A delegation from the Vatican headed by Archbishop Pietro Parolin is wrapping up a visit to Vietnam this week. Progress was made towards establishing better relations, both the Vatican and the Communist government said, but local Catholics remain skeptical.
The mood amongst local Vietnamese Catholics, who have experienced a year rife with government interference, is still one of doubt about whether any improvement in relations will be seen.
The Vatican delegation arrived in Vietnam for its sixteenth annual trip to the country last Sunday. During the past week, government and Vatican officials met to discuss the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
While the Vatican hoped for progress in the relationship with the Communist country, over the past year, Catholics in Vietnam and government officials have clashed over the land where the apostolic nunciature is located. An anonymous Vietnamese official admitted to AFP that “bilateral relations have been difficult at times, and we've been on the brink of a complete break on occasion.”
However, he added, this week “represents a clear evolution, marking the resumption of dialogue between Hanoi and the Vatican." Although, he emphasized, "the road to diplomatic ties is still a long one."
The Vatican has also confirmed that the dialogue over the past week has been fruitful. On Thursday, Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Vatican Undersecretary of State, told the press that, "This is the first time that we've met with a formal, public agenda on the matter of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Vietnam -- that is progress.”
However, he noted that it was “premature” to discuss any “detailed, concrete progress.”
As for the issue of the property disputes over the nunciature and other locations, Msgr. Parolin only commented that the concern was raised during meetings “in a general way.”
Catholics in Vietnam weren’t optimistic that any change would be made in the ties between the government and the Church. “Should you expect to see any improvements in Vatican-Vietnam diplomatic relations in these talks, you would be very disappointed,” said Fr. Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi. “For now, nothing relating to diplomatic relations with the Vatican exists in the vision of Vietnamese officials,” Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA.
He continued, “Facing angry reactions against their notorious Human Rights record, they simply took these meetings as an opportunity to deceive the international community that they are willing to improve religious freedom conditions.”