“The Government of Vietnam and [the] Vatican have agreed to convene the first meeting of [the] Vietnam-Vatican Joint Working Group,” Mr Le said, in fulfillment of “Vietnam’s foreign policy of independence, sovereignty, multi-lateralization and diversification of international relations”.
The Vietnamese delegation will be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong; the Vatican’s delegation will be headed by Mgr Pietro Parolin, Under-Secretary of State for Relations with States.
The announcement follows statements made after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the Vatican in January 2007, which at the time seemed to indicate improving relations.
In June last year Vietnam’s official news agency VNA described a previous visit by a Vatican delegation to Vietnam (pictured) a “success” at which time the two parties agreed to set a date “as soon as possible” to convene the joint working group and speed up the development of “normal diplomatic relations.”
Nothing was said however about the ongoing row between the Church and the authorities over the former’s properties, especially the compound of the ex-apostolic delegation in Hanoi and land belonging to Thai Ha Parish, as well as other situations like the Vinh Long Convent.
As a result of the row some Catholics have been tried and sentenced. For their part, the authorities have repeatedly called on the Church to remove Hanoi’s archbishop, Mgr Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, a demand always rejected by Vietnamese bishops. In addition, a directive from the prime minister has made it clear that none of the 2,250 properties seized from the Church will be returned to their owners.
The Vatican’s answer has been silence. It did however grant Thai Ha parishioners the right to hold a “Holy Year”.
The Vatican delegation is planning to put all these issues and others, including that of Episcopal appointments, on the discussion table in what is its 16th visit to Vietnam, on 16-21 February.
In addition to its meetings with the authorities, the delegation in fact also plans to visit a few dioceses such as Bui Chu and Thai Binh.