One Vatican, Two Models for Vietnam and China
09/02/2019 Vietnam (International Christian Concern) – The Church continues to grow despite religious persecution in Vietnam. A recent example can attest to this fact – On August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, 80,000 people gathered at the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in Archdiocese of Huế. Yet, Archbishop Joseph Nguyên Chi Linh told the congregation that he desired to see at least 200,000 pilgrims next year.
Catholicism has long been present in Vietnam, since the arrival of missionaries from Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century. Today, there are more than six million Catholics, representing roughly seven per cent of the 97 million population.
After the communists came to power in 1976, Vietnamese Catholics have faced harassment, indoctrination, imprisonment and forced labor, but they continue their evangelism regardless. Due to that persecution, the Vatican has had a stranded relationship with Hanoi, until the 90s, when both parties reached a consensus on bishop appointment.
Catholic Herald reports that members of the Vietnam-Holy See Working Group held a two-day meeting at the Vatican last week. In a statement, they expressed hope that a resident papal representative would be able to set up office in Vietnam “at the earliest possible date”.
This is a highly significant development, given that there has only been non-resident papal representative to Vietnam since 2011. If both sides agree to such establishment, the warming Vatican- Vietnam relations would reach another milestone.
On the other hand, another communist neighbor of Vietnam, also has been trying to improve relations with the Holy See.
Last October, Beijing and the Vatican signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops. While the content of this agreement is unknown to public, at the very least, it seems like the complete opposite of Vietnam model – The Vatican would present the government with three candidates for each vacant seat and Vietnamese officials would select their preferable one.
Chinese model seems to be that government officials may present the Vatican with three candidates and Holy See must then choose one from the list. With the ongoing “Sinicization campaign” from President Xi Jinping, it is highly possible that Beijing would only select “patriotic” bishops who are willing to submit themselves for party control as candidates.
Many have criticized Vatican’s “deal with the devil,” frustrated that Chinese Catholics have not benefited from such agreement. China expert Massimo Introvigne told Catholic Herald, “At first sight, Cardinal Parolin (Vatican’s Secretary of State) got a worse deal in China than he did 22 years ago in Vietnam.”
While the full effect of the agreement remains yet to be seen, as it was signed less than a year ago, many are concerned that Vatican might eventually seek to establish diplomatic relations with China at the expense of Chinese Catholics, especially the underground church.
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