Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) The square that lies before Hanoi's Cathedral could not contain the thousands of faithful who gathered from far and wide to see Church history being made: the ordination of 57 new priests. In the end , many had to stand outside and listen to the ceremony through loudspeakers.
Card Crescenzio Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples who is visiting the country, presided over the ceremony and blessed the new priests.
Today's event is a sign of warming relations between the Vatican and Vietnam, a trend confirmed by the appointment, also today, of a new bishop, the second in a week.
Benedict XVI has in fact named Mgr Pierre Nguyen Van De, 60, Auxiliary Bishop of the diocese of Bui Chu.
Behind Hanoi's new openness lies the desire to join the World Trade Organisation and the recognition that the Catholic Church can provide useful social assistance to the people, including in the health and education fields, especially at the kindergarten level.
No government representative attended today's three-hour function, but there were plenty plain-cloth policemen in the crowd.
With a chance to ordain so many priests, Catholic presence in the northern part of the country might expand again after the country's split in 1954 and the 1963-1975 war weakened the Catholic Church so much.
It is no accident that in his homily, Cardinal Sepe spoke of the new priests as men on a mission in a country of 80 million, where only 6 are Catholic.
"Preaching the Gospel is not proselytising in the negative sense of the word," the Cardinal said, "but means sharing the joy and truth that we Christians bring to our non Christians brothers".