Despite of being under a tight schedule, the Holy See delegation concelebrated Sunday Mass with Vietnamese bishops at Hanoi Cathedral. Thousands attended the festive, funfilled ceremony.

Hanoi's Priests
Young children's traditional straw hat dance
Msgr. Pietro Parolin & Vietnamese bishops
Just hours after arriving Hanoi on Sunday Feb. 15, Msgr. Pietro Parolin, Msgr. Francis Cao Minh Dung, and Msgr. Barnabe Nguyen Van Phuong concelebrated Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral with Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet and Auxiliary Bishop Lawrence Chu Van Minh of Hanoi, Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan of Lang Son, Bishop Cosme Hoang Van Dat of Bac Ninh, Bishop Anthony Vu Huy Chuong of Hung Hoa, and hundreds of priests. Thousands attended the ceremony.

One of the highlights of the Mass was young children's traditional straw hat dance which is rarely seen being performed during regular mass celebration, where young girls clad in ao-dai - Vietnamese for traditional clothing- and dance to the music while forming different artistic figures with their straw hats.

VietCatholic News has learned that days before, Bishops has informed Catholics in Vietnam about the visit asking specifically for intensive prayers for its success. The visit is understood by Catholics as a difficult one as it occurs at the time when Vietnam government has shown an increasing hostility toward Catholics as a result of series of conflicts over the ownership of Church properties that have been systematically seized by local authorities.

In a letter dated Feb 13, 2009, Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, Chairman of the Conference informed that the visit “will involve a series of meetings with the government authorities at the Foreign Ministry and the Central Committee on Religious Affairs on the diplomatic relation between Vietnam and the Holy See.”

“Also on agenda will be its meeting with the Executive Committee of the Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops and with Vietnamese archbishops. Last but not least will be its visits to Thai Binh and Bui Chu dioceses of North Vietnam,” he continued.

Foreseeing difficulties in this 16th annual visit of the Holy See, the Conference Chairman specifically asked Vietnamese Catholics for intensive prayers and sacrifices as "a sign of solidarity and the love for the Church.”

“May all of us through this Holy See visit can perceive Jesus’ fervent desire as He prays earnestly to His Father for us 'to be in one' (Ga 17,21)," he concluded.

His conclusion reminds the presence of the Vietnam Committee for Solidarity of Catholics, a state-run organization established by the Communists in an attempt to create a “Patriotic Church” in Vietnam after the Communist takeover of South Vietnam. The atheist government has recently promoted it after a series of Catholic protests in Hanoi, Hue, Vinh Long and other dioceses.

A day before, Vietnam's government had announced that meetings would be held on next Monday and Tuesday in Hanoi between representatives of Vietnam and Vatican to "discuss the possibility of establishing 'diplomatic relations' with the Holy See", Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung was quoted as saying by VNA - the country's official news agency.

After the Church has struggled through a difficult year, clashing with the Communist regime repeatedly over the ownership of properties that have been seized by the government, Vietnamese Catholics both at home and abroad alike are watching closely the development with much interest. Despite all less than perfect outcome in the past from dialogues being held between the two states, many still hope that the Holy Spirit will be upon the Holy See delegates during this negotiation process so that they will not only be able to convey to the state of Vietnam its Christian/citizens legitimates aspiration on their land issue but also to reiterate the Church and its faithful's right to live in dignity and freedom to practice their religion without being like puppets under the maneuver of an atheist government in the name of national security and unity as if Catholicism is an evil religion of violence and anti-nationalism.