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Vatican top diplomat arrives in Vietnam to cement ties

Archbishop Gallagher is the most senior Vatican official to visit the communist country since diplomatic ties were severed in 1975
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher is welcomed with flowers on his arrival in Hanoi on April 9.

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher is welcomed with flowers on his arrival in Hanoi on April 9. (Photo courtesy of tonggiaophanhanoi.org)

Published: April 10, 2024 08:45 AM GMT
Updated: April 10, 2024 10:21 AM GMT

The Vatican’s top envoy has arrived on a six-day visit to Vietnam, aiming at further fostering full diplomatic ties with the communist country.

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states and international organizations, was welcomed by Archbishop Marek Zalewski, resident pontifical representative to Vietnam, at Noi Bai International Airport on April 9.

Gallagher met his Vietnamese counterpart, Bui Thanh Son, upon arrival and affirmed that the Vatican and Vietnam have a good relationship.

He hoped that “the bilateral relationship would continue to achieve important milestones” in the future, www.vietnamnews.vn reported.

Son agreed and said that the Vatican envoy’s visit would further strengthen ties between both sides.

Son proposed continuing high-level exchange activities and stated that the government would create conditions for Zalewski to fulfill his mission in the country.

He appreciated the positive progress of their relations in recent years, especially the agreement on the working regulations of the pontifical resident representative and his office in Vietnam.

The deal was signed in July 2023, during former president Vo Van Thuong’s visit to the Holy See.

Thuong also extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit his country.

Gallagher is the most senior official to visit the Southeast Asian country since diplomatic relations were broken off in 1975 when the northern communist forces took control of US-backed South Vietnam and expelled the apostolic delegate from the former capital, Saigon.

Relations have improved since both sides started regular talks in the late 1990s.

Last December, the Vatican appointed Archbishop Zalewski as its first pontifical resident representative to Vietnam, while other communist nations in Asia — China, Laos and North Korea — have no relations with the Vatican.

Vietnam is home to about seven million Catholics out of a total population of 100 million, making it one of the largest communities in Asia.

“We pray for the Holy See and the government to reach full diplomatic relations soon so that we can live out our faith and have religious activities without any restrictions,” Francis Tran Thanh said.

Thanh, a lay leader from Quang Tri province, said that “religious freedom is not an asking-and-granting mechanism run by the government, but a basic human right that all people must respect.”

He said local people have had religious activities restricted for nearly half a century.

A great number of Church-run facilities were confiscated, Catholics were banned from partaking in public healthcare and education, and communities in remote areas were limited to holding services, building churches, and doing evangelization.

Thanh said local people long for a papal visit, which they believed would strengthen their faith in a fast-changing society.

Gallagher was to meet with Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, Minister of Home Affairs Pham Thi Thanh Tra and leaders of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs on April 10.

He will celebrate a special Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi.

He will also attend celebrations in the ancient capital, Hue, and the southern business hub, Ho Chi Minh City, on April 12 and 13, respectively.

The visit will conclude with Gallagher meeting with all bishops from the country’s 27 dioceses on April 14.

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