Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese Church is celebrating the recent appointment by Pope Francis of two new auxiliary bishops to the dioceses of Vinh and Hung Hoa. An official announcement was made on Saturday, the day after the end of the fourth meeting of the Joint Working Group between Vietnam and the Holy See, held in the Vatican on 13-14 June.
The two new bishops are Fr Alphonse Nguyen Huu Long, who was appointed to the Diocese of Hung Hoa, a suffragan of the archdiocese of Hanoi. The second is Fr Pierre Nguyen Van Vien, who will take over Vinh, in the north of the country, scene in the past of serious incidents of anti-Christian persecution by local authorities.
The faithful of the two dioceses celebrated their dual appointment with Masses and prayers for the new task the new bishops now face.
Fr Alphonse was born in 1953 in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. From 1978 to 1982, he served in the country's communist army in a division stationed in Quang Nam province.
After he left the service, he began his religious studies, and was ordained into the priesthood in 1990. Afterwards, he served as vicar in Tam Ky Parish, and earned a degree in Canon Law.
From 1999 to 2001, he served in Lâm Hà Parish, followed by a stint of two years in Tra Kieu Parish. He was eventually appointed professor of Canon Law, Church History and Catechism at the Major Seminary in Hue, where he became the rector in 2011.
Fr Pierre is a native of Quang Binh province. From 1987 to 1992, he studied at the University of Agronomy in Hue, where he obtained a doctorate in economics.
Drafted into the army where he stayed until 1984, he was ordained priest in 1999 and sent to the Diocese of Binh.
Later, he was sent to work among Vietnamese immigrants in Australia where he earned his doctorate in theology. Vice rector at Vinh Thanh Seminary, he also served as vicar general in the Diocese of Vinh.
The fourth meeting of the Joint Vietnam-Holy See Working Group took place a few days ago. During the session, the Vatican again asked Vietnamese authorities for the right to appoint a permanent diplomatic official in the country, currently served by a non-permanent papal representative.
During the meeting, which was held in a friendly atmosphere, nothing was said, officially at least, about the difficulties experienced by the Vietnamese Church, and the lack of religious freedom.
With the appointment of two new auxiliaries, Pope Francis confirmed the Vatican's interest in the Church in Vietnam.
The last appointments made by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on February 28 of this year was that of Mgrs Joseph Dinh Duc Dao and Xuan Loc.
Benedict was one of the great architects of dialogue between Vietnam and the Holy See, after decades of persecution by Communist authorities following the end of the Vietnam War and the northern takeover of the whole country.