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January 22, 2002

Appeal Made for Religious Liberty in Vietnam
Pope Meets with Bishops on ´ad Limina´ Visit

VATICAN CITY  (Zenit.org) - John Paul II appealed for religious liberty for Catholics in Vietnam, when he met today with the bishops of that Communist country.

The Pope explained that "to achieve a healthy collaboration" with the state "the Church expects total respect of its independence and autonomy from the political community."

The regime did not create any problems for the bishops, in fulfilling their quinquennial "ad limina" visit to Rome. The group included 26 bishops and two priests. Five years ago, 14 bishops were allowed to visit the Pope and Roman Curia.

Official statistics say there are 5.3 million Catholics in Vietnam, out of a population of 79 million. Sources of the missionary agency Fides estimate there are 7 million Catholics.

Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang, president of the episcopal conference, spoke on behalf of the bishops. He described Vietnam as a country in transition from a planned to a market economy, and from isolationism to integration in the world community.

However, in this process of renewal, "the Church still does not fully enjoy all the necessary liberties," Bishop Van Hoa told the Pope. In 1999 John Paul II had hoped to visit Vietnam.

On Jan. 15 the Fides agency reported that the Hanoi government kept control over the appointment of bishops; seminarians; priest's pastoral work; the opening of novitiates for religious orders; and overseas communications.

In his address to the bishops, John Paul II explained that the Church "in no way is confused with the political community nor is it bound to any political system."

"For this reason, the political community and the Church are independent of one another and autonomous in the domain that is proper to them," the Holy Father added.

However, this does not mean that there cannot and must not be a "healthy collaboration" between the Church and state, in the name of which Christians are urged to "commit themselves loyally in the growth of all and the edification of a just, supportive and equitable society," the Pontiff continued.

The Church in no way pretends to usurp the place of "the leaders of the nation and the action of people, either individually or collectively. It only wishes to exercise its specific mission": "the human and spiritual development of people, communicating divine life to man" and "ennobling the dignity of the human person," the Holy Father emphasized.

He added that religious liberty not only affects the individual, but also religious communities.

These communities must be free "to govern themselves autonomously; to celebrate public worship without restrictions; to teach the faith publicly and witness to it orally and in writing; to support their members in the practice of religious life; to choose, educate, appoint and deploy their own ministers; to manifest the singular force of their social doctrine; to promote initiatives in the educational, cultural, charitable and social fields," the Pope concluded.


Mayhem at Cybercafes Shakes a Town in California

By Nick Madigan

GARDEN GROVE, CA (New York Times) - In the virtual world, brawny heroes stalk and destroy their cyber enemies in a cacophony of explosions and gunfire, their every move choreographed by youths who spend hours playing the dark, violent games in cafes and arcades equipped with dozens of computer terminals.

But here the carnage on the screens has moved into the real world, the police say, with gang members descending on some cafes to exact vengeance for offenses that usually originate elsewhere.

On Dec. 30, Phuong Huu Ly, 20, died after he was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver in the parking lot outside the PC Cafe, one of more than 20 cybercafes that have opened in the last three years in this Orange County city of 174,000 south of Los Angeles. Jim Hoang Nguyen, 21, who was on probation for a 1999 house burglary in Fountain Valley, was arrested and charged with murder. Mr. Nguyen is thought to be a gang member, the police said.

Eight youths, some girls and all high school students, were arrested after three young men were attacked with baseball bats, hammers and wrenches on Nov. 3 at the same location. In December, a man was stabbed in the arm at the I-Net PC Cafe.

But it was the murder of Mr. Ly that brought the confluence of gangs and computer games - once the province of harmless nerds - to a dangerous level.

"That was a wake-up call," said Bruce A. Broadwater, 60, who has been the mayor of Garden Grove for eight years. "We suddenly thought, What's going on here? Are these cafes places where hoodlums hang out, like pool halls in the old days?"

