Vietnamese President xVõ Văn Thưởng meeting  the Vietnamese bishops in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnamese President xVõ Văn Thưởng meeting the Vietnamese bishops in Ho Chi Minh City 

Vietnam's president meets with Catholic bishops in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong visits the headquarters of the national Bishops' Conference in Ho Chi Minh City, confirming the new course of relations between the Holy See and the Asian nation.

By Lisa Zengarini

On Monday, 7 August, the President of Vietnam, Vo Van Thuong, met with the country's Bishops' Conference at its headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City.

The visit came in the wake of his audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican and of the signing of the landmark Agreement on the Status of the Resident Papal Representative and the Office of the Resident Papal Representative in Viet Nam, on July 27.

The meeting lasted more than an hour, from 11:00 to 12:25 and was attended by ten Government officials and nine Vietnamese bishops, including the president, Archbishop Joseph Nguyễn Năng of Ho Chi Minh City, along with five priests and two religious.

The bishops expressed their satisfaction with the talks, which they described as “open and sincere”.

President’s appreciation for work of Church and Pope Francis

For his part, President Van Thuong acknowledged the contribution and service offered by the Catholic Church to Vietnamese society, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He then spoke of his recent visit to Europe, and in particular to the Vatican on 27 July. He said he was impressed by his meeting with Pope Francis, specifically by the fact that the audience lasted longer than expected, and by the Holy Fathers’ words on human fraternity which the President greatly appreciated, stating that Vietnam is proceeding in this direction.

He also expressed his appreciation for the Pope’s words on the need to listen to others by putting oneself in other people’s position so as to understand them better.

Father Đào Nguyên Vũ, head of the Secretariat of the Vietnamese Bishops' Conference, then presented the activities of the Church in the country by offering an overview of Catholic institutions in Vietnam and detailing that the Church in Vietnam only runs nursery schools, but no other educational institution. The President assured that he will consider the matter.

For his part, the president of the Vietnamese Bishops' Conference congratulated the Vietnamese head of State over the success of his visit to Europe.

Archbishop Nguyễn Năng also spoke of the work of the Catholic Church at the service of the country.

Finally, the bishops honoured President Van Thuong with two gifts: a picture of him and his wife with Pope Francis during the audience and the Encyclical 'Fratelli Tutti' translated into Vietnamese.

Viet Nam-Holy See relations

During the Vietnamese President’s recent official visit to the Vatican the two parties expressed great appreciation for the significant progress of bilateral relations and for the positive contributions offered so far by the country's Catholic community.

Relations between the Holy See and Vietnam had been interrupted in 1975, but have seen encouraging developments since 1990, a year after the then President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, late Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, was able to make an official visit to Vietnam, the first of a series.

A new beginning 

Relations further improved after then Prime Minister Nguyên Tân Dung met with Pope Benedict in 2007, marking the first official visit to the Vatican of a Vietnamese head of government in over thirty years. That visit was followed by that of then President Nguyen Minh-Triet on 11 December 2009, which resulted in the establishment of a Viet Nam-Holy See Joint Working Group.

The Working Group paved the way in 2011 to the appointment by Pope Benedict XVI of a non-resident papal representative based in Singapore (currently Monsignor Marek Zalewski) who has since been authorized to make periodic visits to the country.  

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, described the recent Holy See-Viet Nam agreement as "not just a finishing line" but a "new beginning, in their relations under the sign of mutual respect and mutual trust."

Catholics in Vietnam account for around 9 percent of the population, making Catholicism the second-largest religious group after Buddhists, which represent half the population.

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08 August 2023, 13:27