Pope Benedict XVI's new representative to Vietnam is looking forward to strengthening ties between the Vatican and the local Catholic Church. A Vatican official said that his appointment “bodes well” for the future of the Church's sometimes difficult relationship with the Vietnamese government.
On Jan. 13, Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli as his non-resident representative to Vietnam.
On the same day, Archbishop Girelli established contact with the Vietnamese Church and pledged his “availability both in service and collaboration for the well-being of the Church.”
“I ardently hope to strengthen the bonds of fraternal understanding and mutual assistance between this Pontifical Representation and your archdiocese,” Archbishop Girelli said in his letter to Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City.
The archbishop said he hopes to be “an instrument of fellowship between local priests, Religious and lay people and among the people in Vietnam.”
The Vatican hopes that his presence will improve the Church's status in Vietnam, where the Church faces strict government limits on its participation in public life.
The communist government’s restrictions on the Church earned Vietnam a special mention in a Jan. 25 Human Rights Watch report for its “intensifying repression” of religious minorities.
“Vietnam's crackdown on religion is systematic, severe, and getting worse by the day,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Catholics, Protestants, Mennonites and Buddhists were all listed as targets of the communist regime.
The Pope announced the creation of the non-resident representative position to Vietnam during his Jan. 10 “state of the world” address to Vatican diplomats. He said his new envoy would specifically be “at the service of religious freedom.”
In the Vatican, the archbishop's nomination is seen as a further step towards establishing diplomatic relations with the Vietnamese government.
Vietnam is one of the few nations in the world with a large Catholic population where the Vatican does not enjoy a concrete working relationship.
A Vatican official who works closely with the Vietnamese Church and requested anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the situation told CNA that in recent years relations with the government have “changed quite a bit for the better.”
Archbishop Girelli's appointment “will definitely help the Church in Vietnam,” he said. The presence of the new envoy, he added, “should go a long way in further improving the situation.”
The official concluded that Archbishop Girelli's intermediary function between the Holy See and the Vietnamese government “can only bode well for the future and definitely is good for the Catholics of Vietnam.”
In the last month, Archbishop Girelli has transitioned into his position as the Pope’s top diplomat in Singapore and the apostolic delegate in Malaysia and Brunei. He had been the lead diplomatic representative to Indonesia since 2006.