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As normalcy returns, new year to thaw Vietnam-Vatican ties

The announcement of establishing a resident pontifical representative in Vietnam is expected in early 2021

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

Published: December 31, 2020 03:28 AM GMT

Updated: December 31, 2020 03:47 AM GMT

As normalcy returns, new year to thaw Vietnam-Vatican ties

Catholics celebrate Christmas at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi on Dec. 25. (Photo courtesy of tonggiaophanhanoi.org)

Churches across Vietnam returned to normal during Christmas week and stopped online Masses after a year of liturgical disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Parish churches were packed for Christmas Mass, although attendees had to follow the "new normal" requirements of wearing masks and washing hands.

Vietnam has effectively controlled the deadly Covid-19 pandemic since the first cases were reported in February, limiting the outbreak to 1,456 cases and just 35 deaths as of Dec. 30.

Catholic bishops in the country had to cancel their biannual meeting scheduled for April because of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, which prompted the Church to start online Masses.

The bishops also failed to have any national program to mark the 60th anniversary of establishing the Vietnam Church hierarchy, which would have been organized in October-November.

The bishops’ conference’s plan to inaugurate a new basilica at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in Quang Tri province also could not materialize as the pandemic lockdown hindered its completion.

The pandemic forced Archbishop Marek Zalewski, the non-resident pontifical representative to Vietnam based in Singapore, to cancel his visits to the dioceses in Vietnam. His last visit was to Hue in January.

During Christmas in 2019, Catholics in Vietnam were cautiously optimistic about the state-run media’s reports that Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had invited the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to visit the country in early 2020 and to establish a permanent resident papal representative in the country.

However, the pandemic meant suspending meetings and travel, forcing both sides to suspend any new moves.

The Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group, which meets every year to discuss issues relating to establishing diplomatic ties, did not occur in 2020. Its last meeting was in Rome in 2019.
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In October, Vietnam and the Vatican agreed on the legal statutes of a resident pontifical representative to Vietnam. Both sides plan to announce the resident pontifical representative in early 2021, top-ranking church officials say.

Vietnam severed ties with the Vatican in 1975 when northern communist forces took control of US-backed South Vietnam and reunified the nation. It expelled the last Vatican nuncio 45 years ago.

However, Vietnam’s ties with the Vatican have improved over the years.

High-ranking government officials, who paid courtesy Christmas visits to local bishops this year, lauded Catholic contributions to the country’s Covid-19 fight and generous donations to natural disaster victims in central provinces.

State-run media also reported various Christmas celebrations throughout the country, departing from earlier attitudes that ignored Christian celebrations.

Clearly, Vietnam is determined to have diplomatic ties with the Vatican as part of efforts to build its international image.

The seven million Catholics in the country maintain high hopes about their country formalizing diplomatic ties with the Vatican in the new year.

All hopes now depend on how soon the pandemic subsides across the world, particularly Europe, so that life can return to normal.

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