On Tuesday, the City Council plans to consider restrictions on the cybercafes. Among the suggestions are a moratorium on permits to open more cafes. Some cafes stay open until 4 a.m, but the proposed rules would have them close at midnight. Guards and closed-circuit surveillance cameras would also be required at the cafes. No more than one computer would be allowed for every 20 square feet of floor space, Mr. Broadwater said. Some cafes have as many as 60 or 70 terminals so close together that they violate fire codes, he said.

"I've gone and looked at a few of these places, and I've seen very little wrong with them," Mr. Broadwater said. But just because their patrons are honing their computer skills "doesn't mean they shouldn't be in school," he said.

Today, perhaps because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, several of the cafes were very busy at midday.

"Nine of 10 people here are playing video games," said a man who was spending a few hours at Net2Net, a cyberjoint on Garden Grove Boulevard. The man, who like more than a third of the population here is of Vietnamese ancestry, was playing Counterstrike, a particularly violent game, with 20 other players on other terminals at Net2Net and other locations.

Nearby, Don Le, 14, was playing so intently that he did not look away from the computer screen while speaking with a visitor about the violence, which he said he had heard about but not seen.

"The owners keep it under control," Mr. Le said. "The places I've been in are quite safe."

A co-owner of Net2Net, who would not give his name, said he planned to attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday to discuss security improvements. "We're going to support whatever the city wants to do to protect our customers from these kinds of accidents," he said. "We've already spent $800 to buy four cameras and a monitor, and we're looking into hiring a security guard."

Detective Peter Vi, who specializes in investigating gangs, said most problems with youths in the area began in the schools. "It'll start with a personal problem, and then someone will break someone else's window and he'll call in a friend who's a gang member," Detective Vi said. "Then it'll become a beating, and it'll evolve to gang on gang."

Most gangs are Vietnamese, he said, although there are many Koreans and Hispanics in the area, which includes the enclave of Little Saigon in Westminster.

"There are at least a dozen Vietnamese gangs in Westminster, Garden Grove and Santa Ana," said Detective Vi, who is investigating four serious fights at cybercafes, not counting the killing of Mr. Ly.

In December at a business called Netzone, several gang members fired from their car at a group of young men who had been playing on computers.

"The gangs go look in these places because they know, hopefully, that their enemy is going to be there," Detective Vi said.

The trouble at cybercafes is not confined to Garden Grove.

On Nov. 2 in Kearny Mesa, near San Diego, a boy, 17, was stabbed in the chest in a fight over a computer game in an arcade. On Oct. 17, 2000, Hung Ly, 18, was stabbed to death and Andrew Vu, 18, and Quan To, 21, were hurt in a fight between rival gangs at the Gameworks video arcade in Santa Ana.

At the PC Cafe, where Phuong Huu Ly was stabbed, the manager, Eric Cho, 28, said some customers played on computers from opening time at 11 a.m. until 2 a.m., paying a $15 fee instead of the usual $2 an hour.

"If they ditch school, there's no place else to go," Mr. Cho said. "Most of the kids are nice kids. They just play games. They don't cause trouble."



Citizenship Applications Up Sharply

By Mary Beth Sheridan

(Washington Post) - Applications for U.S. citizenship have surged in recent months, with many foreign residents rushing to become Americans because of the fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks, according to lawyers, civic groups and others who help immigrants.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said that its most recent data show that 145,765 people applied for citizenship in October and November, up 61 percent from the same period in 2000. The agency said the increase is partly because of people scrambling to beat an upcoming fee increase, but also appears to reflect a new sense of vulnerability among foreign residents.

Nafisa Karimi is among the immigrants who have hurried to apply. The Fairfax resident said she fled Afghanistan in 1998 after Taliban gunmen attacked her family home. Normally, the 73-year-old refugee wouldn't apply for citizenship until next year, after completing the required five years of legal U.S. residence.

But one morning in October, Karimi and 15 members of her family piled into cars and headed for the nearby home of an Afghan interpreter, rousting him from bed to fill out their citizenship applications.

