Senior Vatican envoy begins week-long Vietnam visit

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HANOI, March 5 (Reuters) A high-level Vatican delegation began a visit to Vietnam today as the Holy See and the communist-run country discuss ways to move toward establishing diplomatic relations.

The delegation led by Monsignor Pietro Parolin, undersecretary at the Vatican's Secretary of State, will meet government officials tomorrow, the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

His week-long schedule includes visits to churches in central and southern Vietnam.

After decades of tension, there has been rapid improvement in relations between the Vatican and Vietnam in recent years.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung became the Southeast Asian country's highest-ranking official to meet the Pope when he visited Pope Benedict in January.

The Vatican called the visit ''an important step towards the normalisation of bilateral relations'' and last month, the foreign ministry in Hanoi said Dung had assigned diplomats to conduct talks toward making a ''roadmap'' leading to diplomatic ties.

Vietnam, which last year was removed from a US blacklist of countries that severely repress religious rights, has about 6 million Catholics in its population of 84 million.


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