VATICAN CITY (CNS): Diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Vietnam were strengthened when Pope Benedict XVI met Nguyen Phu Trong, marking the first time a pope had met with the general secretary of the nation’s Communist Party.
Mr Trong, who has been general secretary of the party’s central committee since 2011, was accompanied by an 11-person delegation of other high-level party and government officials.
The Vatican was one of a number of stops the delegation had planned in Europe.
The Pope and Mr Trong met on January 22 and held closed-door talks for half an hour.
The general secretary and his delegation met with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary for relations with states Arch-bishop Dominique Mamberti, and other officials from the Secretariat of State.
Discussions were “cordial”, “very serene and very constructive”, spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said.
The Church and religious activity face strict controls in Vietnam, though some parts of the country have seen a gradual easing of restrictions on Catholic practices.
The two sides expressed hopes that “some pending situations could be resolved soon” and that the “current fruitful collaboration” may be strengthened, the Vatican said in a written statement.
The Holy See and Vietnam have launched a process aimed at full diplomatic relations; there is a non-resident papal representative to the country, and the two sides are engaged in ongoing talks.
The Vatican and Vietnam established a formal committee to discuss diplomatic relations after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met Pope Benedict in 2007.
That meeting marked the first time a prime minister from Vietnam’s communist government met a pope and top officials from the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Another major step in the process was Pope Benedict’s meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet in 2009.