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Catholic World News News Feature

Avoid confrontation, Vatican asks Viet Catholics January 31, 2008

The Vatican Secretary of State has asked Vietnamese Catholics to back away from confrontation with the country's government over the possession of a building that once housed the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi.

In a January 30 letter to Hanoi's Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone says that he is "full of admiration at the sentiments of fervent devotion and profound attachment to the Church" among the Catholic demonstrators who have organized prayer vigils outside the former offices of the nunciature in Hanoi.

However, the Secretary of State writes, the confrontations between lay Catholics and government authorities, which have generated considerable tension in the past week, have created "a real danger that the situation could escape control and could degenerate into displays of verbal and even physical violence."

To prevent that possibility, Cardinal Bertone asks the Vietnamese prelate to intervene, to "avoid actions that could trouble the public order," and to ensure a return to normalcy in Hanoi. In making this request the Italian cardinal notes that he has the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Bertone observes that once the current tensions have eased, Church leaders in Vietnam could resume negotiations with government authorities over the return of the building, which was seized by Communist officials more than 45 years ago. He promises that the Vatican, too, will press authorities in Hanoi to return the property to Catholic hands.

The letter from the Secretary of State came at a time when Vietnamese authorities were speaking openly about police action against the demonstrators in Hanoi, and possible prosecution of the archbishop and other clerics involved in organizing the prayer vigils.

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