December 11, 2009.
This encounter could possibly mark the beginning of the end to more than 50 years of mistrust between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vatican.
The president of Vietnam, one of the Communist regimes that still exist, met privately with Pope Benedict XVI for 40 minutes, longer than these type of meetings traditionally take.
The atmosphere was cordial despite the obstacles that lie in the Catholic Church in Vietnam, and the non-existant diplomatic relationship between both countries.
During the meeting, the pope called for more religious freedom in the country and added that the Church does not want to make policy but to preach the Gospel.
Benedict XVI recently wrote to Vietnamese Catholics asking them to diologue and collaborate with the authorities to serve the common good.
In recent months protests by Catholics have multiplied because the state is selling land expropriated from the Catholic Church after the arrival of communism.
Several Vietnamese authorities blamed the bishops for the protests. The state-run press labeled some bishops as "agitators" and said that the bishops encouraged people to break the law.
In Vietnam there are about 6 million Catholics, which is about 7% of the population. Unlike China, the Catholic Church in Vietnam is not illegal nor is there a Church "patriotic" under the Communist Party.
But the church is highly controlled by the government. For example, government approval is needed for the Vatican to name new bishops.
After the meeting at the Vatican, both sides are hoping to ease the tension. On one hand while the Vietnamese government hopes for less protest by Catholics, the Vatican would like to see Vietnam guarantee greater religious freedom.
In other words, concrete results for the Vietnamese Catholics, not only courteous gestures in Rome.
CTV / DC --