The Roman Catholic Church ordained the largest number of priests at one time in the history of communist Vietnam on Tuesday.
The 57 new priests were ordained to service at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi, witnessed by thousands of Vietnamese, according to the Associated Press (AP). The visiting Vatican envoy Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who is the first senior Vatican official allowed to ordain priests in Vietnam, presided over the three-hour ceremony.
All the ordained deacons are from eight northern Vietnam dioceses, highlighting the growth of Catholicism in northern Vietnam, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
Cardinal Sepe delivered words of encouragement to the new priest as saying, "Like Jesus Christ, you should preach among all people and wash their sins." He added that there are only 6 million Catholics among the 80 million-strong population in the country, according to AP.
The Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam, just as that of the communist China, is somewhat frustrated by government restrictions on the hierarchy system within the Church.
According to the annual international religious freedom report published by the U.S. Department of State, the Catholic Church in Vietnam continued to face restrictions on the training and ordination of priests and the naming of bishops. Especially for the Vatican appointment of bishops, the Government effectively maintains veto power. However, it has sought to cooperate with the Church in nominations for appointment.
As the Italy-based Catholic news agency AsiaNews reported, "a sign of warming relations between the Vatican and Vietnam" can be confirmed by the massive and open ordination event on Tuesday.
No government representatives have attended such an unprecedented occasion, but there were plenty plain-clothed policemen in the crowd and peace was well-maintained, AsiaNew added.
"This is a very special event," Dang Duc Ngan, spokesman for the Hanoi Diocese, said to AP reporters. "Surely this is a very strong step forward in relations between the Vatican and the government of Vietnam, who have seen their dialogue flourishing."
While Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to open the dialogue with China to recover the diplomatic ties formally, Vietnam is also another Asian country to which he has made clear intent of reconciliation, AP reported.
Nationally, the openness of the Vietnamese government for the Roman Catholic Church could be beneficial to the provision of social service.
According to the religious freedom report, charitable activities by the Catholic Church have been quite restricted in northern Vietnam. However, as the relationship between the government and the Catholic Church is improving, the Church can be more opened to provide useful social assistance to the people, including in the health care and education, especially at the kindergarten level.