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Vietnam Catholics welcome Holy See-Hanoi agreement

Permanent presence of apostolic vicar will help people bear witness to the Gospel more actively, says Ho Chi Minh City archbishop
Catholics attend a special Mass presided by Archbishop Marek Zalewski, non-resident pontifical representative to Vietnam, at Qui Nhon Cathedral on July 14

Catholics attend a special Mass presided by Archbishop Marek Zalewski, non-resident pontifical representative to Vietnam, at Qui Nhon Cathedral on July 14. (Photo courtesy of gpquinhon.org)

Published: July 31, 2023 11:46 AM GMT
Updated: July 31, 2023 12:06 PM GMT

Catholics in Vietnam are expecting a new Vatican-Vietnam deal to usher in more religious rights and open new avenues for them to engage in social activities to serve the nation.

The deal allowing the Vatican to have a resident papal representative in the communist-ruled country was formally announced during a visit to the Vatican by Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong on July 27.

“We are ecstatic about the deal,” said Peter Ta Dinh Vui, head of the Couples for Christ movement in Ho Chi Minh City.

The 76-year-old Vui described it as “the first step for the two sides to start synodality in the spirit of mutual understanding, respect and dialogue.”

The deal, he further said, shall prove a driving force for local Catholics “to become salt and leaven in society and make useful contributions to national development and prosperity.”

Vui said many people expect the local church to have more space for religious, educational, health care, and cultural activities with the likely easing of policies on religious matters.

Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam, called on Catholics to thank God for the good result.

“The permanent presence of an apostolic vicar will help the people of God in Vietnam feel concrete communion with the Holy Father, live out and bear witness to the Gospel among the nation more actively,” he said in a statement issued on July 28.

The archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City also said that the agreement will serve as a premise for the Vietnam-Vatican relationship to move to a higher level in the future “so that we can have an opportunity to welcome the Pope to visit us one day.”

Full diplomatic ties between Vietnam and the Vatican are yet to be established, but since 2011 a non-resident papal representative has been paying regular visits to Vietnam.

All former church facilities were confiscated by the government after the country’s reunification in 1975. Local religious organizations are only allowed to run daycare facilities.

Sister Mary Vu Thi Chuong from the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Cho Quan said improvement in relationships between the two sides will give local people an opportunity to serve the country better.

Chuong, who is in charge of a daycare center in Ho Chi Minh City, said the government should provide favorable opportunities for religious orders to set up new communities in remote areas so that they can help improve people’s life.

Father John Le Ngoc Quynh said the resident papal representative should work with the government to relax its religious rules and respect religious freedom in remote areas.

The 56-year-old priest, who provides pastoral care to Gio An Mission Station with 100 Catholics in the Gio Linh district of Quang Tri province, said access to religious activities has been unduly restricted for people in the neighboring district of Vinh Linh for nearly 50 years.

No religious facilities have been opened in the district, Father Quynh added.

The priest recalled how he was prevented from celebrating Christmas with some Catholics at their house during a visit to Vinh Linh in 2020.

The authorities accused him of gathering people illegally, dispersed the local Catholics, and questioned some people.

Some 20 people travel every week by motorbike to attend Sunday Mass at the mission station, Father Quynh added. 

Mary Tran Thi Thuy, a catechist from Cang Huong Ly Parish in Yen Bai province, said signing the agreement was only the first step, but it will take Vietnam and the Holy See more time to understand one another's views and solve religious issues.

Thuy, 57, who belongs to an ethnic minority in a remote area, said her community faces difficulties in their faith practice.

“We are not given land to build facilities, and fail to gain government approval for the communities,” she said.

Her parish was approved by the government in 2014 although Catholics moved to the area in 1964.

The local authorities recently granted the parish ownership of 5,000-square-meter land for building facilities, Thuy added.

The Catholic Church in Vietnam comprises 7 million Catholics across 3,000 parishes, 7,700 facilities, and 11 seminaries served by 8,000 priests and 41 active bishops, according to government statistics.

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