Pope Francis met with a delegation from the Vietnamese Communist Party at the Vatican in a visit that could presage a visit by the pontiff in the near future, party officials told state media.
The meeting on Thursday with the head of the party’s Foreign Relations Agency and 15 other officials follows President Vo Van Thuong’s trip to the Holy See in July.
Relations between Hanoi and the Vatican dissolved when communist leaders took over Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. After the country’s reunification, they placed restrictions on the Catholic Church and jailed several Catholic leaders who opposed the new government.
After years of negotiations, the Vietnamese government announced in June that it would allow the Vatican to appoint a resident representative in the country.
About 7% of the country’s population of roughly 97 million people are Roman Catholic, partly as a result of evangelism by missionaries from Portugal and Spain beginning in the 16th century.
‘Keen to go’
Pope Francis, who is 87 and hasn’t traveled much in recent years, accepted the invitation to travel to Vietnam and requested that collaborative efforts be made to arrange the visit, according to online newspaper Vietnam Plus.
The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, told reporters that “there are a few further steps to be taken before” a trip could be scheduled.
“But I think the Holy Father is keen to go and certainly the Catholic community in Vietnam is very happy to want the Holy Father to go. I think it would send a very good message to the region,” he said, according to Reuters.
Gallagher said he would visit the country in April, and Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin Pietro Parolin will likely travel there later in 2024.
Vietnam’s 2016 Law on Religion and Belief gives the government significant control over religious practices and contains vague provisions that permit restrictions on religious freedom in the name of national security and social unity.