the international slave trafficking movement. Several times during the Second Indochina War, and even afterwards, you sold American, allied, and Vietnamese POWs to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. To whit, in 1983, you sold 275 American and 27,000 Vietnamese POWs to the USSR to reduce your war debt to them. This is a most egregious violation of human rights and a crime against humanity. There were other times you sold other American, allied and Vietnamese POWs to the USSR but not so many at one time. You could resolve many of the POW/MIA cases with ease by opening up your military and political police files. You do not because there is no profit in humanely resolving this emotional issue. You extort monies from America for your own profit and gain. Why? Because you feel that President Nixon promised you some $4.3 billion dollars in reconstruction aid. Be that as it may, you can recover that money easier if you release your files publicly to the families and to the world. At least this can mitigate some of your crimes. And then you have the gall to demand that Americans not interfere in your internal affairs and to honor your flag. With your record, you should be happy not to be on trial by an international court for your crimes against humanity. Until then, do not interfere in our internal affairs in how we honor those who have died for Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights. Do not interfere with how we honor our citizens who contribute to the well being and welfare of our State. Concerned Citizen for Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights for Vietnam

 

Hồi còn bé, giai đoạn gọi tôi là thằng Cu. Tôi sống ở miền quê. Vào dịp Tết. tôi được dẫn lên Sài Gòn ăn tết ở nhà bà ngoại. chị tôi dẫn đi coi sở thú. Vì mải coi thú, tôi bị lạc… Sau khoảng 20 phút tìm kiếm mà không thấy, tôi sợ và bắt đầu khóc mếu máo. bỗng có tiếng chị tôi gọi sau lưng "Cu!" Tôi đang chạy đi tìm, dừng ngay lại. Những giọt nước mắt ngưng rơi. Nét mặt tươi trở lại với nụ cười. Tôi chạy đến ôm chị. Một tiếng gọi đã thay đổi tôi từ lo âu, sợ hãi, sang hoan hỉ và bình an! Khi ở trong tiểu chủng viện – high School seminary – tôi ham ngủ lắm. Tiếng chuông điện inh tai nhức óc vang lên ba hồi dài mà vẫn chưa đánh thức tôi dậy nổi. Không những tôi mê ngủ, mà còn ngủ mê nữa! Và sướng nhất là ngủ nướng! Không lẽ chỉ vì tật mê ngủ mà cha giám đốc lại đuổi những tên ngủ nướng như tôi về nhà. Không còn cách nào khác, ngài bèn có sáng kiến. Sau ba hồi chuông điện thì mở nhạc. Tôi còn nhớ khúc nhạc. "Hãy chỗi dậy hỡi ai ngủ mê, hãy chỗi dậy từ cõi chết. Chúa sẽ chiếu ngời ánh vinh quang trên đầu ngươi". Nghe nhạc tôi tỉnh ngủ! Tiếng nhạc đánh thức tôi từ kẻ mê ngủ trở nên tỉnh thức! Vào khoảng trước lễ Giáng Sinh năm 1994, sau khi đi học về, tôi nhận được một cú điện thoại của một anh chị ở gần chủng viện báo tin cho biết cha Đôminicô Trần Minh Thắng vừa tử nạn xe hơi trên đường về thăm gia đình ở New Orleans. Tôi bàng hoàng ngồi im lặng trên ghế hình dung ra hình ảnh của ngài với nụ cười rất tươi vui luôn xuất hiện trên khuôn mặt tròn trĩnh. Một linh mục trẻ, mới 31 tuổi, vừa chịu chức được vài năm, hiền hoà và đạo đức, ai cũng mến. Một tiếng gọi bất