Vietnam plans to ordain 57 Roman Catholic priests later this month

Vietnam plans to ordain 57 Roman Catholic priests later this month, the largest number of clergy to be added to the communist country in a single ceremony, as relations between Hanoi and the Vatican continue to thaw, church officials said Monday. "This would be an unprecedented event," said Dang Duc Ngan, spokesman of Hanoi Diocese. "It shows the unity between the local church and the Vatican, and it also demonstrates the improving relations between the state and the Vatican."

The ceremony will be presided over by senior Vatican envoy Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe from Rome, said Vatican deputy spokesman the Rev. Ciro Benedettini. The ceremony will be held at Hanoi's St. Joseph's Cathedral on Nov. 29, Ngan said.

The deacons come from nine dioceses in northern Vietnam, Ngan said. About 150 priests are typically ordained every two years in Vietnam, with less than 15 priests from one diocese ordained each time, he added.

The ceremony will not be attended by government officials, Ngan said. Vietnam has no diplomatic ties with the Vatican, and their relations have been strained over Hanoi's insistence of having the final say in most of the church appointments, a policy the Vatican has staunchly rejected.

However, relations have improved in recent years with visits by Vatican officials and the relatively smooth appointments of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man as cardinal in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003 and Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet as Archbishop of Hanoi in March.

While predominantly Buddhist, Vietnam has an estimated 6 million Catholics, the second highest number in Southeast Asia after the Philippines.

The government recognizes only a handful of officially sanctioned religions or denominations, which has drawn sharp criticism from international human rights organizations and governments, reports the AP. I.L.