Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Pope John Paul never visited Vietnam but his name is everywhere in the communist country, be it in praise by the leadership, stories by state-run media.
Like China, Vietnam has no diplomatic relations with the Vatican, although its 8 million Catholics make the Southeast Asian country the second-biggest Catholic community in Asia after the Philippines. On Sunday, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai sent a message of condolence to the Vatican for Pope's death.
News of the Pope's death on Saturday appeared within hours on the front page of the online edition of the Vietnam Communist Party's daily, Nhan Dan.
Yesterday, the party's umbrella organisation, the Fatherland Front, praised his efforts in a condolence message, sent to the Vietnam Bishops Council, which appeared on the daily's front page.
"Pope John Paul II was a religious leader who contributed much to advocating peace and reconciliation, to condemning the crime of genocide, war criminals and the threat of the HIV/Aids pandemic," Pham The Duyet, chairman of the organisation, said.
Mr Duyet called on Vietnam's bishops to follow "the moral example of the Pope".
An official of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs said Hanoi had made preparations for churches nationwide to hold mourning rites, and church officials "could go to the Vatican at their will" for the funeral.
Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet said he and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man would attend the funeral. He said Pope John Paul "loved Vietnam in a special way".
In 1988, the pontiff canonised 117 Catholic Vietnamese and European missionaries executed for their beliefs by reigning emperors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bishop Kiet said Pope John Paul had wanted to visit Vietnam: Catholics bishops invited him for the 200th anniversary of La Vang national shrine, but the government didn't allow the papal trip, putting obstacles also to the local pilgrims. Bishop Kiet hoped that his successor would do so.