Vietnam

Archbishop Zalewski hints at full diplomatic ties with Vietnam

The Vatican’s first resident envoy to the communist nation is positive about future prospects

UCA News reporter

Updated: February 10, 2024 04:42 AM GMT

Archbishop Marek Zalewski accepts given flowers from provincial officials on May 5, 2023. (Photo: giaophanthanhhoa.net)

The Vatican's first resident envoy to Vietnam has hinted at the possibility of full diplomatic ties between the Holy See and the communist nation in Southeast Asia.

One day, we could have full diplomatic relations with Vietnam. This will be a great achievement, Archbishop Marek Zalewski said in an interview on Feb. 8.

The Polish-born prelate was appointed by Pope Francis on Dec. 23 last year as a resident pontifical representative, nearly half a century after Vietnam severed ties with the Vatican following the communist takeover in 1975.

Now I have in Hanoi my residence and office. This gives me not only joy but also hope for a better future for my office here for working with the Catholic bishops for the good of the church in Vietnam, Archbishop Marek Zalewski said in the interview published on Feb. 8 on the website of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam.

Zalewski said he could now work with bishops for the good of the Church in Vietnam.

He stays at a hotel in the capital until his official residence is finalized by the government.

It's a huge historical achievement. This was possible because we are committed to being good citizens and good Catholics, the 61-year-old archbishop said in the interview.

Zalewski said he is called resident pontifical representative since the communist government and the Vatican have no diplomatic ties.

This is the reason I am here, not as a diplomat without immunities and privileges. But my permanent office is in Hanoi so practically I work and I am considered as an apostolic nuncio, he said.

We achieved this level which was not possible 10 years ago, said Archbishop Zalewski who served as nuncio to Singapore in 2018.

He said his appointment could only improve relations between Vietnam and the Vatican, which started after they established official contacts 12 years ago.

He was working with the Vatican-Vietnam joint working group in 2010 which led to the appointment of Italian Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli as the first non-resident papal representative to Vietnam. 

Seven years later, Zalewski succeeded Girelli and was based in Singapore until his new appointment on last Dec. 23.

The relations will be even stronger and more trustworthy for the Church and the government, he noted.

The Vatican diplomat said he has already paid 36 pastoral visits to the country's 27 dioceses for the past five years from his base in Singapore as a non-resident papal representative.

He said he got a positive impression of local Catholics who are young, enthusiastic and faithful to the Gospel, albeit they are tempted by many proposals, social media and false promises.

Vietnam opened up its economy with reforms (Doi Moi) in 1986. The country improved its economic status with financial and technical assistance from foreign governments and Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

As part of the reforms, the nation is cooperating with Western governments and institutions.

The Vatican's delicate ties with Vietnam are seen as something of a model for its relations with neighboring communist China, which severed diplomatic ties in 1951.

However, the Vatican and China signed an agreement in 2018 on the nomination of bishops.

The Catholic Church in Vietnam has 7 million members, including 8,000 priests and 41 bishops, according to government data.

There are about 3,000 Catholic parishes, some 7,700 Church-run facilities and 11 seminaries in the country.

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