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Vietnam and the Holy See continue developing their relations


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 04/13/23

Vietnam and the Holy See do not have diplomatic relations. However, since 2009 they have collaborated through a joint working group, which met for the 10th time in March.

On March 31, 2023, representatives from Vietnam and the Holy See gathered in the Vatican for the 10th meeting of the two states’ joint working group. Although Vietnam and the Holy See do not have official diplomatic relations, their ties have developed greatly over the years, especially after the establishment of the group in 2009. Today this entity, made up of delegations from both states, continues to fulfill its mission of drawing together the two and ensuring the livelihood of Catholics in Vietnam.

“The two sides reaffirm the freedom of the Church, within the bounds of law, to carry out its mission for the good of the whole of society. Both agreed that the Catholic Community in Vietnam will continue to be inspired by the Magisterium of the Church regarding their vocation to be good Catholics and good citizens,” the statement released by the Holy See Press Office on April 1 said. 

The 10th meeting was headed by Le Thi Thu Hang, the Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Monsignor Mirosław Wachowski, Under-Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See’s Secretary of State. The working group was supposed to meet Pope Francis but was unable to as he was in the hospital at the time being treated for bronchitis. They did meet with the Pope’s Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. 

“The meeting took place in an atmosphere of cordiality, frankness and mutual respect,” the statement said. 

Vietnam and Holy See Relations

The Holy See and Vietnam have not had diplomatic relations since 1975, when the Communist forces in the north took over the southern part of the country. At the time the regime was not favorable to the Church, as it saw it as a close ally of France, the former colonial power, and there were restrictions on the Catholic community. 

There are only 13 countries that do not have formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. It does have relations with 183. With these, the Holy See has either a local nunciature (106) or a delocalized nunciature (77). In comparison, China has an ambassador in 169 countries, the United States in 168 countries and France in 161 countries.

Vietnam is still today a socialist republic and despite there not being official diplomatic ties with the Holy See the two states have ongoing and stable relations, especially since the creation of the joint working group in 2009.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI met the Vietnamese Prime Minister at the time in “the highest-level encounter” until that moment, after many years of tensions. This paved the way for the creation of the working group. 

The entity has gotten together 10 times alternating between meetings in the Vatican and in Vietnam. Over the years they have discussed a range of issues from the appointment of bishops, as the government must approve of the Vatican’s choices, to religious freedom in the country, which has not always been a guarantee. As recently as February 2022 state officials interrupted a mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Hanoi. 

The non-resident papal representative

Although there is no apostolic nunciature in Vietnam, since 2011 there has been a non-resident papal representative. There have been talks about having a resident representative since 2018. The statement on the March 31 meeting of the joint working group said that the status of this envoy continues to be a topic of discussion and “the two sides were essentially in consensus on the agreement.” At the moment the non-resident representative is Archbishop Marek Zalewski, who is also the Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore. 

Vietnamese Catholics

Vietnam has a population of over 100 million people and the vast majority, around 86% according to 2019 estimates, do not identify with any religion. Catholicism is the religion with the largest number of faithful, representing 6% of the population. 

According to a 2022 report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University around 26% of ordinands to the priesthood in the USA were foreign-born and of these 4% were from Vietnam. After Mexico (6%) it is the most represented country.

DiplomacyHoly SeeVaticanVietnam
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