.- A communique released by the Holy See's Press Office on Saturday describes meetings that took place between delegations from the Vatican and Vietnam this week. A major outcome of the meetings is that the two sides have agreed to the papal appointment of a "non-resident representative to the Holy See from Vietnam" to take what Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi called "a very significant step" in building on existing relations.
The second meeting of the Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group took place from June 23-24 in the Vatican and follows the first session which took place in Feb. 2009. Co-chairs of the meetings were Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, Under-Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and Vietnam's Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nguyen Quoc Cuong.
During this week's meetings, the Holy See's representatives asked for further freedoms for Vietnamese Catholics "so that the Church may participate effectively in the development of the country, especially in the spiritual, educational, healthcare, social and charitable fields."
Although it was not explicitly mentioned in the Vatican's communique about the meeting, the local Church in Vietnam has been peacefully demanding the return of property seized by the communist regime when it took power in 1954. The prayer vigils and sit-ins organized by local Catholics have been met by the police with intimidation tactics, beatings and arrests.
At the just concluded meeting, the Vietnamese delegation replied to the Church's request for greater freedom for Catholics by pointing to its “consistent policy of respect for freedoms of religion and belief as well as the legal provisions to guarantee its implementation,” the Vatican communique said.
The two sides expressed their appreciation for "positive developments" since their first meeting, highlighting the significance of the audience between Vietnamese State President Nguyen Minh Triet and Pope Benedict XVI last December which was considered to be successful despite the lack of a decision to establish diplomatic relations between the two sides.
After "in-depth and comprehensive discussions on bilateral diplomatic relations" this week, the two delegations agreed that "in order to deepen the relations between the Holy See and Vietnam, as well as the bonds between the Holy See and the local Catholic Church ... as a first step, a non-resident Representative of the Holy See for Vietnam will be appointed by the Pope."
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, who delivered the communique personally to members of the press, underscored that it this is indeed "a very significant step" towards the development of better relations.
He explained, however, that the new position does not establish full diplomatic relations between the two sides, nor is the representative an Apostolic Nuncio or permanent delegate to Vietnam. Fr. Lombardi repeated that the representative will be officially nominated by the Pope and will be "itinerant," moving between Vietnam and the Holy See and, effectively, representing the Holy Father in relations.
He emphasized that, at this point, no nomination has been made.
According to the Vatican communique, along the course of the two days of discussions the two sides also noted "encouraging developments" in Catholic life in Vietnam, especially in regard to the celebration of the Jubilee Year inaugurated last November. The year commemorates 350 years since the foundation of the country's first two Apostolic Vicariates and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Vietnamese Church hierarchy.
At the conclusion of the sessions, the delegations agreed that a third meeting will take place in Vietnam at a time yet to be decided.