1993-03-08 00:00:00

Since a top Vatican official left Vietnam Feb. 6, local Church people have been assessing the visit. They say the weeklong visit brought some hope, but only a little.

Monsignor Claudio Celli, undersecretary of the Vatican Secretariat of State visited Vietnam Feb. 1-6. Afterwards, he told the press "some progress was made" in the relationship between the Vatican and Vietnamese authorities and agreements reached during dialogues were "initially positive," but he gave no concrete examples.

Sources in Hanoi told UCA News that the one positive example was the acceptance of Bishop Andre Nguyen Van Nam as bishop of My Tho, a city in the south at the mouth of the Mekong river.

Bishop Nam has been coadjutor bishop of My Tho diocese since 1975, but when Bishop Tran Van Thien died in 1988 the government did not accept Bishop Nam as the legitimate successor.

The right of the Church to appoint bishops has been a contentious topic for a long time. Local sources say the government wants all religions subdued and under their control, which means they want a say in who is named bishop.

In the last few years many bishops have retired, others have died. Because the government does not accept Vatican nominations many dioceses are vacant.

A Church source in Bangkok told UCA News after the visit that the key problem is the different perceptions of religious freedom between the Vatican and the government of Vietnam.

The Church source in Bangkok said Monsignor Celli saw many signs of hope for the Church in Vietnam. Nearly 20,000 people welcomed the Vatican official at the blessing of a new wing of the major seminary in Hanoi.

The enthusiastic crowd mobbed the pope´s representative and delayed the ceremony for an hour. During that time, the source told UCA News, the people professed closeness to the pope.

Pope John Paul II will not visit Vietnam this year, the Church source said, but Monsignor Celli or another Vatican official will visit again in 1993.

Monsignor Celli also visited Hung Hoa, a diocese with 200,000 Catholics and fifteen priests. The priests range in age from 70-93. He was told many young men from the diocese want to enter the seminary but cannot get permission.

Vacant sees and strictly controlled entrance to priestly and religious life were major points of discussion during the visit, but little progress was made, Church sources in Vietnam say. No solution emerged from discussions on three important dioceses: Hanoi, Bac Ninh and Thanh-Pho Ho Chi Minh.

Since Cardinal Joseph Marie Trinh Van Can of Hanoi died in 1990 the archdiocese has been administered by Bishop Paul Pham Dinh Tung of Bac Ninh. In recent months Bac Ninh´s vicar general has been ill, forcing Bishop Tung, 74, to stay there, leaving Hanoi vacant. The government has yet to accept any Vatican appointment for Hanoi and Bac Ninh.

Thanh-Pho Ho Chi Minh´s Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh, 83, has retired because of illness and Auxiliary Bishop Luis Pham Van Nam, 74, is also known to be sick. The government is reported to prefer the appointment of vicar general Monsignor Huynh Cong Minh as successor.

Monsignor Huynh is known as a "patriotic priest," though he is no longer a formal member of the government-backed Committee for the Unity of Patriotic Vietnamese Catholics. According to some priests of Ho Chi Minh City, he withdrew membership some years ago to improve his standing with the Vatican.

The candidate supported by the Holy See reportedly is Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, 66, who was nominated coadjutor of Saigon just weeks before the communists


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