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Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 13:53 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Vatican envoy visits Vietnam

The Pope has expressed hopes of visiting Vietnam

A senior Vatican envoy arrived in Vietnam on Monday for talks on improving relations with the communist state.

Hanoi has refused to disclose any details of Deputy Foreign Minister Celestino Migliore's five-day visit.

[ image: Hanoi Cathedral]
Hanoi Cathedral
Mr Migliore declined to speak with journalists before going into a meeting with the country's top Catholic official, Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung, and members of the Vietnam Bishops Council.

The envoy is expected to exchange views with Hanoi about the appointment of bishops.

Relations between Vietnam and the Vatican have always been strained, as Hanoi insists on vetting all papal appointments, and severely restricts the number of young men who can be trained in the country's six seminaries.

Western diplomats said the trip was unlikely to herald a marked warming in ties between the Vatican and Hanoi and dismissed the possibility of visit to Vietnam by Pope John Paul II.

"This is more of a routine visit, Migliore comes every year," said a European diplomat, who noted that many of the envoy's requests to travel within Vietnam will be denied.

Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm, reported late last year that the Pope was willing to make the trip if invited by Hanoi.

Vietnam's Catholic community numbers around eight million - Asia's largest Catholic grouping outside the Philippines.

But while the atmosphere for worship has eased in recent years, the state retains strict controls over religious groups and related activities.

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