.- The Vietnamese Communist government and the Vatican will discuss the possibility of establishing official diplomatic relations, following the Jan. 25 meeting between Vietnam's prime minister and the Pope.
Le Dung, a spokesman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that the Vatican had made a proposal, and that ongoing relations would “follow a roadmap.” However, he added, no date has been fixed for the formalization of diplomatic ties.
According to Reuters, Dung told reporters yesterday that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has “assigned the diplomatic agencies to conduct discussion to work out appropriate measures.”
Last week the Vatican called the prime minister’s visit an “important step” towards normalizing diplomatic ties and said it was pleased with “concrete progress” toward religious freedom in Vietnam in recent years.
About one-tenth of Vietnam's 84 million people are Catholic, the second highest number of Catholics in Asia after the Philippines. Buddhism is the main religion.
At the same briefing with reporters yesterday, Nguyen Te Doanh, Deputy Chairman of the Government Committee on Religious Affairs, announced that the government would recognize two new religions by the end of the year, bringing the total to eight.
The two are Pure Land Buddhist Home Practice Association (with 1.45 million followers) and Tu An Hieu Nghia (nearly 71,000 followers). The government said it was also recognizing the Missionary Christian Church, a sect of Protestantism.
In 2005, Pope Benedict created a new diocese in Vietnam. Over the last few years the Vatican has appointed bishops after consultation with Hanoi.