Vietnam leader visits Francis as ties between Hanoi, Vatican thaw

(Photo: REUTERS / Kham)Catholics hold candles and posters with the image of lawyer Le Quoc Quan during a mass prayer for Quan at Thai Ha church in Hanoi February 16, 2014. Participants in the mass prayer also called for justice for Quan, a political dissident and democracy activist, ahead of his appeal trial which will be happened on February 18, his brother Le Quoc Quyet said. The Hanoi's People Court sentenced Quan, a political dissident and pro-democracy activist, to 30 months in jail for tax evasion after a half-day trial on October 2, 2013. The banner reads: Free for Le Quoc Quan.

Diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Vietnam are thawing after Pope Francis received Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

In a statement, the Vatican said the Pope and the prime minister felt satisfied at the outcome of the meeting, saying the leaders had "cordial conversations" during their first encounter October 18.

The latest meeting is Nguyen's second visit to the Holy See. He met with Francis' predecessor, the retired Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

The meeting between the leaders had been billed as "an important step in the process of strengthening bilateral relations between the Holy See and Vietnam."

Both Nguyen and Francis discussed contributions of the Catholic Church in the country, as the talk focussed on the church's pledge to help in Vietnam's development, the Catholic News Agency reported.

Francis also conveyed the church's "sincere appreciation" of the support given by Vietnamese authorities to the Catholic community there despite tougher restrictions on religion imposed by the State.

Vietnam's new constitution, drafted in 2013, indicated a stiffer religious policy throughout the country.

Both leaders expressed hope that issues that continue to hamper the full restoration of diplomatic ties "will be further examined and resolved through the existing channels of dialogue."

They also exchanged perspectives on regional and international issues, as both the Pope and the prime minister underscored the importance of promoting peace and stability in the Asian continent.

Francis expressed appreciation for Vietnam's assistance extended to the non-resident Papal Representative of the Holy See to Vietnam.

With help from the Vietnamese government, the Papal envoy to Hanoi managed his responsibilities "aimed at promoting relations between Church and State with a view also to the common objective of diplomatic relations."

The Vatican and Vietnam cut off their diplomatic relations after the communists from North Vietnam overran South Vietnam in 1975.

After the 2007 meeting during Benedict's reign, the Holy See and Vietnam restarted talks to re-establish diplomatic ties. A year after, Vietnam allowed the Vatican to appoint new bishops there.

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