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Vietnam Catholics pin hopes on first resident papal nuncio

Archbishop Marek Zalewski welcomed at Hanoi Archbishop’s House, says ‘here to serve’
Vietnam bishops welcome Archbishop Marek Zalewski at Hanoi Archbishop’s House on Jan. 31.

Vietnam bishops welcome Archbishop Marek Zalewski at Hanoi Archbishop’s House on Jan. 31. (Photo courtesy of tonggiaophanhanoi.org)

Published: February 01, 2024 11:32 AM GMT
Updated: February 02, 2024 04:13 AM GMT

Catholics in Vietnam have high hopes for the Vatican’s first resident pontifical representative who arrived in Hanoi on Jan. 31.

Archbishop Marek Zalewski, the 60-year-old Polish prelate and a seasoned Vatican diplomat, was welcomed at the Hanoi Archbishop’s House by 16 bishops and scores of priests, religious and seminarians.

Marek told them: “I am here to serve the Catholic Church in Vietnam.”

He will temporarily work from the Pan Pacific Hotel in the capital, two kilometers away from Hanoi Archbishop’s House.

A priest from a northwestern province said local people are delighted that the first papal envoy will reside in the country after nearly half a century.

He said Marek will have opportunities to connect the local church with the Holy See and to well understand the life of local religious communities.

“He will know how to deal with challenges and problems facing the local church because he is from Poland, which was ruled by communists,” the priest said on condition of anonymity.

He said the province is home to some 3,000 Catholics, around two-thirds of them Hmong villagers.

“We fully expect Marek to visit ethnic communities in remote areas and make their voice heard,” said the priest, who has served Hmong villagers for years.

He said many parishes and mission stations are not recognized by local government authorities, so they could not build new facilities to meet their increasing religious need.

Van Kieu ethnic Francis Xavier Ho Sung said local Catholics are regularly prevented from gathering to attend Masses celebrated by visiting priests at their houses as their community is not approved by the government.

Sung, who serves as a lay missionary, said his sub-parish in Quang Tri province’s Dakrong district has 17 families with 56 members.

“We hope that Archbishop Marek understands our condition and works with the government to allow us to build a chapel to hold our religious activities soon,” he said.

He said Catholics try to live a good life and obey laws so they deserve to be given good opportunities to practice their faith.

Paul Hoang Ngoc Bong from Vinh Linh district said old people still wear crosses around their necks and maintain their faith practice by reciting the rosary daily at home since there has been no church in the district for the past 50 years.

Bong, 65, said all former church facilities were confiscated and local Catholics were banned from gathering for prayers. Priests and religious from other places are not allowed to visit them.

Bong, who converted to Catholicism when he got married in 1984, said his family members attend Masses on Sundays at Nam Tay church in the neighboring district of Gio Linh. They travel by motorbikes and stay at their relatives’ houses on the previous day.

“We hope the papal envoy will hear our voice and work with the government to send a priest to offer pastoral care to us soon,” he said.

The communist government expelled apostolic delegate Irish Bishop John Dooley from Hanoi in 1959 and Archbishop Henri Lemaitre from Saigon in South Vietnam in 1975.

Vietnam is placed on the 'special watch' list for religious freedom by the U.S.

Catholics in the Southeast Asian country are estimated to be seven million including 8,000 priests and 41 active bishops in a population of about 97.5 million.

Vietnamese Catholic Church has 3,000 parishes, 7,700 other facilities, and 11 seminaries.

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