"It's because I'm scared about September 11," said Karimi, a retired banker. "I don't want anybody to kick me out of the United States because of what happened in my country, and because of the terrorist activity here."

Chances are, Karimi's early application won't hasten her bid for citizenship. But her fears are representative of many foreign residents' concerns of a more hostile environment for immigrants, say lawyers and immigrant advocates.

"People never thought they needed to get [citizenship]. They thought, 'Hey, I'll get it when I get it,' " said Ismail Laher, an immigration attorney in Burke. But lately, he has had many calls from immigrants spooked about new legal measures, such as military tribunals to try non-citizens accused of terrorism.

"It's obvious these are things the U.S. government can use against people who are not citizens," Laher said.

Several other lawyers with Middle Eastern and South Asian clients said their businesses have been booming, as immigrants have sought to become citizens or legal permanent residents, the first step on the path to citizenship.

"I can tell by the way they are requesting these applications, they're worried," said Anthony Fatemi, who runs a law practice on Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda.

He said clients were asking "whether I'm going to be denied . . . if I [apply for citizenship] down the road, because I'm Muslim or of Arab descent."

Sept. 11 isn't the only explanation for the increase in naturalization applications. INS officials say the number of petitions had started to rise gradually before the terrorist attacks. For example, they went up 17 percent in August, compared with the same month in 2000. That was partly because of fee increases that will take effect next month.

But the officials said that Sept. 11 also played a role. They said the spike last fall appears to fit a pattern in which immigrants rush to become citizens when they feel targeted, like they did after a 1996 law was enacted that reduced benefits for non-citizens.

The INS doesn't tabulate the nationalities of the new applicants. But more than just Muslim immigrants appear affected by the fallout from Sept. 11. Some local groups that assist Korean and Vietnamese immigrants said they, too, had noted increased interest in citizenship.

"We're definitely seeing it in the Korean-American community," said Songbae Lee, director of the Washington chapter of the Korean American Coalition. He said the group is now holding monthly workshops on citizenship, rather than the sporadic ones it offered before Sept. 11.

He attributed the demand for citizenship to the high-profile crackdown on foreigners caught up in the anti-terrorism investigations.

"The rights of non-citizens are being affected. It's making them realize how important [citizenship] is," Lee said.

To become a citizen, immigrants generally have to live in the United States for five years as legal permanent residents, pass an English and civics test and show good moral character, through such activities as paying taxes. Legal residents are not eligible to vote or receive some government benefits.

As a legal permanent resident, Karimi, the Afghan refugee, can live and work in the United States indefinitely. That's not enough, though: She longs for the guarantees of citizenship.

"I don't want Immigration to change the law and make it harder for us" to live in the United States, she said through an interpreter, explaining her eagerness to naturalize. She prizes U.S. citizenship after living through such tumultuous years in Afghanistan, where family members say they were attacked because of work done by Karimi's daughter Nazira, a journalist.

Not all immigrants seeking citizenship share Karimi's fears. Cecilia Munoz, of the National Council of La Raza, said the Sept. 11 tragedy moved some to apply for citizenship out of patriotism.

"Every generation [of immigrants] has this moment of truth . . . where people look at each other and say, 'Should we go back?' And they shake their heads and say, 'No, we can't, this is our home,' " she said.

Don Min, a Korean who owns a dry cleaning shop in Adams Morgan, said the response to the Sept. 11 attacks was a positive factor in his recent decision to naturalize after 15 years as a legal resident.

"After September 11, all American people love our country," Min said.



Cardinal Van Thuân Looks Ahead to Day of Prayer in Assisi
"Never Can a Genuine Religious Sentiment Turn to Violence"

ROME (ZENIT.org-Avvenire) - Bishop François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân could be forgiven for missing the 1986 Day of Prayer for Peace of religious leaders. He was in a Vietnamese prison.

He had to wait two years to find out what happened at that summit. In 1988 he was released after 13 years of incarceration under the Communists.

