– On Wednesday Pope Francis met Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang at the Vatican for a meeting largely focused on collaboration between the Church and State, as well as how to move forward in cementing better relations.
In the course of the “cordial talks,” specific mention was made of the “good relations existing between the Holy See and Vietnam,” which are supported by “a common spirit of dialogue and of the constant search for the most appropriate tools so they can further advance,” a November 23 communique from the Vatican read.
Collaboration between the Church and the State “in various levels of local society” was also emphasized.
President Dai Quang arrived at the Vatican around 5 p.m. local time, and was accompanied by a delegation of 10 people.
After their private discussion, Dai Quang gifted the Pope a small drum with a bronze base, while Francis, for his part, gave the Vietnamese president a medal of his pontificate as well as a copy of his environmental encyclical “Laudato Si,” his Apostolic Exhortations “Amoris Laetitia” and “Evangelii Gaudium.”
Following his meeting with the Pope, President Dai Quang met briefly with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with the States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
While the Vietnamese president’s visit to the Vatican is significant, it is not the first time a head of state has made such a gesture. In 2009, former president Nguyen Minh Triet traveled to the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, marking the first such visit by a Vietnamese head of state.
Vietnam is currently one of 15 States with which the Holy See does not yet have full diplomatic relations.
Diplomatic relations between the two states were dissolved in 1975 when the communist north overran South Vietnam. However, since then, the visits of more than 20 Vatican delegations eventually led to the 2007 visit of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to Benedict XVI.
After the 2007 meeting, the Holy See and Vietnam began talks to re-establish diplomatic ties, and to this end a joint working group was established in 2009. In 2008, the Holy See was finally able to appoint seven new bishops in Vietnam, and the bishops ordained hundreds of priests.
Talks eventually led to the appointment of Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli as non-resident special envoy to Vietnam in 2011. A year later, Nguyen Phu Trong, secretary of the Vietnamese communist party, visited Benedict, showing the desire on the part of Vietnamese authorities to normalize diplomatic ties.
The sixth and most recent meeting of the working group took place on October 24-26 at the Vatican, where talks centered on the recent reform of the religious freedom bill in Vietnam, which has been under discussion since 2013, when the Vietnamese constitution was revised.
The law guaranteed freedom of belief to people, and formally guarantees religious freedom. However, Catholic communities have experienced several limitations under the communist regime that took power in 1976.
In the October working group meeting, Vietnam’s representatives underscored the efforts made to improve a religious freedom bill, while the Holy See showed appreciation for these efforts and reiterated the Church’s freedom to carry forward its mission.
With 6 million adherents to the faith – nearly 7 percent of its entire population – the Church has a notable impact on Vietnamese society, a fact acknowledged by the government’s desire to dialogue with the Holy See.