Vatican diplomatic delegation has begun a week-long visit to Vietnam

Hanoi, Jun. 9, 2008 ( - A Vatican diplomatic delegation has begun a week-long visit to Vietnam. The visit-- the 15th in a series of annual trips-- comes at a time of heightened interest in bilateral relations and heightened tension between the Hanoi government and the Catholic Church.

Msgr. Pietro Parolin, a ranking official of the Secretariat of State, is heading the Vatican delegation-- as he has led groups in several previous trips to Vietnam. Each year the representatives of the Holy See have sought to increase the scope within which the Church can function freely in Vietnam. The talks have produced some concrete results, with the government giving overdue approval for the appointment of several new bishops.

In 2007 relations between the Vatican and Vietnam appeared to be warming, and hopes were raised for the eventual restoration of formal diplomatic ties. Vietnames premier Nguyen Tan Dung visited Rome in January, meeting privately with Pope Benedict XVI. In March a Vatican delegation traveled to Hanoi, and returned to report substantial progress in talks with their counterparts in the Vietnamese regime.

This year, however, relations have been complicated by a series of confrontations between the Vietnamese government and Catholic activists, involving disputes over property seized by the government from the Church. In January the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, intervened to ask Catholics to avoid a confrontation, and secured a promise for the return of property that once housed the offices of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi. But several other conflicts have broken out involving other property in Hanoi and in Ha Dong, Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon), and Vinh Long. These property disputes are likely to play an important role in the talks between Vietnamese and Vatican officials this week.

The Vatican delegation is scheduled to spend two days in Hanoi, meeting with a number of government officials including Pham Gia Khiem, the foreign minister and deputy prime minister. From Hanoi the group will proceed to Da Lat, Ho Chi Minh City, and the central provinces for meetings with local Catholics and Church officials.


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