Now, as Cardinal Van Thuân, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, he eagerly awaits the Day of Prayer for Peace this Thursday in Assisi, Italy.

"I never imagined that one day I would be present at a Day of Prayer in Assisi," the cardinal said.

Recalling his prison days, he said: "I never hated my jailers, not even in the darkest moments." If there is someone for whom the Assisi message is not merely a proclamation but a lived experience, it is this Vietnamese prelate.

Q: This is not the first time that John Paul II convokes representatives of all religions in Assisi. However, this time the convocation seems to be extremely urgent in character. Is this so?

Cardinal Van Thuân: In order to understand the deep motivations which led the Holy Father to take this initiative, we must refer to his message for this year's World Day of Peace.

Here we have the first organic reflection of the pontifical magisterium on the phenomenon of terrorism. The Pope goes beyond the common point of view. After Sept. 11, people have remained shaken. The economic, financial and military superpower has discovered it is tremendously vulnerable. There is a demand for security, an urgent call for justice.

John Paul II shares these feelings, but he goes further: The thirst for justice might be turned into vengeance if there is no desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. Hence the need for a strong gesture that proposes this fundamental truth, without which the world will sink into new and lacerating conflicts.

Q: There are those who believe that religion is one of the causes of the conflict.

Cardinal Van Thuân: Precisely because of this, the Holy Father calls leaders of religions to pray and give common witness of the will for peace. Judging from the great number of adherents, coming from all parts of the world, I would say this will exists.

Q: Will there be a clear condemnation of terrorism in Assisi?

Cardinal Van Thuân: Yes, and it is the new element compared to the two preceding Days of Prayer in 1986 and 1993. There will be a common commitment to peace that will be read by the different religious leaders; a solemn reaffirmation of authentic religious feeling, as the Pope has written, which is the source of mutual respect and harmony among peoples.

Q: Is not Islam a stumbling block in this path?

Cardinal Van Thuân: We must look at the Islamic religion with great respect, distinguishing its teachings from fundamentalist fanaticism. The Pope moved immediately in this direction.

Let's not forget that a few days after Sept. 11, he was visiting a Muslim country like Kazakhstan, where he stretched out his hand to Islam, to authentic Islam, he said, the Islam that prays and knows how to be in solidarity with those in need. It is not accidental that the Muslim people and authorities welcomed him with great cordiality, in a spirit of friendship.

Q: You have experienced martyrdom. What do you think about the so-called martyr-killers, who in the name of Islam kill and kill themselves?

Cardinal Van Thuân: The Christian martyr does not have contempt for life; he suffers and is prepared to die for love, but he is afraid of death, and is not indifferent to life, neither his own or that of others.

Martyrdom is the suffering of the one who accepts to be treated unjustly in order to remain faithful to God. It is not a claim to do justice in the name of God.

Q: Is it possible to discuss these topics with someone who has the exact opposite point of view?

Cardinal Van Thuân: One can begin a discussion with anyone. I experienced this during my years of imprisonment in Vietnam. Among my unfortunate companions there were Catholics, but also Buddhists of different confessions.

In normal life, it would be difficult for a Buddhist to become friendly with a Catholic, especially if it was a Buddhist inspired by fanaticism. We began to talk, to discuss in prison, until we regarded one another as brothers. Some helped me. One policeman obtained the wood for me with which I was able to make a small cross, which I always kept hidden in my soap and which now, covered in iron, is my pectoral cross.

They understood that Christianity was not their enemy. All this [happened] through patient dialogue. Never, I repeat, never, can a genuine religious sentiment turn to violence.

Q: The meeting of religious leaders in Assisi will undoubtedly be something spectacular, but what will be its concrete efficacy?

Cardinal Van Thuân: I think there will be great efficacy, especially at the level of education. It's what the Holy Father calls the pedagogy of forgiveness. The Assisi gesture has the force of example. It is as though all the religious leaders were saying to the world: Look how we can all walk together on the way of peace, while respecting one another's differences.

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