Officials from the Vatican have asked their counterparts in the Vietnamese government to expand the Catholic Church’s mission in the country during a two-day meeting held this week in Hanoi.
The two sides agreed to hold a fourth round of talks in the Vatican as the meeting concluded on Tuesday. The dates of the meeting will be arranged through diplomatic channels.
Officials from the Holy See expressed the hope that its role and mission “be strengthened and extended in order to enhance the bonds” between the Vietnam and the Vatican, a joint statement said after the third round of talks in Hanoi.
And both sides agreed to “facilitate the work of [Special Envoy] Archbishop [Leopoldo] Girelli, so that he can better fulfill his mission.”
The Vatican appointed Girelli as a nonresident Representative for Vietnam following the Vietnam–Holy See Joint Working Group’s last meeting held in the Vatican in June 2010.
Girelli’s appointment was seen as a first step toward the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two governments and Catholics in Vietnam had expressed hope that the two sides might come to a more formal agreement on that front during this round of talks.
The joint communiqué issued Tuesday also said that the relationship between the two sides had “attained positive developments on the basis of good will and constructive dialogue, as well as respect for principles.”
The Vietnamese delegation emphasized that “the State of Vietnam has always implemented and continually improved the policy to respect and ensure freedom of belief and religion for the people,” adding that the Catholic Church in Vietnam is encouraged to “actively and effectively participate in the current course of national, economic and social development.”
The Vietnamese delegation to the meeting was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, while the Vatican delegation was headed by Undersecretary for Relations with States Archbishop Ettore Balestrero.
Catholicism in Vietnam
Religious activity is closely monitored in the communist Vietnamese state, which is home to the second largest Catholic community in Southeast Asia after the Philippines.
Tensions between the Hanoi government and Vietnam’s Catholic community have led to unrest in recent months over church property seized by the communists during the Vietnam War, as well as other issues.
Catholicism claims more than six million followers in Vietnam, making it the second largest religion after Buddhism among Vietnam's 86 million people.
The Vatican and Vietnam do not have diplomatic relations but in recent years have begun a reconciliation, although the land issue remains a point of contention.
Vietnam's communist government says it respects the freedom of belief and religion, but religious activity remains under state control.
The U.S. State Department last September did not include Vietnam in its annual "Countries of Particular Concern" blacklist of top violators of religious freedom, as demanded by rights groups. Vietnam was included in the list from 2004 to 2006.
The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressional watchdog, had asked President Barack Obama's administration to reinstate Vietnam on the blacklist, saying the communist government there severely restricts religious practice and "brutally" represses those who challenge its authority.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.