#1Feb 2nd, 2007
History was made last Thursday when the leader of Vietnam, Premier Nguyen Tan Dung visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.
The Holy See described the event as a "an important step towards the normalisation of bilateral relations," saying: "Those relations have, over the last few years, made concrete progress opening new spaces of religious freedom for the Catholic Church in Vietnam".
There are more than six million Catholics in Vietnam * the largest Catholic community in south east Asia.
A Catholic priest in Ho Chi Minh City, where the community prayed for a good outcome to the history-making encounter, said: " We are overjoyed at the development."
Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet also described the meeting as "a great success" in his homily during Mass St Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi he was warmly applauded.
A priest there told Fides News: "the visit was a concrete sign that Vietnam wishes to be a member of the international community at all levels. We have new hope to contributing as Catholic to education, healthcare social assistance for the good of the nation".
A sense of enthusiasm and dynamism of Vietnamese Catholics emerges also from information supplied by the Bishops' Conference after its Autumn plenary in 2006: church personnel includes two cardinals, 43 bishops 3,404 priests, 1,277 seminarians, 2,841 Brothers, 12,000 woman religious, 57,000 catechists.
In 2005 the Sacrament of Baptism was received by 32,000 adults, 108.000 babies and 7,000 children aged one - seven. Accompanied by special pastoral care 60,000 couples were married in the Church. The Church in Vietnam - the Bishops' said - wishes to support the country in this new stage of opening at the political, social, economic, religious level.
Vietnam recently joined the World Trade Organisation and it is a member of the Association of South East Asian Countries ASEAN. The Catholic community with its values of freedom, peace, justice, respect for human life and human dignity wishes to be part of this important process.