Vatican delegation visits Vietnam

 A Vatican delegation led by Mgr Pietro Parolin, undersecretary for relations with states, yesterday met with bishops of Thanh Hoa, Nha Trang and Lang Son in the Hanoi archbishop's office, next to the former papal nunciature, confiscated by the government - which was the scene of daily prayer vigils and demonstrations in December and January. The delegation also met with 123 priests from Hanoi and neighboring dioceses who are attending an annual training at Hanoi's Major Seminary. Bishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hai Phong introduced the teaching staff, which includes bishops of Hai Phong and Lang Son, Fr Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, Fr.Vincent Nguyen The Thu and Fr Vincent Dinh Van Nghia, SJ from Saigon. Addressing the priests, Mgr Pietro emphasized the importance of annual training programs for priests especially in the situation where the Church in Vietnam now faces with widespread secularism. He then went straight to issues that greatly concern the priests. Mgr Pietro explained that the delegation will hold discussions with the Vietnamese government on issues of bishop appointments, Church property and freedom of religion. The appointment of bishops still remains one of the thorniest issues under discussion, with the officially atheist Communist government refusing to yield control over appointments and the Vatican loath to concede its traditional right to name Church leaders. This conflict has resulted in long delays in the appointment of bishops and diocesan administrators. The issue of Church property is expected to be high on the agenda of talks planned. Catholics in Hanoi are voicing concerns about the Vietnamese government's commitment to honour its promise that the old offices of the apostolic nuncio will be returned to the Church. In a public statement on February 1, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi confirmed reports that the government had agreed to restore the nuncio's offices, after more than a month of public protests by Catholics. However, so far, the nunciature is still administered by the government and the promised return of the building has not happened.

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