A diplomatic hiccup has forced the cancellation of a visit by a Rome-based Catholic Church delegation to communist Vietnam, according to the team leader.
The Vietnamese embassy in Rome had initially issued and then revoked visas for the group that wanted to look into the beatification of a late Vietnamese cardinal, according to Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, the head of delegation from the Diocese of Rome.
He gave the details in a letter dated March 17 to the Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, Cardinal Pham Minh Man, a copy of which was obtained by RFA Thursday.
The delegation had planned to visit Vietnam March 23 to April 9 to hear the testimonies of people who knew the Cardinal Francois Javier Nguyen Van Thuan, who was appointed deputy archbishop of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) days before the South Vietnamese capital fell to the communist North in 1975.
“I regret very much to have to inform you that [the] proposed visit of the ‘audition group’ from the Vicariate of Rome to receive the testimonies of people who knew Cardinal Van Thuan has to be suspended due to a diplomatic hitch,” Turkson said in the letter.
He did not say what caused the diplomatic problem.
“On 16 March 2012, the Embassy of Vietnam in Italy, which had granted visas of entry to the ‘audition group’ communicated the revocation of the visas of all members of the ‘audition group’ due to arrive in Vietnam to collect witnesses about Card. Van Thuan," he said.
“Therefore, the travel of the group from Rome to Vietnam has to be suspended, until further notice. “
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week denied that the government had ever received a request from the Catholic Church in Rome for the visit.
“Vietnamese authorities have not received any official request from the Vatican for such work to take place in Vietnam recently,” the ministry’s spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said Wednesday.
He added that Vietnam is “always ready to create conditions for delegations appointed by the Vatican to officially work under the framework agreement of both parties.”
A Vatican official in Rome, who has followed the case but spoke on condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity, told the Associated Press earlier that the delegation were to travel on tourist visas.
Cardinal Van Thuan, who was the nephew of Ngo Dinh Diem, president of U.S.-backed South Vietnam who was assassinated in 1963 during the Vietnam War.
One year after becoming a cardinal, he died in exile in Rome in 2002, after spending 13 years in a communist re-education camp in Vietnam.
Five years after his death, the Catholic Church began his beatification process, the third of four steps in the canonization of a saint.
Vietnam and the Vatican held talks last month in Hanoi, but the two sides did not reach a breakthrough in establishing formal ties.
There are six million Roman Catholics in Vietnam, the second-largest Catholic community in Southeast Asia after the Philippines.
Religious activity is closely monitored in the communist Vietnamese state.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.