ngờ để con người về với Chúa! Những kinh nghiệm về tiếng gọi tôi vừa kể ra trên đây đều có một điểm chung là đưa đến sự thay đổi. Thay đổi từ lo âu sang vui tươi, từ mê ngủ sang tỉnh thức, từ cuộc đời này sang đời sau. Trong các bài đọc của Chúa Nhật thứ III Mùa vọng, được gọi là "Gaudele Sunday" thay đổi trong thái độ sống, vì Chúa đã đến gần rồi. 1- Sống đáng yêu Trong bài Phúc Âm, Lc 3: 10-18, Thánh Gioan Tẩy Giả kêu gọi mọi người phải thay đổi thái độ sống một cách cụ thể, sống hân hoan vui tươi. Phải trở nên đáng yêu, dễ mến. Phải làm việc bác ái từ thiện, giúp đỡ kẻ nghèo khó. Người thu thuế đừng tham nhũng nữa. Quân lính thì đừng hà hiếp dân lành. Qua tình yêu được thể hiện nơi hành động của chúng ta mà người khác nhận ra dấu chỉ của Vương Quốc Thiên Chúa đang đến gần. Đức Tổng Giám Mục Rembert Weakland của Milwaukee đã kể câu chuyện về một linh mục Công Giáo vừa viếng thăm Ấn Độ và gặp vị tôn sư Ấn Giáo. Trong cuộc đàm thoại của họ, vị tôn sư Ấn Giáo đã nói một câu làm cho linh mục này rất tức giận. Ông nói rằng ý niệm về tình yêu và bác ái của Kitô giáo làm ông ghê tởm! "Ghê tởm!" vị linh mục tức giận lầm bầm trong miệng. "Làm thế nào ngài lại có thể nói được như vậy chứ?" "Này nhé," vị tu sĩ Ấn giáo cắt nghĩa, "Những người Kitô hữu xông xáo đi tìm những cách thức để trở nên đáng mến và dễ thương hơn" Tình bác ái yêu thương và sự công bằng xã hội là dấu chỉ của Vương quốc Thiên Chúa. Theo thánh Phaolô "Ai yêu thương tha nhân thì như thế đã chu toàn lề luật, đức ái là tất cả lề luật" (Rm 13:8-10). Và ngài đã khuyên những người tín hữu philipphê: "Đức ôn hoà của anh em phải sáng tỏ trước mặt mọi người, vì Chúa đã gần đến" (Pl 4; 4-7) Theo ĐGH Gioan Phaolô II "Đức ái là đáp ứng lời Thiên Chúa kêu gọi yêu thương" "Đức ái là yếu tính của "giới răn" mới được Công Giáo truyền dạy" (bài Gíao lý 72, ngày 13/10/1999) Vào thời điểm này, chúng ta đang chuẩn bị những món quà Giáng Sinh, vì Giáng Sinh gần đến. Không ai muốn nhận một món quà từ một người, cho quà vì bị bắt buộc bởi tập quán xã hội. Cũng không ai để ý đến giá cả là bao nhiêu khi món quà đó được cho đi bởi một người thật đáng yêu, dễ mến. Điều đầu tiên chúng ta phải để ý khi tặng quà Giáng Sinh là nhìn vào cung cách chúng ta cư xử với những người khác để có những nổ lực trở nên tử tế, hoà nhã và đáng yêu. 2- Sống nội tâm: Một người đã hỏi Thiên Chúa rằng: "Lạy Chúa, một tỉ đô la có nghĩ gì đối với Ngài, Đấng có uy quyền trên tất cả mọi sự?" Thiên Chúa trả lời, "Hầu như là một xu". Rồi người đó lại hỏi Thiên Chúa, "Thế mọi trăm ngàn thế kỷ có nghĩa là gì đối với Ngài là Chủ của thời gian?" Thiên Chúa cũng trả lời, "Hầu như là một giây." "Vậy thì, lạy Chúa, xin hãy ban cho con một xu thôi!" người đó năn nỉ. Thiên Chúa trả lời: "Con ráng chờ ta một giây thôi nhé". Câu chuyện trên nói lên não trạng duy vật chất của con người. Người ta nghĩ rằng tiền bạc sẽ giải quyết được mọi sự mà quên đi đời sống nội tâm mới thực sự mang lại hạnh phúc. Một thái độ sống nội tâm rất cần thiết cho thời đại văn minh điện tử hiện nay. Giữa cuộc sống vội vàng và máy móc, bạn "Hãy Ngừng Lại và Lắng Nghe" đó là lời khuyên của tờ báo New York Times xuất bản vào năm 1971: "Ban đêm bạn đi ra ngoài, nhìn lên bầu trời, và thấy đầy sao đang