VATICAN CITY – The government of Vietnam has agreed to allow the pope’s special envoy to have greater freedom to visit Catholics in the communist country, the Vatican spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said Vatican-Vietnamese relations continue to take “gradual steps forward”, including an agreement reached in late February “to facilitate the work” of Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the pope’s non-resident envoy to the Vietnam, by making it easier for him to visit Catholic leaders and communities.

The archbishop, who was appointed in January 2011, took part in meetings from Feb 27-28 of a joint Vatican-Vietnamese working group, established to work towards fully normalising relations.

For years, top Vatican diplomats made annual trips to Vietnam to work out details of the Church’s life and freedom to function in the country. The trips included a discussion of every potential bishop’s appointment with government officials.

The Vatican always insisted that needing government permission to name a bishop was not the usual Vatican procedure, but that it could be tolerated temporarily as Vatican-Vietnamese relations improved.

The Vatican delegation visiting Hanoi from Feb 27-28 was led by Msgr Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states.

A statement issued at the end of the meeting said, “The Holy See expressed the wish that its role and mission be strengthened and extended in order to enhance the bonds between the Holy See and the Catholic Church in Vietnam”, as relations improve between the Vatican and the Vietnamese government. - CNS

Photo: Bishop Joseph Hii Teck Kwong (second from left) took over the leadership of Sibu diocese from Bishop Dominic Su Haw Chiu (beside him) on Feb 15.

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