Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) The nomination of a bishop for the dioceses of Than Hua (having a two-year vacancy in northern Vietnam) and an improvement to the Catholic Church's difficult situation are the two main objectives of the Vatican delegation's visit to Hanoi. The delegation will remain in the capital until the end of the month.
The delegation, led by Msgr. Pietro Parolin (undersecretary for the Holy See's Relations with States department) who is on his first official duty abroad since nominated in Dec. 2002, will meet with various Vietnamese government leaders.
Msgr. Barnabas Phuong, of Vietnamese origin, is an expert member of the delegation. Msgr. Phuong is an active member of the Vatican's Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples.
The Vatican visit is the latest in series of trips the Holy See has made to Vietnam in the last 10 years. Yet the Vatican has no diplomatic relations with the country. In Oct. of 2002 the Vietnamese deputy prime minister, Wu Khoang, journeyed to Vatican City.
The Vietnamese government does not allow for the direct appointment of bishops. Hanoi demands that the Holy See present it with a list of names from which it can choose a candidate it likes best. The method, which dates back to the eighteenth-century, is the only way the Vatican can nominate Vietnamese bishops, who are pastors to one of Asia's most lively and numerous Churches.
The country's authorities exhibit the same behavior when regulating all other aspects of religious freedom within the severely repressed Catholic Church. According to new regulations, in addition to the nomination of bishops, it is the government who decides who can enter the seminary, become a candidate for priestly ordination, be named to a parish or appointed as a professor in seminaries,
Priests and bishops are moreover subject to continuous checks in terms of pastoral visits made throughout dioceses. Seminaries are required to teach Marxism.
Vietnamese Catholics make up around 8-9% of the Vietnamese population and there are many vocations within the Church. A Vatican official told AsiaNews that there are at least 100 young men in each diocese willing to enter the seminary. Yet the government only allows a dozen at a time to enter in each diocese. In recent years the Vietnamese Church often presented requests to open more seminaries, but the government has continuously postponed authorization.
Even Church publications are subject to tight controls. For over a year now the government has authorized the publication religious information bulletins, yet controls their content.