Vatican delegation to visit Vietnam

 As protests in Vietnam grow, over confiscated Catholic properties, a Vatican delegation is arriving in Hanoi next month, Mgr Barnabe Nguyen Van Phuong, chief of Asian affairs of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told VietCatholic News Agency on Saturday. Vietnam has not had diplomatic relations with the Vatican since its communist government took power in 1975. The situation of the Church in Vietnam has improved due in good part to the persistent efforts of the Holy See to maintain an official dialogue with the authorities, including a more or less annual visit to Vietnam of a Vatican delegation. The issue of Church property is expected to be high on the agenda of talks planned. The appointment of bishops also remains a thorniest issues, with the officially atheist Communist government refusing to yield control and the Vatican loath to concede its traditional right to appoint church leaders. It results in the long delays in securing the appointment of bishops and diocesan administrators, and difficulties in the carrying out of the Church's normal activities. "This has always been a central point on the agenda in the bilateral meetings between the Vatican and the Vietnam government," said Mons. Barnabe Nguyen. The Vatican delegation will visit Our Lady of La Vang Shrine, the main religious Catholic shrine in Vietnam. Local government has promised to all the land that surrounds the basilica seized by the government in 1975. The decision was announced last month. The area affected covers 21.18 hectares (out of a total of 23.66 hectares originally expropriated) around the basilica. According to Mons. Barnabe Nguyen, the central point of this visit will be in Hanoi where daily prayer protests are still ongoing. On December 18th last year, a rally was held drawing thousands Catholics to the street after Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi released a pastoral letter telling his congregation that the government planned to convert the nunciature within the premises of his palace, seized illegally by the government since 1959, into an entertainment and commercial center. The daily demonstrations quickly grew into major events when more and more Catholics gathered day and night praying in front of the building. Tension between Catholics and the government reached to its highest point when the Peoples Committee of Hanoi released an ultimatum, threatening "extreme actions" if demonstrations and the sit-in were not called off by 5pm January 27. In response, over 3 thousand Catholics gathered in the gardens of the Apostolic Nunciature to pray in open defiance of the city government ultimatum. There was a turning point when Vatican Secretary of State Card Tarcisio Bertone wrote a letter to Archbishop Joseph Ngo. In his letter Cardinal Bertone said that Pope Benedict XVI is following events in Vietnam and that the Vatican has contacted the Vietnamese government to find a solution to the dispute between the archdiocese and city authorities about who owned or held rights to the compound that once was home to the former Apostolic Delegation. In the February 1 statement, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi confirmed reports that the government of Vietnam had agreed to restore the nunciature in Hanoi after more than a month of public protests by Catholics. However, the vision of getting the former nunciature back in a near future seems to fade away. In a letter sent to the prime minister on February 16th, the venerable Thich Trung Hau, a representative of an organization "approved" by the government in 1982, affirms that any arrangement for the former delegation building must have the agreement of his church as his is the true owner of the property. With strong support from the government, the venerable Hau maintains that on the contested property there was once a pagoda called Bao Thien, built in 1054. It was only in 1883 that "the French colonists seized it and gave it to the bishop". The move appears to be inspired by the government circles that are trying to renege on the promise made to the Catholics at the beginning of February, to put an end to their forty days of peaceful protests. It must be added that in 2001, a state publication found that the pagoda of Bao Thien had been destroyed in 1426, and that it stood five kilometers to the north of the apostolic delegation. Protests also erupted in Thai Ha, a parish in Hanoi, where land owned by the Redemptorists was seized by the Communist government; and in Ha Dong, 40 km South of Hanoi, where Catholics have demonstrated every night to demand the return of a parish building seized illegally by the local government 30 years ago. Since March 17th, the local government in Ho Chi Minh city (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam has faced analogue protests as that in Hanoi when hundreds of Sisters of Vincent Charity Order hold prayer vigils to protest a government plan to change their property into a night club and a hotel. In the latest event, just a few days ago, Bishop Thomas Nguyen Van Tan of the Diocese of Vinh Long has protested Vietnamese authorities' plans to demolish a monastery and build a hotel on land confiscated from a religious order in 1977. Source: An Dang

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