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Issue Date:  November 2, 2007

-- CNS/Nancy Weichec

Women pray in the outdoor pavilion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Sheshan marian shrine in Shanghai, China, in March.
Vietnamese church aims to foster China, Vatican understanding

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

-- CNS/
Catholic Press Photo

Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man

Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City says Chinese officials look to the Catholic church in Vietnam to help China and the Holy See understand each other.

The Vietnamese cardinal was in mainland China Sept. 24-28 at the invitation of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs. Accompanying him were Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi, Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Vo Duc Minh of Nha Trang and three priests from Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese.

Chinese officials know cardinals play a key role in giving advice to the pope, Man told UCA News Oct. 4.

The delegates visited the Beijing-based headquarters of the bishops’ conference of the Catholic church in China, as well as church leaders in Beijing and Shanghai. They also met with Chinese state officials, including some from the foreign ministry’s Department of European Affairs.

Observing that the state officials were interested in Sino-Vatican relations, Man said he told them the Holy See is eager to establish diplomatic ties with China.

He recounted to them his invitation to Pope John Paul II, who made him a cardinal in 1998. “During a meal with the pope, I invited him to visit the Vietnamese people. ‘Who are Vietnamese people?’ the pope asked. ‘Catholics and non-Catholics,’ I replied. Then Pope John Paul asked, ‘What about China?’ and I replied, ‘Everyone [Chinese and Vietnamese people] will be glad to welcome you,’ and suggested he visit China first.”

Man said he told the Chinese officials that Pope Benedict XVI had expressed his wish to establish diplomatic ties with China and Vietnam during his first days as pope.

China has demanded that the Vatican break ties with Taiwan, which China counts as a renegade province. Man said that he assured them the Holy See is willing to do this, pointing out that the diplomatic mission in Taiwan is only an administrative post.

Earlier this year Vatican officials announced it was working toward full diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with Benedict at the Vatican in January, and a high-level Vatican delegation visited Vietnam in March.

One sticking point in both countries is their governments’ insistence on approving the appointment of bishops, which the Vatican resists.

Man said that his delegation and the Chinese officials discussed the potential appointment of an apostolic nuncio to China should ties be established.

The officials explained China’s religious policies to him, while he shared with them about the effects of the Vietnamese government’s religious policies on his church.

After 1975, when North and South Vietnam were reunified under communist rule, the government confiscated southern church properties and institutions, he said. However, since the country started its doi moi (renovation) policy in the mid-1980s, foreign church organizations have provided financial support and training for church personnel, the cardinal said. In recent years the government has returned confiscated properties and cooperated with the local Catholic church on HIV/AIDS work and other matters.

Man said he suggested some Chinese bishops be allowed to attend the planned 2008 assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and the coming synod in Rome. An assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the topic of scripture is scheduled for October 2008.

A venue for the Asian bishops’ meeting has not yet been chosen. According to Man, conference officials wanted to hold it in Vietnam, but he had to decline, since his church’s facilities are inadequate.

Man told UCA News he wanted to share some of his church’s experience with Chinese officials because of similarities in the church situation in the two countries, even though China is much bigger than Vietnam and matters pertaining to religion are correspondingly on a larger scale.

Among similarities he mentioned to the officials are the Vietnamese experience of a divided church from the time of the communist victory in the north, in the 1950s, until the formation of the bishops’ conference about 25 years later. He also noted the number of priests ordained “illegally” in the northern church.

The cardinal said his great-grandfather emigrated from the mainland province of Guangdong, but he does not know of any relatives living there.

National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2007

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