12/15/2023, 17.08
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Vietnam has officially invited Pope Francis

Vietnamese President Võ Văn Thưởng wrote to the pontiff inviting him to visit the country. The announcement was made by the government's Committee for Religious Affairs during the president’s pre-Christmas visit to the Archdiocese of Huế, where the shrine of La Vang is located. Vietnamese Catholics have been waiting for this for a long time.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The Vietnamese government has officially invited Pope Francis to visit the Southeast Asian country, a step that was much anticipated.

The Committee for Religious Affairs made the announcement just a few days before Christmas, saying that President Võ Văn Thưởng recently sent a letter to the Vatican with the invitation.

This comes in the wake of a meeting Mr Thưởng had with the pontiff on 27 July, when the two sides signed an agreement in Rome that, after years of negotiations, paved the way for the presence of a permanent representative of the Holy See in the country.

The government's announcement came during the Vietnamese president’s pre-Christmas visit to the Archdiocese of Huế, where the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang, the heart of the devotion of the Vietnamese people, is located.

Addressing Archbishop Giuse (Joseph) Nguyễn Chí Linh, the priests and faithful of the archdiocese, Thưởng emphasised the contribution Catholics have made to the country’s development.

Referring to his meeting a few months ago with the Holy Father, the president said that "the pope looks with affection to the people of Vietnam."

Francis himself spoke of a possible trip to Vietnam on his return from Mongolia last September. Responding to a question on the subject, he said, “If I don't go, John XXIV certainly will,” ironically referring to a possible successor.

A few days ago, Bishop Luy (Louis) Nguyen Anh Tuan of Ha Tinh, who recently participated in the Synod in Rome, spoke about a possible visit in an interview with AsiaNews. "We have been waiting for the pope for a long time; we wanted to invite him for several years," he said.

The prelate also stressed the differences between the situation of Catholics in Vietnam and in China. "China is a very big country; its government is strong and wants to control,” he explained.

“The Vietnamese government, on the other hand, needs the world, seeks the help of other countries in the economic sphere. It wants to tell the world that today Vietnam is an open country and trusts Catholics.”

Pope Francis’s health conditions and advanced age – he turns 87 tomorrow – make it difficult to envisage such a long-awaited journey happening anytime soon.

Nevertheless, the Vietnamese president's invitation represents a step forward towards the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Vietnam, after they were cut in 1975.

It also confirms that relations between the government and the local Catholic community have definitely improved, an important thing for a vibrant Church that today also gives many missionaries to the other countries in Asia.

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