05/13/2004, 00.00
Vatican - Vietnam
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Progress made in religious freedom, but long road still ahead

Msgr. Parolin, undersecretary for Vatican Relations with States, spoke to Vatican Radio upon his delegation's return from Vietnam.

Vatican City - (AsiaNews) "One cannot deny there there's been progress made" regarding religious freedom in Vietnam in the 15 years that have passed since the Holy See delegations have been visiting the country, said Msgr. Pietro Parolin, undersecretary for the Holy See's department of relations with foreign states.

 "However there is still a long road ahead", the Vatican official said yesterday in an interview he gave on Vatican Radio on his return from Holy See's 13th official visit to Vietnam.

"The delegation," Parolin said, "was respectfully received an I must say almost cordially so, an attitude that we tried to share reciprocally."

"Vietnamese (officials) stressed on more than one occasion their intention of not looking back at the past, but with confidence toward the future. They quoted a recent resolution made by the Communist Party Central Committee, a state proclamation which considers Catholics 'full citizens' of the country and assures that the government wants to 'respond to the spiritual demands of the religious part of the population'."

Msgr. Parolin then said that talks with Religious Affairs Bureau authorities were "useful, even though there are still questions to be answered."

"Surprisingly, we were able to visit dioceses where a Holy See delegation had never managed to go, like Xuân Lôc, the country's largest and where Catholics form 30% of the population, as well as Ban Mé Thuôt, where ethnic minorities (i.e. the "Montagnards") live in isolation and where this is huge tension," the Vatican prelate said. 

The Vatican delegation was permitted to celebrate Mass with bishops and representatives from various diocesan offices and institutions "in a climate of deep spirituality and intense ecclesial communion." Parolin noted that the delegation's private tour of Ban Mé Thuôt Cathedral was "particularly moving".

"On our arrival we were met by a church packed with faithful who had spontaneous gathered there when word leaked about our delegation's visit." 

Regarding the delicate subject of religious freedom, the Vatican diplomat underscored that "15 years have passed since the first visits of the Holy See's delegation; one cannot deny there's been progress made."

"We discovered that in some regions authorities have asked the help of nuns and sisters to care for AIDS victims. Elsewhere authorization has been given to accept students at various religious institutes," Parolin said.

"I think, however, there is still a long road ahead. Therefore we must hope that through dialog faith will spread and that people will understand that the Catholic Church is merely seeking to freely carry out its mission, while generously serving the country and its inhabitants."

Parolin then confirmed that one of the issues discussed with Vietnamese government authorities was the nomination of bishops which "on account of known circumstances is conducted in Vietnam according to exceptional procedures with the hope that such appointments will soon follow normal (Church) bureaucracy."

"On this latest trip, successful discussions were made (regarding the matter), but which for the time being we cannot make public." 

Msgr. Parolin said his overall impression of the Vietnamese Church was one which is "full of enthusiasm, flourishing with priestly and religious vocations and aware of its mission to preach the Gospel and live in communion while still being a integral part of the country's society and desirous of serving the common good." 
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