Hanoi Catholics held a ceremony last Friday to welcome the man who is expected to become their new archbishop, but for many on hand – priests and faithful alike – it was a moment of sadness. There were no flowers at the altar of Hanoi’s 124-year-old cathedral welcoming Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, 72, to the role of coadjutor bishop. Outside on the steps, several dozen people brandished banners in protest of what his papal appointment represented.
It’s not that they had anything personal against Nhon, who is head of Vietnam’s bishops conference and hails from the southern city of Dalat. But Nhon happens to be taking over for Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, 57, an archbishop who stood up to local Communist authorities by backing church groups embroiled in land disputes with the government in recent years.
For that, Kiet was beloved by the city’s Catholics — and hated by the city government, which lobbied vigorously to have him removed. Observers say the Vatican eventually came to see Kiet as an impediment to better relations with Vietnam, home to Asia’s second biggest Catholic population after the Philippines and one of the few remaining countries with which the Holy See has no diplomatic relations.
“We are very sad and very surprised. They are very different people,” said Peter Nguyen Van Khai, a priest from the parish of Thai Ha, where eight Catholics were arrested and convicted for their role in a land protest 2008.