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Vietnam Church invites pope to communist nation

Invite by Archbishop Joseph Nang comes as Hanoi inches closer to full diplomatic ties with the Vatican
Emeritus Cardinal Archbishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi at the foundation-laying ceremony for a new church on Oct. 26.

Emeritus Cardinal Archbishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi at the foundation-laying ceremony for a new church on Oct. 26. (Photo: tonggiaophanhanoi.org)

Published: October 30, 2023 05:55 AM GMT
Updated: October 30, 2023 06:41 AM GMT

The head of the Catholic Church in Vietnam has invited Pope Francis to the communist-led Southeast Asian nation as it aims for full diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

“We earnestly invite you to come to Vietnam” to strengthen “our communion, participation and mission of evangelization,” said Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam. 

Replying to the first-ever papal letter to 7 million Catholics in Vietnam, written by Pope Francis in September after Vietnam allowed a resident papal representative in Hanoi, Nang thanked the pope for supporting the local Church’s path to serving the nation.

“The people of God in Vietnam joyfully received your letter with immense gratitude,” the archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City wrote in his reply to the pope. 

Father Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu, head of the Office of the Vietnam Bishops' Conference, said Nang’s reply was dated Oct. 4 but made public on Oct. 27 after Singapore-based Archbishop Marek Zalewski, the non-resident representative to Vietnam since 2018, confirmed the letter’s acceptance by Pope Francis.

The pope previously wrote a letter addressed to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and Catholics in Vietnam, and emphasized the enduring importance of love as a measure of faith. 

"Love is the measure of faith, and faith is the soul of love, never forgetting that love for God and neighbor are two sides of the same coin," he said.

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

All former Church facilities were confiscated by the government after the country’s reunification in 1975 by the communists who then viewed the Church in Vietnam as having too close a historical connection with its former colonial master, France.

There are around 3,000 parishes, 7,700 facilities, and 11 seminaries served by 8,000 priests and 41 active bishops in Vietnam, according to official government data.

In his response, Nang, 70, said that local Catholics recognize the papal delight at further progress in the relationship between Vietnam and the Vatican.

“We thank you for your encouraging words to the Church in Vietnam and we promise to take courage to move forward in becoming the witnesses of the Gospel’s message,” the prelate wrote.

He prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide the Universal Church in the ongoing synodality.

Vietnam follows a one-party system and espouses communism along with the ideologies of the late Ho Chi Minh, which serve as the guiding principles for the party and the state.

Vietnamese Catholics are expecting the government to ease its religious policies after President Vo Van Thuong met the pope to sign the landmark pact on July 27.

 “We are longing to meet the pope in our country in the near future,” said Joseph Sung Cho Su, a lay leader from Yen Bai province.

Su, who hails from the Hmong ethnic community, said that he wanted diplomatic ties between Vietnam and the Vatican to improve steadily.

Full diplomatic ties will force the government to be more open to Hmong Catholics, said Su, a father of five.

Traditionally, Hmong people rely on agriculture for their livelihood. In August this year, Vietnam recognized a predominantly Hmong Catholic parish in Muong La district in the mountainous province of Son La in a clear sign of the government relaxing its religious policies after the Holy See-Hanoi deal.

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