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Communist chief visits Vatican

'Constructive' first meeting for Pope and Vietnam leader

Pope Benedict XVI and the head of Vietnam's Communist Party met at the Vatican on Tuesday, vowing to strengthen relations between Hanoi and the Holy See, while admitting there are still unresolved “situations” that need to be addressed.

The 30-minute private meeting was the first between a general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam and a Pope, the Vatican said in a statement.

Specifically, the two leader expressed their hope that “some pending situations may be resolved and that the existing fruitful cooperation may be strengthened,” the statement said.

Among the “pending situations” are the role of the Church in education, property disputes between the Church and the state, and possible developments in bilateral relations, up to the establishment of full diplomatic ties.

According to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, the meeting between the Pope and Nguyen Phu Trong was “very cordial and constructive,” even if there were no specific future agreements on the table.

Trong is on a European tour that includes stops in London, Rome and Brussels.

He was given the unusual honor of being received with the same protocol reserved to heads of state. Significantly, the pontiff received Trong on a Tuesday, a day when Benedict usually does not have any public meetings.

“Vietnam is a country where the Communist Party is very important,” Father Lombardi said. He called the meeting “another step in the fruitful progress of relationships between Vietnam and the Holy See.”

Benedict met with Prime Minister Nguyn Tan Dung in 2007 and with President Nguyn Minh Trit in 2009.

A high-level bilateral commission created in 2009 has met three times in recent years, leading to the appointment of Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli as the Vatican’s non-resident representative in the country, the first papal ambassador there since the Communist North's victory in 1975.

Trong and a 11-member delegation including Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh also briefly met with the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, with the Vatican's 'foreign minister' Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, and with Secretariat of State officials.

The Vietnamese delegation also included the president of Vietnam's Commission for religious affairs, Pham Dzung.

Vietnam's embassy in Italy was not available for comment.

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