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BosNewsLife – 57 Catholic priests will be ordained in Vietnam later this month, the largest number of clergy to be added to the communist country in a single ceremony, BosNewsLife learned Tuesday, November 22. The announcement came as relations between Hanoi and the Vatican slowly improves, church officials said.

“This would be an unprecedented event,” added Dang Duc Ngan, spokesman of Hanoi diocese in remarks monitored by BosNewsLife. “It shows the unity between the local church and the Vatican , and it also demonstrates the improving relations between the state and the Vatican .”

The ceremony will be presided over by senior Vatican envoy Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe from Rome , according to Vatican deputy spokesman Ciro Benedettini. The gathering will be held at Hanoi ’s St. Joseph ’s Cathedral on November 29, Ngan said.

The deacons reportedly come from nine dioceses in northern Vietnam , church officials say. About 150 priests are typically ordained every two yeas in Vietnam , with less than 15 priests from one diocese ordained each time, Ngan explained.

He stressed the ordination function will not be attended by government representatives. Vietnam has no diplomatic ties with the Vatican , and their relations have been strained over Hanoi ’s instance of having the final say in most of the church appointments, a policy the Vatican has staunchly rejected.

However relations slightly improved in recent years with visits by Vatican officials and the relatively smooth appointments of Archbishop Jean-Bapatiste Pham Minh Man as cardinal in Ho Chi Minh city in 2003 and Joseph Ngo Quang Keit as Archbishop of Hanoi in March.

Human rights groups cautioned however that especially evangelical Christians and house churches are still persecuted across the country. They have accused Vietnam ‘s government of stepping up its crackdown on religious minorities and believe many Christians are still suffering in prisons, labour camps and possible psychiatric hospitals throughout the country.

Hanoi bans independent religious associations and only permits religious activities by officially recognized churches and organizations whose governing boards are approved and controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

Christians are estimated to comprise roughly seven percent of the country’s nearly 84-million people.