1/13/11 Vietnam (AsiaNews) – A significant step forward in relations between the Vatican and Vietnam. As Benedict XVI had previously announced in a speech on Jan. 10 to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, as of today there is a “papal representative” for Vietnam. Mgr. Leopoldo Girelli, until now apostolic nuncio to Indonesia, was appointed today “apostolic nuncio to Singapore, Apostolic Delegate to Malaysia and Brunei, and non-resident papal representative to Vietnam.”
Although a “representative” is not a nuncio and there are no full diplomatic relations, once again there is a papal representative in Vietnam. There have been no diplomatic relations with the country since 1975 after the occupation of Saigon, when the Vatican delegate was forced go to Hanoi. And this despite Paul VI, who in those years had intervened on several occasions against the American bombing of the North. Pope Paul VI intervened both publically – with appeals and in particular letters to President Johnson and the leaders of the two Vietnams (1967) – as well as on a confidential level for a negotiated settlement.
The failure of an attempt to build a Patriotic Church on the Chinese model – which is still not supported by the Communist Party – and the Vatican’s slow progress in persuading the government of the benefits of cooperation with the Catholic Church have allowed, on one had, a modus vivendi based on government consent of candidates for bishops – almost denied after unification – and the on other more space for Catholics to actively take part in society. The current Vietnamese government attitude is related not only to growing international pressure, but also to a growing awareness that the Catholic Church can be helpful in assisting the poor and disabled, in the administration of kindergartens and health facilities, all tasks theoretically reserved to state institutions. The Churches important contribution to “restoring the soul” to a country that is struggling to counter the phenomena of the pursuit of wealth at all costs and corruption, is also seen in a positive light.
This does not mean that episodes of repression, if not persecution, have diminished, given that the government appears to want full control over Catholics, who represent about 10 percent of the population. Among the causes, the demands for respect for human rights and the “confiscation” of land of the Catholic institutions by authorities, which have grown enormously in value after the choice of the party to join the market economy. As was the case of the former apostolic delegation in Hanoi – taken by the authorities in 1959 – which became a public park in 2008, after tensions and disputes with the Archbishop and the faithful who demanded its return, which had at first seemed likely.