In a year featuring unprecedented Catholic demonstrations targeting the Vietnamese government, a delegation from the Vatican will meet with the Vietnamese government to discuss controversies surrounding confiscated church properties and the appointment of bishops.
Vietnam has not had diplomatic relations with the Vatican since its communist government took power in 1975. The Holy See has persistently sought official dialogue with Vietnamese authorities, which has helped improve the situation of the Church in the nation. A Vatican delegation visits Vietnam almost every year.
VietCath News Agency reports that the Vatican delegation will visit Our Lady of La Vang Shrine, the main Catholic shrine in Vietnam. The local government has promised to return to the shrine’s basilica about 52 of the more than 57 acres in property that it confiscated in 1975.
Monsignor Barnabe Nguyen Van Phuong, chief of Asian affairs of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, explained that the appointment of bishops remains a delicate issue. The officially atheist Communist government refuses to give up its control over appointments. The long delays in episcopal and diocesan administrator appointments caused by the government’s foot dragging have hampered the normal activities of the Church, he explained.
“This has always been a central point on the agenda in the bilateral meetings between the Vatican and the Vietnam government,” said Monsignor Barnabe Nguyen.
Monsignor Barnabe Nguyen said that the visit would also focus upon the demonstrations in Hanoi organized by Vietnamese Catholics who are seeking the return of the former papal nunciature.
The nunciature was seized by the communist government in 1959. Since December 18, after a pastoral letter from Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet reported the building was to be converted into an entertainment and commercial center, demonstrators have prayed and rallied at the nunciature’s gates. The demonstrators have defied a government ultimatum threatening “extreme actions” if the demonstrations did not cease by January 27.
The disagreement between the disenfranchised Catholics and the government appeared to be solved when Archbishop Ngo confirmed that the government had promised to return the Nunciature in a February 1 letter. However, there are signs that promise will not be fulfilled.
Venerable Thich Trung Hau, a leader in a government-approved Buddhist organization, in February claimed that the nunciature was on Buddhist land wrongly confiscated by French colonists, who turned it over to the Catholic bishop. The Buddhist leader charged that the Bao Thien pagoda, built in 1054, was once on the nunciature’s property, but a state publication reported the pagoda was located five kilometers north of the disputed property. Some believe the Buddhist leader’s charges indicate that officials in the government are trying to obstruct the return of the nunciature.
Similar property disputes are taking place across Vietnam, with demonstrators protesting for the return of Hanoi lands formerly belonging to a Redemptorist parish and opposing plans to demolish a monastery in the Diocese of Vinh Long to build a hotel.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote a letter to Archbishop Joseph Ngo on January 30 expressing the Pope’s solidarity with the protesting Catholics and saying that Pope Benedict is following events in Vietnam. Cardinal Bertone said that the Vatican has contacted the Vietnamese government to resolve the nunciature dispute between the city government and the archdiocese.