.- A month after he expressed hope for a "healthy collaboration" between the Catholic Church and the Vietnamese government, Pope Benedict XVI has named three new bishops for Vietnam.
A Saturday statement from the Vatican announced that the Pope has chosen Msgr. Joseph Vu Duy Thong to be bishop of Phan Thiet, Msgr. Pierre Nguyen Van De to be bishop of Thai Binh and Rev. Joseph Nguyen Nang to be bishop of Phat Diem.
Two of the appointments were made to fill the offices of retiring bishops, the Associated Press reports.
There are about six million Catholics in Vietnam, one of the largest Catholic populations in Asia. Tensions between the faithful and the government have existed for years, with the government monitoring religious groups and insisting upon approving church appointments.
It was not clear whether the government had voiced any opinion on the latest appointments.
Many Catholics are also seeking the return of church land and buildings confiscated by the government in previous decades. The conflicts have generated negative and false reports in the state-run media and have resulted in beatings and arrests by police and violence from government-supported street gangs.
According to the Associated Press, relations between the Vatican and the Vietnamese government have begun to improve. In a 2007 visit to the Vatican Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung became the highest Vietnamese official to meet with Pope Benedict.
Vietnamese Cardinal Pham Minh Man has said that Vietnam’s president will meet with the Pope at the Vatican in December.
Catholics in Vietnam hope that the meeting could lead to diplomatic ties and an invitation to Pope Benedict to make a pilgrimage to their country.