Could the Pope make a historic visit to commmunist Vietnam later this year? A papal envoy hinted at this on Thursday, as Vietnam and the Vatican are seriously discussing establishing diplomatic ties. “This is my wish,” Vatican Undersecretary of State Monsignor Pietro Parolin told reporters when asked if he thought the Pope could visit the Southeast Asian country this year. He added that the question had not been discussed in meetings with the Foreign Ministry and government’s religious affairs committee. (Photo: Priest outside a Hanoi court trying Catholics for illegal protests, 8 Dec 2008/stringer)
The papal envoy has been attending the first meeting of a joint working group on improving ties this week in Hanoi. He said the talks had made progress, but establishing ties was a process that will take time.
Roman Catholicism in Vietnam dates back centuries, even before French colonial rule. Now some 7 percent of mostly-Buddhist Vietnam’s population of 86 million are Catholic, making it one of the biggest Catholic communities in Asia.
Unlike in China, where the state keeps its thumb on religion through a Communist Party-backed “patriotic” church and organisations, there is no direct state intervention in Vietnam and Catholics are loyal to the Vatican. That makes the Catholic church the largest organisation in Vietnam outside of the ruling Communist Party, which views the church as a threat to its monopoly on political power. The Vietnamese government keeps close tabs on religious organisations and curtails the activities of adherents.