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Updated: July 05, 1995 05:00 PM GMT
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Some 20,000 Vietnamese Catholics paid their last respects to Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh of Ho Chi Minh City at his funeral July 5 in the Ho Chi Minh City cathedral.

Cardinal Paul Pham Dinh Tung of Hanoi and Archbishop Luigi Bressan, as the special representative of Pope John Paul II, presided at the Mass.

The pope grieved with mourners over the death of the revered 84-year-old archbishop and assured Vietnamese Catholics of his solidarity in prayer, said Archbishop Bressan, apostolic nuncio to Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand and apostolic delegate to Brunei, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar.

Several bishops and priests joined in the requiem for Archbishop Binh, who died July 1 after a lingering cardiac illness.

State and Communist Party officials sent flowers and messages, and representatives of other religions and faiths including Buddhists and Protestants honored the dead Catholic leader.

Bishop Nicholas Huynh Van Nghi of Phan Thiet, Holy See-approved apostolic administrator of Ho Chi Minh whose appointment has awaited state concurrence for 21 months, kept a low profile at the funeral, observers told UCA News.

Archbishop Binh´s body was interred in St. Joseph´s Major Seminary chapel as he requested. According to some Churchpeople, his wish to be buried in the seminary chapel confirmed his abiding concern for training native priests.

"Why are our seminaries not allowed to select candidates every year like any seminary and university around the world?" he asked in an interview published April 29 in Liberated Saigon, the Ho Chi Minh City Communist party newspaper.

At the "sunset of life," the archbishop said in the interview, "I feel it was a very long time because my expectations are yet to be fulfilled."

Archbishop Binh´s 35-year episcopate spanned a tumultuous period in the history of the nation of 71 million people, about 10 percent of them Catholic.

Named to then-Saigon archdiocese in 1960, Archbishop Binh continued to head the metropolitan see renamed Thanh-Pho Ho Chi Minh in 1976 after the reunification of Vietnam.

According to a 1994 survey, the archdiocese serves about 470,000 Catholics, 13 percent of the people who live in the 1,800-square-kilometer area.

The death of Archbishop Binh has kindled speculation about his successor and future Vietnam-Vatican relations, Bangkok-based media said. The government rejected four Holy See episcopal appointments to Vietnam dioceses in April.

In a bid to normalize relations in 1994, the Holy See agreed to a government role in the selection of priests, but negotiations stalled.

The issue of religious freedoms was earlier aggravated by the Holy See´s moves to appoint a successor in Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese, particularly the attempt to appoint Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan as coadjutor.

The former Saigon archdiocese was once headed by his uncle, the brother of anti-communist South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, whose assassination in 1963 helped trigger the Vietnam War.

Vatican-based Archbishop Thuan is now deputy president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.


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