Vietnam: The Uncertain Contours of an Apostolic Journey

Source: FSSPX News

Archbishop Malek Zalewski and Mr. Vu Chiên Thang

The forecast for relations between the Holy See and the communist state of Vietnam is difficult to read, and the predictions uncertain. The country is, however, one of the priorities for the Pope's next trip.

A recent statement from the Vietnamese Deputy Minister of the Interior, Vu Chiên Thang, stated that he was delighted that his country and the Vatican felt “mutual respect” and maintained “friendly relations.”

He even went so far as to say that the current situation “creates favorable conditions for the integration of the local Church into the universal Church,” adding that his government would be “happy to welcome Pope Francis.”

It is the first sign of an unprecedented rapprochement between the communist state and the Vatican. In the words of Archbishop Malek Zalewski, the pontifical representative: “Relations have improved and I hope that they will improve further in the future.”

“My hope, not only personal, but also that of the Holy See, is that one day we can have full diplomatic relations with Vietnam,” Zalewski explained to the Fides news agency on March 15, 2024.

But, several days later, the head of the Vietnamese state resigned before an extraordinary session of Parliament scheduled to open on March 21. Vo Van Thuong only held the chair of president for about a year. His resignation came after the arrest of a former communist official from Quang Ngai province who was suspected of corruption.

The ousting of the head of state – an honorary position since it is the general secretary of the Communist Party who exercises power – is considered by several analysts as a measure aimed at reassuring several hundred civil servants who were worried about the vast anti-corruption campaign the country launched.

The Rapprochement 

Vo Van Thuong was also known for his policy of openness to foreign countries, particularly towards the Vatican where the head of state had been received in an audience a few months ago. It is still difficult to say whether his resignation removes – and if so, for how long – the prospect of an apostolic trip by Pope Francis to the country.

According to the latest statistics published in 2021, the Catholic Church in Vietnam is comprised of more than 7 million Catholics; three archdioceses and 24 dioceses; 26 active bishops; 20 retired bishops; and approximately 3,000 parishes, 6,000 priests, and 31,000 religious distributed throughout 200 associations, societies, and congregations.