ucanews.com reporter, Ho Chi Minh CityUpdated: September 06, 2019 09:56 AM GMT
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray addresses a conference in Espelette, France, on Aug. 26, 2014. He was the first top Vatican official to visit Vietnam after it was reunified under communist rule in 1975. (Photo by Gaizka Iroz/AFP)
The head of Catholic bishops in Vietnam has praised a late Vatican official for his efforts to build bridges between Vietnam and the Catholic world.
Cardinal Roger Marie Elie Etchegaray, president emeritus of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, died on Sept. 4 in Cambo-les-Bains in the Diocese of Bayonne in France. He was 96.
His death is a great loss not only for his relatives and the French Church but also for the College of Cardinals and the universal Church, said Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam.
“Cardinal Etchegaray is a great benefactor for the history of the Church in Vietnam,” Archbishop Linh said in a special message to Catholics on Sept. 5.
The archbishop of Hue said the French cardinal was the first top Vatican official to visit the Southeast Asian country after it was reunified under communist rule in 1975. He made a two-week working visit in 1989.
The communist government expelled nuncio Henri Lemaitre from South Vietnam, cut off all ties with the Vatican, and banned local bishops from having contacts with outside churches.
Archbishop Linh said the late cardinal improved the strained relationship between the two sides.
“His historic visit was successful. Government officials and all people of God in Vietnam loved him. His mission became a historic bridge between Vietnam and the Catholic world,” the 69-year-old archbishop said.
After his visit, the government started to relax its grips on religious policies. Local clergymen were allowed to study abroad and set up ties with foreign churches.
In 1990, Cardinal Etchegaray returned to attend the funeral of Vietnamese Cardinal Joseph Marie Trinh Van Can of Hanoi.
Archbishop Linh said he would sent a letter of condolence to the French Church and Cardinal Etchegaray’s relatives.
He asked local Catholics to pray for the deceased cardinal to be in eternal life and appeal to him to pray for their nation and Church.
On Sept. 5, Pope Francis was quoted by Vatican News as saying that Cardinal Etchegaray was “a zealous pastor and loved by the people he was called to serve.”
The pope also said he was an adviser who was listened to and appreciated, especially in difficult situations for the life of the Church in different regions of the world. He described the cardinal as a man of dialogue and peace.
The Holy Father recollected “an emotional memory of this man of deep faith” whose eyes “turned to the ends of the earth, always alert when it came to proclaiming the Gospel to today’s people.”
The funeral of Cardinal Etchegaray will be held on Sept. 9 in the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Bayonne.