chậm rãi chuyển động xoay tròn không chỉ đi qua ban đêm, nhưng còn qua các mùa, các năm. Có những mẫu hình ngôi sao không thay đổi qua suốt cuộc đời của bạn – cũng vẫn những chòm sao Bắc Đẩu, sao Đại Bàng, sao Thiên Nga. Bạn nhìn thấy mặt trăng đang từ từ ló dạng với tất cả hình thể của nó, từ lúc lờ mờ ánh trăng non hình lưỡi liềm tới khi sáng vằng vặc, ánh trăng rằm. Những hình thể và độ sáng của ánh trăng được con người biết đến từ khi người đầu tiên nhìn vào bầu trời ban đêm. Bạn nhìn thấy ánh bình minh và bóng tà dương đang thay đổi từng ngày sớm muộn vài phút. Thời gian cứ trôi qua bốn mùa, những tháng âm lịch, năm dương lịch. Thế mà thời gian vẫn chưa thay đổi một phần nhỏ đáng kể nào của một giây trong 10 triệu năm trời. Con người đầu tiên đứng thẳng bằng hai chân, ngắm nhìn ánh hừng đông và loé lên sự ngạc nhiên về thời gian, con người ấy cũng đã biết cùng một quãng thời gian của ánh sáng ban ngày như chúng ta biết ngày nay. Cỏ cây thời xưa cũng đã mọc lên một cách thong thả, khoan thai như bây giờ, và bất cứ trái đào nào cũng chín vào đúng mùa của nó. Nhưng vào một lúc nào đó con người đã bắt đầu tính toán không chỉ đếm bằng những ngày, nhưng còn tính đến những giờ, phút, giây. Thời gian không thay đổi, nhưng con người đã bị mắc kẹt vào những cái bẫy thời gian của chính mình. Những tiếng âm vang đã đến thúc giục họ, "Mau lên, mau lên, mau lên!" và chỉ thỉnh thoảng mới có một người đó đã ngừng lại tự hỏi, "Tại sao phải vội vàng như thế?" "Vội vàng như thế để làm gì?" Càng văn minh hiện đại, con người càng sống hấp tấp và vội vàng, càng bị kẹt vào trong những chiếc bẫy thời gian của mình. Mùa vọng là thời gian Giáo Hội kêu gọi chúng ta "Hãy ngừng lại và Lắng nghe" đây là lúc để nới lỏng cái bẫy thời gian vô hồn của mình ra và có một cái nhìn mới mẻ vào cách sống của mình: "Khi chúng ta cầu nguyện cùng Thiên Chúa Cha là chúng ta giao tiếp với Ngài cũng như với Con Ngài là Chúa Giêsu Kitô. Bấy giờ chúng ta hiểu biết và nhận ra Ngài bằng một cảm quan chiêm ngắm luôn luôn mới mẻ" (GLCG # 2781) Lễ Giáng Sinh gần đến, với những thay đổi rõ rệt ngoài xã hội. Các siêu thị nhộn nhịp khách hàng. Những cây Giáng Sinh rực rỡ ánh đèn. Tiếng nhạc thánh ca từ các buổi hoà tấu làm xôn xao nao nức lòng người. Những món quà, những tấm thiệp với những lời chúc tốt đẹp thánh thiện. Nhưng tất cả những thay đổi bên ngoài đó có làm cho ta vui thực sự được không? Giáo Hội muốn giúp ta có được niềm vui thực sự, một niềm vui từ bên trong tâm hồn mỗi người phát ra. Niềm vui đó chỉ có được nếu có sự thay đổi từ nội tâm đến thái độ sống bên ngoài, sự vượt thoát ra khỏi những ánh mây mù của tội lỗi và tính ích kỷ, thoát ra khỏi những âu lo trĩu nặng của vật chất, những sợ sệt ngại ngùng, những cắn rứt mặc cảm do tội lỗi gây nên. Trong cuốn "Let Go Of Fear", tác giả Carlos Valles đã kể lại việc chứng kiến một cảnh thật xảy ra khi ông đang đi bách bộ trong một khu rừng. Hôm đó ông tình cờ thấy một con chim đang đậu trên cành. Thân nó cứng đờ ra như bị thôi miên. Nó muốn bay lên mà bay không nổi. Ông lấy làm lạ, tò mò đến gần quan sát, để tìm ra lý do. Thì ra; ở dưới gốc cây, có một con rắn hổ mang đang cất cao cổ, phun khì khì, như toan tính phóng lên. Con rắn biết sức mạnh của nó. Nó có thể