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Top Vatican official set for Vietnam trip to discuss papal visit

Archbishop Gallagher is expected to meet Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on Sept. 26, 2023. The Vatican’s foreign minister is visiting communist Vietnam next week

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on Sept. 26, 2023. The Vatican’s foreign minister is visiting communist Vietnam next week. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 05, 2024 07:42 AM GMT
Updated: April 05, 2024 09:39 AM GMT

The Vatican's secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, will be in Vietnam next week to firm up plans for an apostolic visit by Pope Francis to the communist nation.

Gallagher will visit Vietnam at the invitation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam (CBCV) from April 9 to 14, said Father Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu, head of the Office of the CBCV.

"This is the first-ever visit to Vietnam by the secretary for relations with states," which is equal to the foreign minister, the priest said on April 3.

Archbishop Gallagher is expected to meet Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son.

“We are delighted that Archbishop Gallagher will visit us. We did not dare to dream about such a visit years ago,” said Anthony Nguyen Dac Hung from Hanoi archdiocese.

Hung, head of a charity group, said Gallagher’s visit follows years of talks between the Holy See and Vietnam.

The visit will cement bilateral ties as the communist nation has relaxed religious norms, he added.

Authorities from the northwestern provinces of Dien Bien, Lai Chau and Son La, where religion is not recognized, have started showing positive signals to the activities of local Catholics and their charity groups, Hung noted.

Archbishop Gallagher and his five-member delegation will meet with local people in Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City and also will visit some church-run facilities.

He said priests are allowed to build facilities to meet their religious needs in these provinces.

Hung said, “Gallagher will discuss arrangements for a visit by Pope Francis to our country this year.”

“We hope Gallagher's visit will help the government recognize the Church mission,” said Ignace Nguyen Buu Man, head of a Franciscan group in Hue, a city in central Vietnam.

“Local people enjoy more religious freedom when Vietnam and the Holy See have a good relationship,” Man, 72, said.

On April 10, Gallagher will preside over a special Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi which Hung plans to attend.

Archbishop Gallagher and his five-member delegation will meet with local people in Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City and also will take part in the five-day biannual meeting of bishops, starting April 14 in the Mekong Delta.

The Vatican foreign minister will pay a visit to the National Children’s Hospital in Hanoi which has been collaborating with Rome-based Bambino Gesù Hospital since 2005.

Relations between Vietnam and the Vatican have improved since they established a joint working group in 2009. Last December, Pope Francis named Archbishop Marek Zalewski as the first resident papal representative to Vietnam.

Gallagher has said that it would be unusual for the pope to go to Vietnam without diplomatic relations, "but nothing should be ruled out."

The Jesuit-run americamagazine.org  quoted the archbishop on March 26 and said Vietnam could be added to the pontifical visit to Indonesia, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea in early September.

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 Southeast Asian country.

After reunifying the country in 1975, northern communists expelled Archbishop Henri Lemaitre, the last apostolic delegate, from U.S.-backed South Vietnam and cut all ties with the Vatican.

Both sides have not had official diplomatic ties since then.

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