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Viet president meets bishops, strengthens ties

The meeting between President Van Thuong and bishops came after the landmark Vatican-Vietnam agreement
Vietnam's President Vo Van Thuong (first row, third from right) in a group photo with members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam at the meeting on Aug. 7

Vietnam's President Vo Van Thuong (first row, third from right) in a group photo with members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam at the meeting on Aug. 7. (Photo: Vietnam News Agency)

Published: August 09, 2023 09:46 AM GMT
Updated: August 09, 2023 11:51 AM GMT

Vietnam’s President Vo Van Thuong met with the country’s Catholic bishops to thank the church for its role during the Covid-19 pandemic, share on his recent visit to the Vatican and strengthen ties including the possibility of opening Catholic schools, media reports say.  

The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam (CBCV) in the national capital Ho Chi Minh City on Aug. 7, Vatican News reported.

Văn Thưởng was accompanied by a delegation of ten government officials while the church team was composed of nine bishops led by CBCV president Archbishop Joseph Nguyễn Năng of Ho Chi Minh City, along with five priests and two nuns.

The visit came after the Vietnamese president met with Pope Francis in the Vatican and signed a landmark agreement on July 27 that would allow a papal representative to reside in the country and open an office there for the first time since Vietnam War ended in 1975.

The bishops in a statement said the meeting with the president was “open and sincere.”

Vietnam, a socialist republic, follows a one-party system led by the Communist Party of Vietnam. It espouses communism along with the ideologies of late Hồ Chí Minh, which serve as the guiding principles for the party and the state.

Văn Thưởng’s first visit to the headquarters of the bishops’ conference is seen as an important step in Catholic circles, considering the hostility existed between the Church and the state since 1975.

Văn Thưởng said the joint efforts of the ruling Communist Party, the state and the people in Vietnam have reaped important achievements in all fields, the state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

He highlighted the contributions of the Catholics to this success, especially in the fields of social welfare, charity, pandemic prevention and control, and the spreading of humanitarian spirit, and good values of the nation in general and the community in particular, VNA report added.

The President was favorable to the Church opening schools in Vietnam.

The president said that he was “impressed” by his meeting with Pope Francis, stating that the audience was “longer than expected,” according to Vatican News.

He said he highly appreciated the pope’s words on human fraternity, the need to listen to others by “putting oneself in other people’s position so as to understand them better.”

During the Aug. 7 meeting, Father Đào Nguyên Vũ, head of the Secretariat of the Vietnamese Bishops' Conference, presented the activities of the Church in the country by offering an overview of Catholic institutions in Vietnam.

He said the Church in Vietnam only runs nursery schools, but no other educational institution.

The President reportedly assured that he will consider allowing the Church to start educational institutions.

Catholic Church in Vietnam comprises about seven million members in about 3,000 parishes.

The church lost most of its properties after the communists took over, reunified North and South Vietnam in 1975 and confiscated church institutions.

Since then, local religious organizations are only allowed to run daycare facilities and nurseries.

The ties between Holy See and Vietnam improved since the 1990s 

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, described the recent Holy See-Vietnam agreement as "not just a finishing line" but a "new beginning...a sign of mutual respect and mutual trust," Vatican News added.

Relations between the Holy See and Vietnam improved since the 1990s when late French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, made a series of visits to the communist nation.

The ties further warmed after former Prime Minister Nguyên Tân Dung met with Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, making it the first official visit to the Vatican by a Vietnamese head of government in over three decades.

It was followed by former President Nguyen Minh-Triet in 2009, which resulted in the establishment of a Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed the first non-resident papal representative for Vietnam based in Singapore (currently Monsignor Marek Zalewski).

A non-resident papal representative has been paying regular visits to Vietnam since then although full diplomatic ties between Vietnam and the Vatican are yet to be established.

In Buddhist-majority Vietnam, Catholics account for 9 percent, making up the second-largest religious group of the nation’s estimated 98 million people.

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