Vietnam and the Vatican will take ongoing talks about re-establishing diplomatic relations to a higher level next week, when a Church delegation meets with Foreign Ministry officials, the communist government said.
Tensions have existed between the Vietnamese government and religious organizations for years. Communist authorities closely monitor religious groups and insist on approving most church appointments.
Many organized religious groups supported South Vietnam during its war against the communists, who regarded them with suspicion afterward. But recently, relations between Hanoi and the Holy See have begun to thaw.
A Vatican delegation led by Monsignor Pietro Parolin will hold its annual meeting with Vietnamese officials Monday and Tuesday in the capital, Hanoi, according to a statement posted late Wednesday on the Foreign Ministry Web site.
The two sides have been discussing the possibility of renewing diplomatic ties for years, though previous talks involved lower level Vietnamese officials.
Next week will mark the first time the subject has been taken up by the Foreign Ministry, a sign the talks may be gaining momentum. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung became the highest level Vietnamese official to meet the Pope when he visited the Vatican in 2007. After the talks, both sides announced they were working toward normalizing relations.
Vietnam has one of the largest Catholic populations in Asia, with more than 6 million Catholics.
Last year, tensions flared between Hanoi and local church officials, who organized a series of prayer vigils to demand that the government return church lands seized several decades ago. The Vatican did not take a public stand during that dispute.