Late last month, the president of Vietnam, Tran Dai Quang, met with Pope Francis for a private audience at the Vatican. Though the meeting was described by the Holy See Press Office as “cordial,” relations between Rome and Vietnam have been bumpy for the last several decades. One of five remaining Communist nations, Vietnam has been ranked as the world’s 20th most oppressive country for Christians by the non-profit Open Doors USA. And yet the nation’s Catholic population—which has been listed at roughly seven million—continues to grow.
Though Portuguese Catholic missionaries came to Vietnam in the early 1500s, it was French Jesuits in the following century who had the first significant success in winning converts and establishing a Church presence.
When Vietnam split in 1954, many thousands of Catholics headed from Communist North Vietnam into South Vietnam. When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the two sections reunified under a Communist government.
The Church persevered, though, and there now are 26 dioceses and three archdioceses, along with more than 2,600 priests and 2,200 parishes, according to catholic-hierarchy.org.
Most would agree that Vietnam is not as repressive as it was in 1975. That said, “Strong authoritarian rule [tolerates] no dissent, especially not from ethnic or religious minorities… As a result, human rights violations continue to accrue,” reports the Christian persecution watchdog group Voice of the Martyrs.
Read more at Catholic World Report.