Upon their arrival the Vatican representatives (pictured) went to the Hanoi Archbishopric where they were warmly greeted by many faithful. There they also held their first meeting with Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, eventually ending their day with a Mass at St Joseph Cathedral, crowded with worshippers.
Vietnam’s government had announced the 16th visit by a Vatican delegation last Thursday. According to the statement released on that day by Vietnam’s official news agency VNA, the visit is an opportunity for “discussions” concerning “diplomatic relations” with the Holy See, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung was quoted as saying.
In letter, released subsequently, the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam (CBCV) Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon said that the Vatican delegation would meet officials from Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry as announced by Vietnamese authorities, but also officials from the Central Committee on Religious Affairs.
In the latter case the delicate issue of clashes between authorities and the Church over the past year is likely to be a topic of discussion. It concerns the seizure of Church-owned properties like the compound of the former apostolic delegation in Hanoi and land owned by the Thai Ha parish, also in the capital, as well as other issues like the Vinh Long convent.
Talks over such issues come in the wake of a directive issued by Vietnam’s prime minister earlier this year stating that none of the 2,250 properties seized from Vietnam’s Church will be returned to their owners.
Discussions will also take place against a background that includes the trial and conviction of some Catholics for protesting against the takeover of Church property as well as a request made by the authorities to Vietnam’s bishops that they replace Mgr Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet as archbishop of Hanoi, a request always rejected by the bishops.
Local sources suggest that Vietnamese leaders are likely to repeat such a demand when they meet the representatives of the Holy See.
During its visit the Vatican delegation is expected to meet the Executive Committee of the Bishops’ Conference as well as travel to the northern dioceses of Thai Binh and Bui Chu.
In his letter the CBCV chairman said that the Vatican delegation specifically asked Vietnamese Catholics for “intense prayers” as a token of their “love for the Church.”
In a veiled reference to the Vietnam Committee for Catholic Solidarity (VCCS), the letter also mentioned the need for Christian unity.
Since 1955 the government has in fact tried to use the VCCS to create a ‘patriotic Church’ faithful to the Communist Party and not the Pope
Although this attempt has had little success, it has not stopped the authorities from trying to re-launch the VCCS last November because of rising Church-State tensions.