HUE, Vietnam, JAN. 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, represented Benedict XVI on Thursday at the closing of a jubilee year marking the 350th anniversary of the establishment of Vietnam’s first two apostolic vicariates at Dang Trong and Dang Ngoai.
The Tuesday through Thursday celebrations, which also marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy, brought to a close a year-long jubilee. The events were held at the Marian shrine of LaVang.
Benedict XVI’s Latin-language letter in which he named Cardinal Dias as his envoy was made public Dec. 28.
During Wednesday’s events, Cardinal Dias compared Church-state cooperation to the parents of a family, according to UCANews. When the parents live in harmony, he said, then the children are happy.
“I hope God allows that between the local Church and State in this country,” the cardinal said in French, with translation to Vietnamese provided by Monsignor Barnabew Nguyen Van Phuong.
Church-state relations in Vietnam are troubled; though Catholics make up the second-largest religious group in the country according to a 1999 census, they are still only about 7% of the population. Almost 10% of Vietnam’s near 90 million citizens are Buddhist, and the vast majority (80%) claim no religion.
According to the U.S. State Department’s report on religious freedom, in the past year there were instances of local government officials occasionally harassing and using force against religious groups. Other problems included delays in approving registrations of Protestant congregations, and the continuing lack of approval by the government to translate the Bible into H’mong, after five years of waiting for permission.
The report also noted that there were accounts of harsh treatment of detainees who were accused of initiating violence during a protest over the closure of a cemetery in the Catholic Con Dau parish.
Nevertheless, there are some signs of improvement for religious freedom in the nation and after a meeting in June, the Holy See and Vietnam reported “positive developments” with regard to the advancement of diplomatic relations between the two entities.
At Wednesday’s celebration — attended by some 60 cardinals and bishops and 1,000 priests, as well as government officials — Cardinal Dias noted that the presence of Vietnamese politicians was a “good sign for the future,” UCANews reported.
He emphasized that the Church in Vietnam does not request special favors for itself, but only asks for freedom to fulfill its mission, seeking human dignity and the common good.
According to statistics provided by AsiaNews, the Church in Vietnam today counts almost 8 million members divided in 26 dioceses and 2,228 parishes. They are served by some 2,900 priests, 1,500 men religious, 10,000 women religious, 1,500 seminarians and 40,000 catechists.