01/13/2011, 00.00
VATICAN VIETNAM

The Pope appoints his "representative" for Vietnam

A significant step, although there are still no full diplomatic relations, broken since 1975. A slow journey out of respect for religious freedom. But for Vietnamese Catholics "normality" is still far off, contradicted by frequent incidents of abuse and violence by the authorities.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - A significant step forward in relations between the Vatican and Vietnam. As Benedict XVI had previously announced in a speech on Jan. 10 to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, as of today there is a "papal representative" for Vietnam. Mgr. Leopoldo Girelli, until now apostolic nuncio to Indonesia, was appointed today "apostolic nuncio to Singapore, Apostolic Delegate to Malaysia and Brunei, and non-resident papal representative to Vietnam."

Although a "representative" is not a nuncio and there are no full diplomatic relations, once again there is a papal representative in Vietnam. There have been no diplomatic relations with the country since 1975 after the occupation of Saigon, when the Vatican delegate was forced go to Hanoi. And this despite Paul VI, who in those years had intervened on several occasions against the American bombing of the North. Pope Paul VI intervened both publically - with appeals and in particular letters to President Johnson and the leaders of the two Vietnams (1967) – as well as on a confidential level for a negotiated settlement.

The failure of an attempt to build a Patriotic Church on the Chinese model – which is still not supported by the Communist Party - and the Vatican’s slow progress in persuading the government of the benefits of cooperation with the Catholic Church have allowed, on one had, a modus vivendi based on government consent of candidates for bishops – almost denied after unification - and the on other more space for Catholics to actively take part in society. The current Vietnamese government attitude is related not only to growing international pressure, but also to a growing awareness that the Catholic Church can be helpful in assisting the poor and disabled, in the administration of kindergartens and health facilities, all tasks theoretically reserved to state institutions. The Churches important contribution to "restoring the soul" to a country that is struggling to counter the phenomena of the pursuit of wealth at all costs and corruption, is also seen in a positive light.

This does not mean that episodes of repression, if not persecution, have diminished, given that the government appears to want full control over Catholics, who represent about 10 percent of the population. Among the causes, the demands for respect for human rights and the "confiscation" of land of the Catholic institutions by authorities, which have grown enormously in value after the choice of the party to join the market economy. As was the case of the former apostolic delegation in Hanoi - taken by the authorities in 1959 – which became a public park in 2008, after tensions and disputes with the Archbishop and the faithful who demanded its return, which had at first seemed likely.

Today’s appointment today, which the Pope described in his speech to diplomats as "satisfying" was reached after a series of visits of delegations from both parties, the most important being the visit of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to the Vatican in 2007 and that of President Nguyen Minh Triet on 11 December 2009 (pictured), the first time a Vietnamese president had visited the Vatican since 1975. Moreover June of last year saw the second meeting of the "Joint Working Group" between Vietnam and the Vatican, which has the official aim of continuing the process of normalization of diplomatic relations.

Finally, today’s appointment comes in the midst of the Vietnamese Communist Party Congress. And even if the news has yet to be reported in the country, from the standpoint of the Holy See, it is an important step to allow a "normal" life of the Vietnamese Church. But from another point of view, it may represent a "message" to China. Beijing and Hanoi have always been very close, in political, military and economic spheres. And even in Church policies. (FP)

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