HANOI, Vietnam (CNS) — Government authorities from a district in Vietnam’s Central Highlands forced ethnic villagers to remove Catholic pictures and items from their chapel, and authorities replaced them with images of the late communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

A Church source told the Asian Church news agency UCA News that government authorities from Kon Thuc hamlet, led by district security officials, visited the Catholics Aug. 12 after Mass and asked them to remove a cross and Marian image from the chapel. The source said authorities threatened to imprison the lay leader if Catholics from the leper village of Dak Pnan did not comply.

Villagers had to carry the cross, Marian picture, altar and tabernacle to the lay leader’s house, the source told UCA News.

Authorities then put two pictures of Ho Chi Minh in the places where the cross and Marian picture had been.

On Aug. 13, authorities dismantled the bell of the chapel after local Catholics refused to do it. The bell was also taken to the lay leader’s house.

One lay leader said authorities told parishioners that the building was to be used “for village activities, not for worship.”

Local Catholics said the building, sponsored by a France-based charitable organization, was built in 1999 for villagers, most of them ethnic Bahnar Catholics, to worship and hold their common activities.

Since 2007, priests from other places started to visit weekly and provide pastoral services for villagers at the building, which has been used only for worship.

On Aug. 13, Bishop Michel Hoang Duc Oanh of Kon Tum visited local villagers and encouraged them to live out their faith bravely and work for the common good. He has not made any public response to the events.