CATHOLIC CHURCH Vatican, Vietnam work to better relations
A government delegation from the Asian country visited Rome for the week.
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican said Saturday it hoped to quickly normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam -- yet another indication that Pope Benedict XVI is intent on bringing Asia's sizable Catholic minority into formal ties with Rome.
The gesture to Vietnam follows a weeklong visit to the Vatican by a government delegation -- the first such visit since 1992 -- and comes on the heels of several Vatican overtures to China following Benedict's April 19 election.
Catholics are a minority in Asia, but the Vatican clearly sees growth opportunities on the continent and seems keen on formalizing its ties to the faithful there.
Benedict himself said in one of his first speeches as pope that he wanted all countries that didn't have relations with the Holy See to establish them soon.
While his remarks were believed to have been targeted primarily at China, Vatican officials suggested at the time that they could have also been directed to Vietnam. They noted that the Hanoi government sent a delegation to Benedict's installation even though it has no formal ties with the Holy See.
The Vietnamese delegation met this week with top Vatican officials in several departments, including the secretary of state, the Vatican office on inter-religious dialogue and the office on evangelization, the Vatican said in a communiqu & eacute;.
The question of diplomatic relations was examined "with the hope that it quickly advances in the direction of their normalization," the communiqu & eacute; said.
Relations between the Holy See and Vietnam have been stormy because the government has insisted on final approval over all church appointments in Vietnam. The Roman Catholic church also has had a shortage of priests in its Vietnam parishes due to government control over the seminaries.
However, both sides have been working to improve relations. In 2003, the Vatican appointed Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man as cardinal in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam, after initially being miffed that it had not been advised in advance, approved the elevation, making Man the second cardinal in the country.
The Vatican has since been compromising, allowing the communist government to pick bishops from a list of candidates submitted by the Holy See.
In fact, the Vietnamese delegation was on hand at a ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica this week in which Benedict bestowed a pallium, or woolen shawl, on the new archbishop of Hanoi, Monsignor Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet. The shawl symbolizes the bond between archbishops and Rome.