(Vatican Radio) On Tuesday morning Pope Benedict XVI received the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, His Excellency Nguyên Phu Trong. Listen:
The Secretary General was accompanied by a delegation of ten members of the Vietnamese Communist Party, including Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
The delegation arrived through St. Peter's Square and the Arch of bells, a privilege reserved for Heads of State and Government. After the meeting with the Pope, they were then received by the Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
A communiqué described the meetings as “cordial” and said they dealt with topics of interest to Vietnam and the Holy See. Hopes were also expressed “that some pending situations may be resolved and that the existing fruitful cooperation may be strengthened”.
The visit of Nguyen Phu Trong, who has led the Communist Party of Vietnam since January 2011, comes within the framework of a wider European tour. Moreover, it is the first visit by a leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party to Western Europe for many years. On Monday, the Secretary General met with the Italian authorities, including President Giorgio Napolitano. His tour will end with a visit to London on January 24th
His audience at the Vatican was exceptional, marking the first time the Pope and a Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party have met. It also further underlined recent progress in relations between Hanoi and the Holy See since dialogue resumed in 2007.
Last November, a Vietnamese delegation from the office in charge of Religious Affairs also visited the Vatican. In January 2011, a non-resident representative of the Vatican to the Hanoi government was appointed in the person of Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli. In February 2012, a bilateral meeting was held in Hanoi.
According to Catholic Hierarchy Catalog, there are 5,658,000 Catholics in Vietnam, representing 6.87% of the total population.