By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis on Monday appointed Polish Archbishop Marek Zalewski as the new Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore who will also be the non-resident Pontifical Representative to Vietnam.
Archbishop Zalewski who served as Apostolic Nuncio in Zimbabwe will be based in Singapore. He fills the diplomatic post which had been vacant for 8 months after Pope Francis transferred Archbishop Leopold Girelli as Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine in September 2017.
Born in 1963 in Augustow, Poland, Archbishop Zalewski was ordained a priest in 1989. He holds a doctorate in canon law from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University Rome.
After entering the Holy See’s diplomatic service in 1995, he has served in Holy See missions in the Central African Republic, the United Nations, Great Britain, Germany, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
Pope Francis appointed him Apostolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe in March 2014. Besides his native language, he also speaks Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.
Vietnamese Church welcomes appointment
Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam has welcomed the new pontifical representative and urged the country’s Catholics to pray for his new mission.
"We should thank God, through Holy See representatives, for creating conditions for the church in Vietnam, where religious freedom remains restricted, to be in close communion with the pope, Vatican officials and churches around the world," Archbishop Linh told UCANEWS.
He hoped Archbishop Zalewski will improve ties between the Holy see and Vietnam. Archbishop Linh also said he will write to invite the new Vatican envoy to visit Vietnam soon.
Holy See-Vietnam relations
While Vietnam and the Holy See do not have full diplomatic relations, the Communist southeast Asian nation’s agreement to let the Vatican name a non-resident papal representative to the country in 2011 was seen as a breakthrough in an ongoing process to normalize relations.
The appointment of Archbishop Girelli came after landmark high-level meetings such as Pope Benedict XVI's meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet in 2009 and his 2007 meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. That meeting marked the first time a prime minister from Vietnam's communist government met a pope and top officials from the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Talks and relations between the Vatican and Vietnam were further reinforced when Pope Benedict met the head of Vietnam's communist party, Nguyen Phu Trong, and top party and government officials in January 2013. It was the first time a pope had met with the general secretary of the nation's Communist Party.
Earlier this year, a Vatican delegation headed by Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican's Undersecretary for Relations with States, paid a five-day working visit to Vietnam. During the Jan. 16-20 trip, he held meetings with top government officials and bodies.
Vietnam still demands that any papal appointment in the country has to be approved by the government. Likewise, working visits by the Singapore-based pontifical representative, also require approval from the government. Return of confiscated Church property is also a thorny issue.
Holy See-Singapore relations
Meanwhile, relations between the Holy See and Singapore have been far easier. Diplomatic relations established on June 24, 1981, will mark their 37th anniversary next month.