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Catholic World News News Feature

Viet Catholics win concession from government February 01, 2008

Vietnamese government officials have tentatively agreed to return the former offices of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi to the Catholic Church.

In a stunning victory for Catholic activists who had been organizing daily prayer vigils outside the former nunciature in Hanoi, pleading for return of the building that had been confiscated by the Communist leadership in 1959, the government has agreed to turn the building over to Church leaders.

The concession by the Vietnamese government came just hours after the publication of a letter from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, urging Hanoi's Catholics to avoid confrontation with police. Informed sources in Hanoi said that the government had agreed to allow the Catholic archdiocese to resume use of the building, in exchange for a promise that the daily prayer vigils would stop.

The accord between the government and the Hanoi archdiocese has not yet been announced, but officials told the AsiaNews service that a final agreement should be in place "within days."

The government is not expected to concede the arguments raised by Catholic protesters, who said that nuncio's building had been seized illegally. In a face-saving move, government authorities plan to announce that they are allowing the archdiocese to use the building as a gesture of goodwill toward the Vatican.

In his January 30 letter to Hanoi's Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, Cardinal Bertone had promised to press the government to restore use of the building. Diplomatic initiatives by the Vatican evidently produced an immediate effect.

Vietnamese Catholic leaders had made frequent appeals to the government, over a period of years, for restoration of the nuncio's office. The issue came to a head after Catholic lay activists began their prayer vigils at the building in mid-December. By late January the daily demonstrations had grown into major events, with city officials-- apparently frustrated by the peaceful protests-- threatening legal action against the archbishop and his clergy.

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