đe doạ làm con chim khiếp sợ. Còn con chim thì có cả một bầu trời bao la và đôi cánh mạnh mẽ, nhưng lại không thể nào thoát nổi sự sợ hãi đang đe doạ của con rắn. Thấy cảnh tượng đáng thương và tội nghiệp, ông Carlos liền ho lên mấy tiếng. Con rắn thấy tiếng động của loài người liền rụt cổ xuống có vẻ thèm thuồng rồi bỏ đi. Con chim sực hoàn hồn lại. Nó nhận ra một điều mà trong cơn sợ hãi tột cùng nó đã đánh mất. Đó là niềm tin vào chính mình, nhận ra rằng con rắn thì ở đằng xa, mà nó thì có đôi cánh, chỉ cần vỗ cánh bay lên thì con rắn đâu có làm gì được. (Trích Tin Vui Thời Điểm 2000, lm Trần Cao Tường) Tiếng ho, tiếng hắng giọng của ông Carlos đã làm con chim tỉnh lại, ý thức về đôi cánh của nó, và bầu trời cao xanh. Hôm nay giáo hội cũng lên tiếng kêu gọi giống như một tiếng ho, tiếng hắng giọng để giúp chúng ta có được niềm vui và sự hy vọng qua sự thay đổi thái độ sống như trong bài đọc thứ nhất trích từ sách tiên tri Sôphônia 3: 14-18 kêu gọi: "Hỡi Israel, hãy hoan hỉ! Hỡi Sion, đừng sợ! Chúa là Thiên Chúa ngươi, là Đấng mạnh mẽ ở giữa ngươi, chính Người cứu thoát ngươi"

 

Nơi hang Be Lem, ánh sáng tỏa lan tưng bừng, Nghe trên không trung, tiếng hát thiên thần vang lừng... (Đêm Đông * Hải Linh) Kính tặng LM An-Tôn Nguyễn Ngọc Bảo (HNL) Xứ đạo Hướng Đạo thuộc địa phận Phát Diệm là nơi tôi đi lễ mỗi chúa nhựt. Nhưng hàng ngày, tôi theo học tại trường Sơ Học phía bắc nhà thờ. Còn trường nữ ở ngoài khuôn viên Thánh Đường. Vào những năm cuối của thập niên 30, phần đông học sinh trường Hướng Đạo đều đỗ bằng Sơ Học Yếu Lược, kèm theo phần Pháp Văn (mention francaise). Trên sáu mươi năm qua, tôi vẫn còn nhơ' những bạn học xuất sắc mà sau này trở thành linh mục, như LM nhạc sĩ Nguyễn Khắc Tuần, các LM Hướng, Thiên (hai anh em ruột)... đều là học trò của Cha An Tôn Nguyễn Ngọc Bảo, hiện ở Our Lady' Cathedral (Oklachoma). Nhưng, những hình ảnh sâu đậm nhất trong niềm nhơ' khôn nguôi về quê cũ của tôi là những đêm NOEèL trong khu vực Thánh Đường, nhất là, cũng trong những hình ảnh ấy, có một "Tiếng Hát Thiên Thần". Bữa nay ngồi ghi lại câu chuyện này, tôi còn hình dung được khuôn mặt ngời sáng của Ana Chuyên, cô bé nữ sinh (bên trường sơ học Nữ), mà nhiều người cho là có "Tiếng Hát Thiên Thần", khi Ana cất cao giọng: - ... Natum videte, regem angelorum! - Venite, adoremus! - Venite, adoremus, Dominum! trong Thánh Lễ Nửa Đêm, năm ấy. Chuyên là bạn học của Dung, em gái tôi. Vào những ngày nghỉ học, Chuyên hay đến nhà tôi chơi vơi Dung. Hai đứa thường "líu ríu" trong gian "con gái". Tuổi trẻ khờ khạo của tôi ngày ấy, tuy chưa có ý niệm gì về sự phân biệt nam nữ, nhưng vẫn biết là phải có một khoảng cách giữa tôi và mấy cô. Nên tôi không để ý tới những chuyện "líu ríu" của hai đứa. Chẳng biết "mấy cô" chuyện gì mà lắm thế, nhưng hẳn là không ăn nhằm gì đến tôi. Bẵng đi một thời gian khá dài, khi tất cả chúng tôi đã lên Trung Học. Cho đến một hôm, Dung để bạn tập hát một mình rồi chạy ra sân kiếm tôi: - Anh Thanh, cái Chuyên muốn anh vẽ cho nó hình một con chim bồ câu trong tập nhạc của nó! Tôi xua tay: - Anh vẽ đâu có đẹp, bảo nó nhờ chị Hà. Bé Dung lắc đầu: - Ai mà dám nhờ bà ấy, anh vẽ giùm nó đi. Thấy tôi còn ngần ngừ, nó kéo tay tôi: - Vào nhà đi, anh. Chuyên đã để tập