Vietnam News

New year offers ‘comprehensive’ Vietnam-Vatican ties

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For Catholics in Vietnam, the appointment of a permanent Vatican representative comes after 14 years of dialogue

Church leaders in Vietnam expect the Vatican to formalize diplomatic relations with their communist-ruled nation this year as they welcomed the first resident papal envoy to the country just before Christmas.

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Marek Zalewski as the first resident pontifical representative on Dec. 23, nearly half a century after Vietnam severed ties with the Vatican following the communist takeover of the south of the country in 1975.

Polish-born Zalewski, 60, has served as the apostolic nuncio to Singapore and as the non-resident papal representative to Vietnam since 2018.

“We believe that in his permanent capacity” Zalewski “will be a clearer visible sign of communion between the Church in Vietnam and the pope,” said Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang, head of Vietnam’s bishops’ conference.

Zalewski’s appointment is the “fruit of progress” made in the past 14 years through the “Vietnam-Vatican Joint Working Group” established in 2008, Nang said in a statement following the appointment.

The papal representative “will also serve as a diplomatic connection so that the Church can develop diverse activities to meet the needs of the social community,” said Nang, the archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang called Zalewski’s appointment “a historic moment” that opened a new chapter in Vietnam-Vatican relations. It is also expected to have improved relations between the Catholic Church in Vietnam and the Universal Church, he said.

The permanent papal representative will help the state and the Church to ignore differences in history and work for a comprehensive diplomatic relationship, state-run Vietnam News Agency said.

The communist government expelled nuncio, Henri Lemaitre, from South Vietnam and cut off all ties with the Vatican in 1975, after the nation’s reunification under communist rule.

The Catholic Church in Vietnam has 7 million members including 8,000 priests and 41 bishops, according to government data. There are about 3,000 Catholic parishes, some 7,700 Church-run facilities and 11 seminaries in the country.

In July 2023, the Vatican and Vietnam signed a historic deal agreeing to have a resident papal representative and office of the Holy See in Vietnam.

It came more than a decade after Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli in 2011 became the first non-resident papal representative to Vietnam. He served until September 2017 and Zalewski was appointed to that post eight months later.

Born in 1963 in Augustów in Poland, Zalewski entered Łomża Major Seminary in 1983 and was ordained a priest six years later.

After graduating with a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1995, Father Marek Zalewski entered the Vatican’s diplomatic service.

He served as a Vatican envoy to the United Nations, the Central African Republic, Britain, Germany, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia until 2014, when he was ordained an archbishop and appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe.

Union of Catholic Asian News – January 2, 2024

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