03/02/2007, 00.00
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Vatican delegation going to Hanoi to discuss diplomatic ties and religious freedom

It is hoped that a normalization process will be concretely launched and further steps taken to improve the situation of Catholics who still face forms of persecution at local level. It will be the fifteenth visit to Vietnam of representatives from the Holy See.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Another step in the long and arduous journey towards religious freedom in Vietnam and the normalization of ties between Hanoi and the Vatican. The approach of a Holy See delegation preparing to leave for a visit to Vietnam tomorrow has been described as “positive” in the Vatican. The delegation, which is led by the undersecretary “for Foreign Affairs”, Mgr Pietro Parolin, will be in Vietnam until Sunday next, 11 March. Their visit follows that made by the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, to Benedict XVI on 25 January. He was the first premier of Hanoi to be received by a pope.

This event was described as a “new and important step towards the normalization of bilateral ties” in a statement by the Holy See, which also underlined the “concrete progress” towards religious freedom registered in recent years. The statement also expressed the hope that ties between the Church and State would allow for collaboration to promote moral values and to spread a culture of solidarity and “charitable assistance”.

Now the Vatican delegation headed for Hanoi aims for the concrete launch of a process towards diplomatic ties, even if not their immediate realization, and also for the appointment of bishops. The delegation will visit some local Catholic projects.

The normalization of diplomatic ties and the opening of more space for religious freedom – the Vatican admits “significant steps ahead” have been made with a recent Vietnamese law in this regard – are anxiously expected by Catholics of the country. They are held to be the outcome of local situations, which anyhow will be discussed, like what is going on in Son La, in the extreme north-west of the country, on the border with Laos. In this remote province, Communist party officials ban public masses and prayer meetings and put all manner of obstacles in the way of Catholics, who are subject to a systematic defamation campaign. Such episodes have prompted Vietnamese Catholics to voice fears that the attitude of openness of the government of Hanoi about diplomatic ties with the Holy See is motivated above all by the desire to see growth in foreign investment, as well as a plan to instigate differences between Catholics and followers of other religions and a bid to create division between Catholics themselves.

In reality, after years of persecution and the failure of attempts to create a “Patriotic Association” on the Chinese model, Hanoi has come to the conclusion that Catholic morality can be useful for the country. Vietnam is suffering due to inequalities provoked by rapid and non harmonious economic growth, corruption and the spread of a mentality based on a frantic search for success at all costs. The “contribution” of Catholics for the “promotion of moral values, especially among youth, the spread of a culture of solidarity and charitable aid for the most vulnerable groups of the population” was mentioned by the Vatican statement issued after the visit of the Vietnamese premier.

The visit of the Vatican delegation to Vietnam, which starts tomorrow, will be the fifteenth, at least so far as is known. The last, which took place in November 2005, was led by the then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who met the Vietnamese deputy prime minister, Vu Khoan, in Hanoi. (FP)

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