chép nhạc trên bàn nhà ngoài. Cô bé ngượng nghịu: - Anh Thanh vẽ giúp cho Chuyên con bồ câu ngậm nốt nhạc đi. Bé Dung nói thêm: - Chủ nhật sau, Chuyên đến chơi sẽ xin anh. Để anh có rộng thì giờ. Đó là lần sau cùng, tôi nói chuyện với "Tiếng Hát Thiên Thần". Vì chủ nhật sau đó, không thấy cô nàng tới lấy tập nhạc - mà tôi đã hí hoáy vẽ xong. Tôi hỏi Dung, thì: - Cái Chuyên theo bố mẹ ra Hà Nội rồi! Tôi ngẩn người: - Thế còn tập nhạc? - Nó đi vội quá, quên cả lại từ giã em. Để em xuống hỏi bà nội nó để lấy địa chỉ ở Hà Nội, rồi gửi trả nó sau. Tự nhiên tôi thấy buồn. Kể từ Noeỗl năm ấy, Ana không còn hát bên Máng Cỏ nữa. Thời gian trôi qua, anh em tôi cũng không hay nhắc đến Chuyên. Tôi cũng không nhớ là bé Dung có hỏi địa chỉ Chuyên ở Hà Nội để gởi tập nhạc hay không nữa. * * * Năm 1953, tôi nhận được lệnh nhập ngũ từ Đệ Tam Quân Khu. Tôi phải trình diện cho kịp theo học khóa 3 Thủ Đức. Nhưng dòng họ tôi không ai đi lính, nên tôi... ngại, cứ chần chờ mãi. Một buổi sáng, sau khi dự lễ ở nhà thờ lớn Hà Nội ra, tôi được một cảnh sát viên, cùng đi với một nhân viên quân cảnh, chiếu cố: - Ông là ..... - Vâng. - Ông hiện ở 38 Phố Hàng Đồng? - Vâng. - Xin mời ông theo quân cảnh tới Trại Ngọc Hà... Thế là tôi đi.... lính. Ở trại Ngọc Hà, tôi kêu phone về, biểu Dung ... tiếp tế cho tôi cái vali quần áo và ít đồ cần dùng: - Anh Thanh! Sáng nay đi lễ ra, sao em không thấy anh? Thế là anh... Cũng sáng nay, thật bất ngờ, em gặp lại cái Chuyên. Anh biết không, bây giờ Chuyên là Ma Soeur dòng Mến Thánh Giá. Rồi không để tôi hỏi tiếp, Dung tiếp: - Em sẽ mang vali vào Trại Ngọc Hà cho anh ngay bây giờ. Chỉ khoảng một giờ sau, em tôi đến. Tôi vô cùng ngạc nhiên, vì cùng đi với Dung, có cả Ma Soeur Ana Chuyên! Cô bé "Tiếng Hát Thiên Thần" ngày xưa, bây giờ chững chạc trong bộ đồng phục quen thuộc của Dòng Mến Thánh Giá. Chuyên tươi cười: -Anh Thanh! Tôi vui vẻ: - Cảm ơn Xơ tới đây. Xin nhớ cầu nguyện cho tôi. Chuyên nhỏ nhẹ: - Xin Chúa ban cho anh mọi ơn cần thiết, để sống theo Thánh Ý của Người. Hôm nay, tình cờ em gặp lại Dung, nên xin phép Nhà Dòng đến thăm Dung. Lại biết anh ở đây mà lại chào anh. Anh lên đường bình an trong Chúa và Đức Mẹ.... Đó là lần chót, tôi gặp lại Chuyên. Tôi không biết rằng sau thỏa ước Genève 1954, Chuyên có theo nhà dòng vô Nam không? Một đêm, sau khi dự lễ NOEèL tại Nhà Thờ Xóm Thuốc (Gò Vấp), tôi vào nhà vợ chồng cô em gái ăn Réveillon, Dung nói với tôi: - Hồi nãy nghe hợp ca bản Đêm Đông, anh còn nhớ "Tiếng Hát Thiên Thần" không? Bài này mà có giọng Chuyên thì tuyệt. Em tôi chép miệng: - Không biết bây giờ ma xơ của mình ở đâu? Trước mắt tôi, vụt hiện ra khung cảnh bên máng cỏ lễ Nửa Đêm năm nào. Khuôn mặt cô bé Chuyên ngời sáng. Cô cao giọng: - Venite, adoremus... khiến giáo dân như được sưởi ấm thêm niềm tin vào ơn cứu rỗi của Con Người giáng sinh chuộc tội cho thiên hạ. "Tiếng Hát Thiên Thần" bây giờ cũng như chúng tôi, nếu còn sống, cũng gần 70 tuổi. Dù không còn gặp nhau, nhưng trong lời cầu nguyện, tôi tin rằng bao giờ ma xơ và anh em chúng tôi cũng ở gần nhau. Nhân mùa GIÁNG SINH 1998, tôi ghi lại những dòng này trên đặc san của Cha Trần Trung Dung. Nguyện xin Chúa Ra Đời ban Bình An của Chúa trên bà con ARIZONA, cũng như cho toàn thể nhân loại.