Holy See Delegation Visits Vietnam

"Positive Climate" Described in Meetings With Government

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 3, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican said a "positive climate" reigned during a six-day visit of a Holy See delegation to Vietnam, despite the restrictions imposed on the Church there.



The delegation, headed by Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Vatican undersecretary for relations with states, met with the Vietnamese authorities' Office of Religious Affairs, the Vatican press office said today.

Joining him was Monsignor Luis Mariano Montemayor, nunciature consultant, and Barnaba Nguyen Van Phuong, bureau chief at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Every 10 years a Vatican delegation visits Vietnam -- a Communist-run country that has no diplomatic relations with the Holy See -- to discuss church-state relations.

During the visit, which ended Sunday, the Holy See's representatives "met the president and members of the permanent council of the episcopal conference of Vietnam, as well as the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Hanoi," Joaquín Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican press office, explained in a note.

"In a positive climate, the delegation discussed the life and activity of the Catholic Church in the country with the Office for Religious Affairs, presided over by Ngo Yen Thi," the note said.

The delegation also met with "Le Cong Phung, vice minister of foreign affairs, and Nguyen Huy Quang, vice president of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam," the press note added.

"Lastly," it added, "the delegation made a visit to the dioceses of Xuan Loc and Ban Me Thuot, where they celebrated the Eucharist in a climate of intense ecclesial communion and where they received expressions of deep affection and fidelity to the Holy Father. They also met with authorities of the respective provinces."

The Vatican note concludes by reporting that other "ecclesial meetings took place in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City."

AsiaNews, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), underlined that one of the positive results of the trip is that the government has approved the nomination of Thanh Hoa to the rank of bishop. The episcopal seat had been vacant for two years.

The appointment will only be announced after informing the Pope about the results of the discussions. Several dioceses in Vietnam still have elderly bishops who need an auxiliary or a successor. These include the dioceses of Xuan Loc and Hanoi.

The Vietnamese government does not allow the direct appointment of bishops. It has the Holy See suggest several names among which the government chooses the candidate it considers opportune. The authorities also decide on the candidates for seminaries and on priestly ordinations. The teaching of Marxism is obligatory in the seminaries.

AsiaNews reported that, although the authorities allowed the Vatican delegation to visit the Diocese of Xuan Loc, they did not allow all Catholics to congregate for the Mass celebrated in the cathedral on April 29.

For years the diocese has requested permission to open a seminary, but Hanoi has refused.

The most serious limitation occurred in Buon Ma Thuot. The government gave the Vatican emissaries permission to visit the diocese, located in the Montagnard region, but they were unable to meet with any of the faithful.

The Montagnards -- minority Christians of the mountains -- have reported new conflicts with the government in recent weeks.

On the eve of Easter, the government suspended a demonstration by the tribes of the area. The tribes were calling for the return of lands seized by the government, for religious freedom, and for support of the development of the region, one of the poorest in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese police killed some people, violently repressed the crowd, and imprisoned hundreds of Montagnards.

Catholics represent close to 8% of the population in Vietnam. Despite government limitations, the faithful evangelize with numerous activities, such as catechesis, schools, day clinics and leprosariums.