Holy Father Greets 3,000 Vietnamese Pilgrims in Rome

Number of Catholics in Vietnam Has Increased by 15% in Five Years

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 25, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II sent his greetings this afternoon to some 3,000 Vietnamese pilgrims gathered in Rome from all over the world.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, read the papal greetings at the meeting, held at the Pontifical Urban University.

Over the past 5 years, the number of Catholics in Vietnam has increased by 15%, Vatican Radio reported.

Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson of Adelaide, Australia, seat of an important Vietnamese community, presided over the Eucharistic celebration.

The event was prepared for two years with the visit to communities in exile in four continents, of the statue of the Virgin of La Vang, patroness of Vietnam, to celebrate the 470th anniversary of the beginning of evangelization of the country.

According to the Church’s Statistical Yearbook, in 2001 out of a total population of 80 million, 5,412 million were Catholic. The majority of the population is Buddhist or professes other traditional religions.

Among those participating in the pilgrimage to Rome is Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang, president of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference, who had to request special permission from the authorities of his country.

In Rome, the Vietnamese pilgrims are taking part in times of prayer and liturgy, in meetings to exchange experiences, and in special gatherings of priests and religious, parents, youth, associations and movements, communicators.

Vatican Radio reported that over the past two years there have been signs of openness on the part of the Communist government, especially since 2002, when it gave bishops permission to participate in Rome in their five-yearly «ad Limina Apostolorum» visit to the Pope and the Roman Curia.

On that occasion, the Holy Father appealed to the government to respect the autonomy and independence of the Church, as it continues to control ecclesiastical activities, especially of bishops, priests, and seminarians.

Another sign of openness was permission to hold a meeting in early July, in the southern diocese of Bui Chu, of representatives of 46 religious congregations present in Vietnam. This was the first meeting of its kind in 50 years.

In 2001 in Vietnam there were 37 bishops, 2,027 diocesan priests, 474 religious priests, 1,487 men religious (not priests), 9,548 women religious, 305 consecrated lay women, and 49,862 catechists. After the Philippines, East Timor, and South Korea, Vietnam has the highest percentage of Catholics in Southeast Asia.

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