The March 22 succession of Paul Bui Van Doc as Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City may ease the relationship between Vietnam and the Holy See. Archbishop Bui Van Doc was born in 1944 in Da Lat, and attended seminary in Saigon and then the Pontifical Urban University. He was ordained a priest in 1970, and served as rector of Da Lat’s major seminary from 1975 to 1995. In 1999, he was consecrated Bishop of My Tho, where he served until 2013. That year, he was apointed coadjutor archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City. Since his transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, he has also acted as apostolic administrator of the My Tho diocese. When Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man resigned as Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City shortly after his 80th birthday, he was succceed by Archbishop Bui Van Doc. The new archbishop is also president of the Vietnamese bishops’ conference. The archbishop wrote a commentary in 2009 on the relations between Vietnam and the Church, in light of celebrations for the jubilee of the Church in Vietnam, following a Nov. 24, 2009 gathering of 100,000 Catholics in the country. The gathering, Archbishop Bui Van Doc noted, followed years of difficult relations, and the confiscation of the Church’s goods. While official Vietnamese media reported that the state helped Catholics to celebrate their jubilee, Archbishop Bui Van Doc said, “the state did not change its attitude toward the Catholic Church, since official media wanted to stress that the state does not concede a special favor to Catholicism, while it applies a common policy for every religion.” In a 2012 address to the federation of the Asian bishops’ conferences, Archbishop Bui Van Doc proposed a fostering of dialogue between the Church and the atheistic doctrine espoused by Hanoi, emphasizing a distinction between the trend of secularization in the West with what happened in the East, so as to find a new way to evangelize. In December of that year, he issued a series of guidelines for the Church’s pastoral program in Vietnam, stressing that the Church should be “of and for the poor” and “of and for everyone”, so as to fulfil the name “Catholic” and to proclaim the Gospel and contribute to society. Archbishop Bui Van Doc also issued Dec 11 2012 the guidelines and principles for the pastoral program of the Church in Vietnam. Archbishop Bui Van Doc’s declarations followed the development of relations between the Holy See and Vietnam — one of the few countries which lacks diplomatic relations with the Vatican. The establishment of diplomatic relations was among the goals of Benedict XVI’s papacy. At a May 12, 2005 address to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See, he said, “I am also thinking of the nations with which the Holy See does not yet have diplomatic relations. Some of them took part in the celebrations for the funeral of my Predecessor and for my election to the Chair of Peter.” “Having appreciated these gestures, today I would like to thank them and to address a respectful greeting to the civil Authorities of those countries. Moreover, I express the hope that sooner or later I will see them represented at the Holy See … I cherish these communities and all the peoples that belong to them, and assure them all of my remembrance in prayer.” That summer, a delegation from the Vietnamese government visited the Vatican, and then in 2007, prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Benedict XVI. Three rounds of negotations between the Holy See and Vietnam then took place, during which the apostolic nuncio to Singapore was appointed non-residential representative to Vietnam. The Vietnamese president then met with Benedict XVI in Rome in 2009, as did Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnamese Central Committee, in 2013.
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