Pope Francis meets with delegation of Vietnamese Communist Party Pope Francis meets with delegation of Vietnamese Communist Party  (Vatican Media)

Archbishop Gallagher discusses Pope's meeting with Vietnamese delegation

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States, comments on Pope Francis' audience with a delegation of Vietnamese political representatives, and says the Pope would like to visit the Asian nation.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

It was a "positive meeting" between the Pope and a delegation of representatives of the Communist Party of Vietnam, a sign of a strengthening of relations with the Holy See and also of a possible future visit of Pope Francis to the country.

The audience took place on Thursday morning, 18 January, in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace. The delegation afterwards met in the Secretariat of State for talks with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States.

Steps forward

Archbishop Gallagher shared the aforementioned details of the meeting on the sidelines of a conference in the Holy See Press Office on the initiatives for the 200th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Ettore Consalvi.

First of all, the Archbishop judged the meeting positively, expressing the hope that the Catholic community will be able to benefit from this, which is a further step forward in bilateral relations, in addition to other important results achieved from the diplomatic point of view.

Notable among these was the agreement in December 2023 for the appointment of a papal representative resident in Vietnam, the Apostolic Nuncio in Singapore, Polish Archbishop Marek Zalewski.

This agreement was signed in July on the occasion of President Vo Van Thuong's visit to the Vatican on the basis of the 10th session of the Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group, held on 31 March in Rome.

Hopes for an Apostolic Journey

Archbishop Gallagher also announced that he personally will visit Vietnam "in April" and that Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin will probably visit later in the year.

"We'll do things gradually," the Archbishop explained, saying he is also optimistic about the possibility of a future visit by Pope Francis himself.

"Yes, I think it will [happen]", he said in response to a journalist's question. "But there's a few further steps to be taken before that would be appropriate."

Archbishop Gallagher added that "the Holy Father is keen to go, certainly the Catholic community is very happy and want the Holy Father to go and I think it would send a very good message to the region."

Vietnam, he added, is an "important country in the region, a little bit of an economic miracle in many ways."

The Pope's words in the plane from Mongolia

Pope Francis himself had spoken about the possibility of a trip to the southeast Asian country, on his return from the September trip to Mongolia: "If I don't go, for sure John XXIV will go," the Pontiff said in a joke. "It is certain that he will be there, because it is a land that deserves to go, and that has my sympathy."

All of Vietnam, the Pope added on the same occasion, "is one of the very beautiful experiences of dialogue that the Church has had in recent times. I would say it is like sympathy in dialogue. Both sides have had the good will to understand each other and to seek ways forward. There have been problems, but in Vietnam, I see that sooner or later, problems will be overcome."

Pope Francis also recalled his audience with the President ("We spoke freely") and said he was "very positive" about the continuation of relations: "Good work has been going on for years. I remember four years ago, a group of Vietnamese parliamentarians came to visit. We had a nice dialogue with them, which was very respectful. When a culture is open, there is the possibility of dialogue, if there is closure or suspicion, dialogue is very difficult."

"With Vietnam, the dialogue is open, with its pluses and minuses, but it is open, and we slowly move forward. There have been some problems, but they have been resolved." 

The Pope's letter to the Vietnamese Church

Relations between Vietnam and the Holy See broke down in 1975 but have seen encouraging developments since 1990.

In 2011, Benedict XVI appointed a non-resident papal representative. In 2023, however, the statute for a resident representative, as mentioned above.

Last September, Pope Francis sent a letter to the Church of the Asian nation, in which he invited the Catholic faithful to live as "good Christians and good citizens," bearing witness to God's love "without distinction of religion, race, or culture." We must always go forward "recognising convergences and respecting differences," the Pope wrote again.

This also entails a responsibility for Vietnamese Catholics who, as Pope Francis observed, realise their identity as good Christians and good citizens" both by animating their Church and spreading the Gospel in their daily lives. A witness that through the development of "favourable conditions for the exercise of religious freedom" can help the Catholic faithful to "promote dialogue and generate hope for the country."

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18 January 2024, 16:12