Some Progress Seen in Religious Freedom in Vietnam

But a Long Road Remains, Says Vatican Official

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 13, 2004 ( Vietnam has made progress in religious freedom over the past 15 years, but “there is still a long road ahead,” says a Vatican official.

Monsignor Pietro Parolin, undersecretary of the Vatican Secretariat of State’s Section for Relations with States, gave that assessment when he returned from the 13th official visit by Holy See officials to the Southeast Asian country.

“The delegation was respectfully received and I must say almost cordially so,” he told Vatican Radio on Wednesday.

“The Vietnamese stressed on more than one occasion their intention of not looking back to the past, but with confidence toward the future,” the monsignor said.

“They quoted a recent resolution made by the Communist Party’s Central Committee, a state proclamation which considers Catholics ‘full citizens’ of the country and assures that the government wants to ‘respond to the spiritual demands of the religious part of the population,'” he explained.

Talks with Religious Affairs Bureau authorities were “useful, even though there are still questions to be answered,” the Vatican official noted.

“Surprisingly,” he added, “we were able to visit dioceses where a Holy See delegation had never managed to go, like Xuan Loc, the country’s largest and where Catholics constitute 30% of the population, as well as Ban Me Thuot, where ethnic minorities live in isolation and where there is huge tension.”

The Holy See delegation was permitted to celebrate Mass with bishops and representatives from various diocesan offices and institutions “in a climate of deep spirituality and intense ecclesial communion,” Monsignor Parolin said.

The delegation’s private tour of Ban Me Thuot Cathedral was “particularly moving,” he said. “On our arrival we were met by a church packed with faithful who had gathered there spontaneously when word leaked out about our delegation’s visit.”

Regarding religious freedom, the Vatican diplomat emphasized that “15 years have passed since the first visits of the Holy See’s delegation; one cannot deny there’s been progress.”

“We discovered that in some regions authorities have asked the help of nuns and sisters to care for AIDS victims. Elsewhere, authorization has been given to accept students at various religious institutes,” Monsignor Parolin said.

“I think, however, that there is still a long road ahead. Therefore we must hope that through dialogue faith will spread and that people will understand that the Catholic Church is merely seeking to freely carry out its mission, while generously serving the country and its inhabitants,” he said.

Monsignor Parolin confirmed that one of the issues discussed with Vietnamese government authorities was the nomination of bishops, which “on account of known circumstances is conducted in Vietnam according to exceptional procedures with the hope that such appointments will soon follow normal [Church] bureaucracy.”

He said “successful discussions were made” on the matter, “but which for the time being we cannot make public.”

Monsignor Parolin said his overall impression of the Church in Vietnam was one which is “full of enthusiasm, flourishing with priestly and religious vocations, and aware of its mission to preach the Gospel and live in communion while still being an integral part of the country’s society and desirous of serving the common good.”

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