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Gerard O’ConnellDecember 15, 2023
Pope Francis meets with Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong at the Vatican July 27, 2023. The Vatican announced after the meeting that Vietnam will allow a papal representative to reside in the country and open an office there. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vietnam’s President Vo Van Thuong has invited Pope Francis to visit, UCAN, the main Catholic news agency in Asia, reported. President Thuong broke the news on Dec. 14 when he visited church leaders in the Archdiocese of Hue in central Vietnam to exchange Christmas greetings.

UCAN reported that the president, who was accompanied on the visit by Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Vu Chien Thang and Deputy Head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, Nguyen Tien Trong, told the church leaders, including the archbishop of Hue, Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, that he had signed a letter inviting Pope Francis “to visit and see the social-economic developments and religious life in the country.” He said he shared the desire of the country’s seven million Catholics to welcome the pope.

President Thuong, 53, told the church leaders that he was impressed by his meeting with Pope Francis and Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin during his visit to the Vatican on July 27. He recalled that the pope showed special favor for the people in Vietnam.

During the visit to the Vatican, the Vietnamese president and Cardinal Parolin signed a landmark agreement that now allows a papal representative to reside in Vietnam and open an office there for the first time since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Vietnam’s Catholic bishops and community have long wanted the pope to come, and Francis has throughout his pontificate given special attention to Asia.

Cardinal Parolin has played a key role in building good relations between the Holy See and Vietnam over the past three decades, first as the Vatican’s under-secretary for relations with states (or deputy foreign minister) from 2002 to 2009 and then as secretary of state since August 2013. Before the July agreement, Vietnam had allowed the Holy See to have a non-resident papal representative, based in Singapore, visit the country at regular intervals since 2011.

America has learned that Cardinal Parolin is scheduled to visit Vietnam again in 2024, and the Vatican hopes to establish full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Vietnam, a socialist republic with a population of around 99 million people and a vibrant Catholic community.

At the press conference on the return flight from Mongolia on Sept. 4, America’s Vatican correspondent asked Pope Francis whether he might visit Vietnam, given the positive relations between that country and the Holy See and the great desire of Vietnamese Catholics for him to do so.

Pope Francis began his response by saying:

Vietnam is one of the very good dialogue experiences that the church has had in recent times. I would say it is like a mutual affection in dialogue. Both sides have had the goodwill to understand each other and look for ways to move forward. There have been problems, but in Vietnam, I see that sooner or later problems will be overcome. A little while ago, with the president of Vietnam, we talked freely. I am very positive about relations with Vietnam; good work has been going on for years…. When a culture is open, there is the possibility of dialogue; if a culture is closed or suspicious, dialogue is very difficult. With Vietnam, the dialogue is open, with its highs and lows, but it is open and slowly moving forward. There have been some problems, but they have been resolved.

He concluded by addressing the question of a visit: “With regard to a journey to Vietnam, if I don’t go, [a future pope] John XXIV certainly will! There will indeed be a visit because it is a land that deserves to progress and that has my affection…. But honestly, for me to go on a journey now is not as easy as it was in the beginning. Walking is restricted, and that limits me. But we will see.”

Pope Francis did not exclude the possibility of a trip to Vietnam, and neither did senior Vatican officials when America’s Vatican correspondent asked them the same question some days later, though they said the Holy See would like to see the establishment of full diplomatic relations before such a visit. Given the news that the president of Vietnam had sent an official letter of invitation to the pope, the likelihood of a visit would seem to have increased. Vietnam’s Catholic bishops and community have long wanted the pope to come, and Francis has throughout his pontificate given special attention to Asia, where he believes the church can have a bright future. Moreover, in an interview on Dec. 12, days before his 87th birthday, he did not exclude the possibility of making long foreign trips in 2024, including to his homeland, Argentina.

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