01/11/2007, 00.00
VATICAN – VIETNAM
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Vietnamese prime minister to visit Vatican on January 25

It will be the first visit by a Vietnamese premier. The normalisation of diplomatic relations will top the agenda. For Hanoi there is the prospect of getting the Church to provide assistance to the poor and the disabled as well as help to revitalise the country’s soul at a time when people are in a rush for riches and corruption is growing.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – On January 25 the head of a Vietnamese government will be in the Vatican for the first time. Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng’s visit, which official sources have not yet announced, represents a further sign that relations between the Vatican and Hanoi are improving and might be the prelude to full normalisation.

Before Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, a delegation of Vietnamese government officials visited the Vatican on July 2, 2005, and held talks with their Vatican counterparts. At the time, the parties expressed “hope for a quick move towards normalization” of relations.

On November 29, 2002, Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Khoan crossed the threshold into the Apostolic Palaces to meet then Secretary of State Card Angelo Sodano, and John Paul II’s foreign minister, Mgr Jean-Louis Tauran.

Visits by delegations from the Holy See to Vietnam have been more numerous, 14 altogether, at almost regular intervals, the latest occurring in November 2005 led by the prefect of the Congregation for the evangelization of peoples, Card Crescenzio Sepe, who met Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Khoan.

Cardinal Sepe’s trip came in the wake of the Vietnamese government’s decision to accept the creation of the new diocese of Ba Ria. During that same trip, the prelate was able to ordain 57 new priests in Hanoi.

Upon his return from a mission to Vietnam in May 2004, Mgr Pietro Parolin, undersecretary of the Section for Relations with States at the Vatican Secretariat of State, said “how on more than one occasion the Vietnamese side stressed its intention to put the past behind and look forward to the future with confidence”.

In terms of the Vatican-Vietnam relationship, “the deeply felt condolences to the Vatican, the world’s Catholic community and Vietnam’s Catholic faithful” which the government of Vietnam expressed in a note sent by then Prime Minister Pham Van Khai to the secretary of state, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, upon the death of John Paul I was a significant step.

On that occasion, the authorities allowed Hanoi Cathedral to set up a maxi screen to give people an opportunity follow the Pope’s funeral ceremony.

The Vietnamese government’s current attitude towards the Catholic Church is closely linked to its belief that the Church can play an important role in helping the poor and the disabled and in running kindergarten and health facilities, which are all theoretical still government prerogatives.

Similarly, the role the Church can play in revitalising the country’s soul at a time of problems related to the rush for riches and corruption is valued positively.

Last but not least, Vietnam’s successful bid to join the World Trade Organisation was partly dependent on its ability to improve the country’s human rights situation, including its ability to guarantee freedom of religion. (FP)

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