02/20/2009, 00.00
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Religious freedom, diplomatic relations in talks between Holy See and Hanoi

A joint statement from the working group says there is an "atmosphere of openness," announces a second meeting at a time and venue that "will be agreed upon in due course," and reveals the Vatican's concern over the situation of the Church in the country.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Vietnam and religious freedom were the central themes of the first meeting of the joint working group held in Hanoi on February 16 and 17. The news comes in a joint statement released today from the Vatican, which speaks of "an atmosphere of openness, frankness and mutual respect," and announces a second meeting of the group, saying that "the time and venue of meeting will be agreed upon in due course."

The document reveals the Vatican's concerns about the life of the Catholic Church in Vietnam, which over the past year has been made more difficult by tensions with the authorities. Monsignor Pietro Parolin, the undersecretary for relations with states who led the Vatican delegation, while acknowledging that over the course of the years there has been an improvement in the situation, "took note" - a phrase indicating a lack of complete agreement - of the explanations given by deputy foreign minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong about "freedom of belief." For its part, the Vatican has reassured the authorities that the Church will not carry out any political activities.

"At the meeting," the document states, "Vice Minister Quoc Cuong emphasised Vietnam’s consistent policy on the freedom of belief as well as the achievements and current situation on religious affairs in Vietnam in recent years. Vice Minister Cuong expressed his wish for the Holy See’s active contribution to the life of the Catholic community in Vietnam, the strengthening of solidarity between religions and of the entire Vietnamese population, and the strong cohesion of the Catholic Church in Vietnam with the nation through practical contributions to national construction.

"Holy See Under-Secretary Monsignor Pietro Parolin took note of the explanations made by the Vietnamese delegation on the policy on freedom of religion and belief, recognising that positive progress has been made in the religious life in Vietnam and wished that the remaining unsolved matters in bilateral relations between Vietnam and the Holy See could be settled with goodwill through sincere dialogue. Monsignor Parolin emphasised the Holy See’s policy to respect independence and sovereignty of Vietnam, by which the Church’s religious activities would not be conducted for political purposes. He also stressed that the Church in its teachings invites the faithful to be good citizens, working for the common good of the country.

"During the meeting, the two sides held in-depth and comprehensive discussions on bilateral relations, including issues related to the Catholic Church in Vietnam. The two sides also acknowledged the encouraging development in the relations between Vietnam and the Holy See since 1990. The two sides agreed that the first meeting of the Joint Working Group was a new and important step forward in their bilateral relations and greater efforts should be made to further promote bilateral ties.

"The two sides agreed to hold the second meeting of the Joint Working Group. The time and venue of meeting will be agreed upon in due course.

"The meeting of the Joint Working Group took place in an atmosphere of openness, frankness and mutual respect. During the visit to Hanoi to attend the meeting of the Joint Working Group, the Holy See delegation will pay a courtesy call to the Government Committee for Religious Affairs and visit Thái Binh and Bùi Chu dioceses, and other cultural, historical and religious sites in Vietnam."

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