03/09/2007, 00.00
VIETNAM – VATICAN
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Diplomatic relations go hand in hand with religious freedom

by JB. VU
Vatican delegation meets government’s religious affairs boss, visits Qui Nhon diocese for the first time. Episcopal appointments were discussed.

Ho Chi Minh City (Asianews) – Religious freedom, issues that pertain to the local Church including Episcopal appointments, and diplomatic relations topped discussions held by the Vatican delegation that is currently visiting Vietnam.

Led by Mgr Pietro Parolin, Under-Secretary of State for Relations with States, the delegation arrived in Hanoi last Tuesday. Since then it has met Nguyen The Doanh, deputy chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee, and other government officials. It has also visited the diocese of Qui Nohn in the central part of the country.

According to Father Joseph, from the Episcopal Council of the Saigon diocese, “diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Vietnam must be carefully considered by the Bishops’ Council of Vietnam and the Vatican, and by the Holy See and the government. The Vatican has mentioned diplomatic relations with the local Church and we want to establish relations based on the presence of an apostolic delegate or nuncio in Vietnam.” In any case, “before establishing diplomatic relations we need freedom,” he added.

“So far results from meetings have been limited to the issue of Episcopal appointments. The Vatican delegation has suggested various ideas and initiatives, but the government just listens and studies them. In Vietnam there is a gap between theory, and decisions taken at meetings, and what is actually implemented.”

Reports from Qui Nhon say that the delegation visited the diocese on Wednesday and Thursday. Holy See representatives had never been able to visit it. At present, most local Church land and property have been seized. If the government wants to respect people’s freedom and their right to engage in religious activities, it must return land, buildings and meeting places to the local Church.

Local Church sources said that Bishop Paul, head of the Bishops’ Council of Vietnam, and the archbishop of Huế have asked the government to give back part of the La Vang Holy Land. The request was made last January to top government officials and the People’s Committee of Quang Tri province.

“The Vatican,” Father Joseph said, “might establish diplomatic relations first at the level of apostolic delegate (kham mang) and then move up to an apostolic nuncio (kham su). We must be patient and prudent in matters of relations. We are Vietnamese Catholics and do not want to be hurried or beg politicians. We must be careful, especially when it comes to the nomination of new bishops.”

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