VATICAN CITY, JAN. 22, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II appealed for religious liberty for Catholics in Vietnam, when he met today with the bishops of that Communist country.
The Pope explained that “to achieve a healthy collaboration” with the state “the Church expects total respect of its independence and autonomy from the political community.”
The regime did not create any problems for the bishops, in fulfilling their quinquennial “ad limina” visit to Rome. The group included 26 bishops and two priests. Five years ago, 14 bishops were allowed to visit the Pope and Roman Curia.
Official statistics say there are 5.3 million Catholics in Vietnam, out of a population of 79 million. Sources of the missionary agency Fides estimate there are 7 million Catholics.
Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang, president of the episcopal conference, spoke on behalf of the bishops. He described Vietnam as a country in transition from a planned to a market economy, and from isolationism to integration in the world community.
However, in this process of renewal, “the Church still does not fully enjoy all the necessary liberties,” Bishop Van Hoa told the Pope. In 1999 John Paul II had hoped to visit Vietnam.
On Jan. 15 the Fides agency reported that the Hanoi government kept control over the appointment of bishops; seminarians; priest´s pastoral work; the opening of novitiates for religious orders; and overseas communications.
In his address to the bishops, John Paul II explained that the Church “in no way is confused with the political community nor is it bound to any political system.”
“For this reason, the political community and the Church are independent of one another and autonomous in the domain that is proper to them,” the Holy Father added.
However, this does not mean that there cannot and must not be a “healthy collaboration” between the Church and state, in the name of which Christians are urged to “commit themselves loyally in the growth of all and the edification of a just, supportive and equitable society,” the Pontiff continued.
The Church in no way pretends to usurp the place of “the leaders of the nation and the action of people, either individually or collectively. It only wishes to exercise its specific mission”: “the human and spiritual development of people, communicating divine life to man” and “ennobling the dignity of the human person,” the Holy Father emphasized.
He added that religious liberty not only affects the individual, but also religious communities.
These communities must be free “to govern themselves autonomously; to celebrate public worship without restrictions; to teach the faith publicly and witness to it orally and in writing; to support their members in the practice of religious life; to choose, educate, appoint and deploy their own ministers; to manifest the singular force of their social doctrine; to promote initiatives in the educational, cultural, charitable and social fields,” the Pope concluded.