American evangelist leads rare event in communist Vietnam

In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, evangelical preacher Franklin Graham speaks in front of audience in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, Christians pray as evangelist Franklin Graham preaches in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
In this Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, photo, President and CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Franklin Graham poses for photos during an interview with the Associated Press, in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Tran Van Minh)
In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, Christians pray as evangelist Franklin Graham preaches in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, a Christian listens to evangelist Franklin Graham's preaching in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, evangelical preacher Franklin Graham holds up a Christian booklet as he speaks in front of audience in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, evangelical preacher Franklin Graham speaks in front of audience in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, Christians pray as evangelist Franklin Graham preaches in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than 10,000 Vietnamese have filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who says he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)

HANOI, Vietnam — More than 10,000 Vietnamese filled up a stadium in a rare Christian evangelistic event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who said he wants the communist government to consider Christians its best citizens.

Despite sweeping economic reforms over the past 30 years that made Vietnam one of the fasting growing countries in the region, the ruling Communist Party maintains strict control over all aspects of society, from media to religions. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 100 Vietnamese are in prison for peaceful religious and political activities.

Graham told The Associated Press that the prayer rally in Hanoi on Friday was unprecedented in size for Vietnam and the government did not attach any conditions for the event, which took a year a organize. Authorities granted permission last week, he said.

"This is unprecedented really for us and for the government," Graham said. "We don't want to do anything that would embarrass the government or the people of Vietnam. Again we're guests, the government has not told me what to say or not say. I'm going to talk about God we are not here to talk about politics."

Graham said he hoped the government through the event will see Christianity in a different way.

"I hope the government will see that Christians are not enemies, but Christians are some of the best citizens in Vietnam and people that they can trust and depend on," he said. "I hope it would be good for the churches and I hope this meeting would be good for the government and they will see us in a different light after this week."

A second prayer rally is scheduled for Saturday night.

The government was not available for comment Saturday.

Graham, who is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and one of the most prominent American preachers, said that religious freedom has gradually improved in Vietnam.

"The fact that we are here today and that I'm going to be preaching Friday and Saturday in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, that is huge," he said. "It shows you how much the government has changed in the last 20 years."

Despite some improvements, the U.S. State Department said in its annual global report on religious freedom that authorities continued to limit activities of unrecognized religious groups and those without certificates of registration for religious activities, particularly those groups believed to be engaged in political activity. Some religious leaders reported various forms of harassment, including physical assault, short-term detention, prosecution, monitoring, restrictions on travel, property seizure or destruction, it said.

Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Roman Catholic priest and founder of the democracy group Bloc 8406, was released last year after serving eight years in prison on charges of conducting anti-government propaganda.

Those attending Friday's rally said they were thrilled.

"It's very impressive," said Nguyen Thi Lan, who watched the event on a large screen set up outside the Quan Ngua Sports Stadium. "I hope through this event, more people would come to know Jesus and believe in God."

There are about 6.5 million Catholics and more than 1 million Protestants among Vietnam's 95 million people, majority of whom are Buddhists.

You may also interested in

Indonesia hard-line Muslims protest ban on...

Jan 12, 2018

Muslim hard-liners have protested in Indonesia's capital against Facebook's blocking of accounts...

22 rescued, Malaysia searches for 6 others from...

Jan 30, 2017

Malaysian authorities intensified search Monday for six people, including five Chinese tourists,...

Trump's planned reduction in refugees may hit...

Mar 16, 2017

An Associated Press analysis suggests that the people hurt most by President Donald Trump's planned...

The Latest: Post-mortem found VX caused Kim Jong...

Oct 3, 2017

A post-mortem report submitted as evidence in the trial of two women accused of murdering the half...

Vettel's recklessness plays straight into...

Sep 17, 2017

Vettel's recklessness plays straight into Hamilton's hands at Singapore Grand Prix

People also read these

Indonesia investigates online insults of Brunei's...

Jan 22, 2018

The Sultan of Brunei has made a complaint of defamation to the Indonesian police about an Instagram...

22 rescued, Malaysia searches for 6 others from...

Jan 30, 2017

Malaysian authorities intensified search Monday for six people, including five Chinese tourists,...

The Latest: Malaysia says no evidence against N....

Mar 2, 2017

Malaysia's attorney general says a North Korean man will be released and deported because of lack...

On Penang island, it's all about art, eats and...

Nov 28, 2017

Penang in Malaysia is the rare tropical island where hitting the town beats lazing on the beach

Singapore PM's siblings say they hope to resolve...

Jul 6, 2017

The siblings of Singapore's prime minister have launched another public attack on their brother...

Weather, 20 December
Houston Weather
+7

High: +11° Low: -2°

Humidity: 83%

Wind: NNE - 7 KPH

Canberra Weather
+27

High: +27° Low: +17°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: W - 20 KPH

Roissy-en-France Weather
+6

High: +6° Low: -5°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: ENE - 7 KPH

Florence Weather
+9

High: +9° Low: +6°

Humidity: 97%

Wind: ENE - 17 KPH

Parga Weather
+7

High: +16° Low: +4°

Humidity: 100%

Wind: SE - 25 KPH