Catholics in Vietnam are mobilizing in prayer vigils following the savage beating of a Redemptorist priest amidst escalating violence by the Government against the Church, according to the Fides News Service in Rome.

The Redemptorists have sent a letter to the Hanoi authorities asking them to lift a siege of the church of Dong Chiem, according to the Order's Superior General, Fr. Michael Brehl.

"The situation is tense, not only for the Redemptorists but also for many lay people, especially those active in pastoral work", he told the agency.

The unrest began on January 6 when parishioners tried to stop a large contingent of police and troops who destroyed a crucifix on top of a mountain in Dong Chiem.

According to a report carried by Independent Catholic News:

"The attack is the latest incident in the parish, since the authorities blew up a cross in a cemetery on 6 January.  Following the destruction of the cross, on 20 January a delegation from the archdiocese went to the area to visit the parish. Redemptorist Fr Peter Nguyen Van Khai said they were set upon by police at Xay Bridge, about one-third of a mile from the church. A layman was slightly injured, but Redemptorist Br Anthony Nguyen Van Tang was beaten so severely by police that he lost consciousness."

Hanoi archdiocese says hundreds of anti-riot police, militiamen and plainclothes police are manning checkpoints and preventing people from entering the area. Loudspeakers are broadcasting  threatening messages around the clock. According to its statement, Dong Chiem’s pastor, Fr Nguyen Van Huu, and the assistant priest, Fr Nguyen Van Lien, have been repeatedly summoned and interrogated by police.

“Parishioners have been subjected to beatings and massive arrests,” it says, listing the names of 16 detainees.

In the past few days prayer vigils have been held in St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi as well as at the Redemptorist monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. The Provincial Superior of the Redemptorists in Vietnam, Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, celebrated a Mass before an assembly of more than 2,000 Catholics, calling in his homily for an end to the persecution.

The letter sent by the 300 Redemptorists in Vietnam to the Hanoi authorities call on them to lift the siege of the Church of Dong Chiem, to end the intimidation of Christians, to release arbitrarily detained prisoners, to prosecute those who attacked and hurt the Catholics and especially Br. Nguyen Van Tang, and to respect the freedom of religion and symbols of Christian faith.