The past year has witnessed a marked improvement in relations between the Holy See and the Vietnamese government, while rejuvenating religious activity among local Catholics. More than anything else, the presence of papal nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli has led many Catholics in the country to hope for greater religious freedom in the future. Pope Benedict XVI named the archbishop as nuncio on January 13 – the first Vatican representative to visit the country since Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Henri Lemaitre was forced to leave in 1975. Archbishop Girelli, who is based in Singapore, made five pastoral visits to Vietnam’s 26 dioceses between April and December last year. At each location, the nuncio was warmly welcomed by thousands of Catholics and briefed about Church activities. The nuncio’s visits were preceded in early January by that of Cardinal Ivan Dias, then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who attended the closing ceremony of the Jubilee Year 2010 at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang on January 5 last year. “I believe that religious freedom will be ensured and local religious organizations and people, regardless of their faiths, will have favorable conditions to publicly express and practice their faiths,” the cardinal said during an address to about 100,000. The local Church has also seen some progress in reacquiring previously seized land from the government. Plans have moved forward for the construction of a new basilica and other facilities to serve pilgrims at the La Vang shrine following the government’s return of some 130,000 sq m of land confiscated in 1975. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam also launched the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace in May. Dominican Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, who heads the commission, said it aims to “build a society based on human values, dignity and vocations of people in the country.” Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City has said that relations between the local Church and the government have seen some progress, as witnessed by the establishment of new Church commissions, a small increase in pastoral activities and the lifting of requirements for government permission for some religious activities. He added, however, that challenges remain as local religious organizations continue to be banned from running educational centers and hospitals. Cardinal Man petitioned the government in May to “amend its legal system and return equality to local religions.” The authors, who have asked not to be named over concerns for their safety, are journalists based in Ho Chi Minh City
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