VATICAN CITY CNS – When Christians enjoy religious freedom, the practice of their faith and its commandment to love others encourages dialogue and contributes to the good of the nation, Pope Francis told Vietnamese Catholics.
In a letter marking the Vatican's agreement with Vietnam's communist government to have an Office of the Resident Papal Representative and a fulltime diplomat in the country, Pope Francis said that "the Catholic faithful can foster dialogue and engender hope for the country whenever conditions favorable to the exercise of religious freedom are implemented."
The opening of the office was announced in late July during a visit to the Vatican by Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong.
The Vatican and Vietnam, which has an estimated 6.5 million Catholics, do not have full diplomatic relations, but since 2011 the Vatican has had a nonresident papal representative to Vietnam.
The papal representative will "provide support to the Vietnamese Catholic community in their undertakings in the spirit of the law and, always inspired by the magisterium of the church, to fulfill the vocation of 'accompanying the nation' and to be 'good Catholics and good citizens,' and contribute to the development of the country," said the July statement announcing the new agreement.
In his letter to the country's Catholics, published Sept. 29, Pope Francis told them Vietnamese Catholicism "was born and grew over many generations rooted in the commandment: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'"
"Indeed," he said, "love is the measure of faith, and faith is the soul of love, never forgetting that love for God and neighbor are two sides of the same coin."
Negotiations with the government have been long and patient, he said, but he is certain "further progress will be possible, recognizing convergences and respecting differences."
The key, the Pope said, was that officials from the government and from the Vatican "were able to walk together, listening to each other and arriving at a mutual understanding. Although each of them came from different backgrounds and experiences of life, it did not prevent them from seeking together the best way forward for the good of the Vietnamese people and the church."
Being "daughters and sons of the church and at the same time citizens of Vietnam," he said, Vietnamese Catholics are called to make their contributions to "to building a just, supportive and fair society."
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said the intention of the church "is certainly not to replace government leaders; she wishes only to be able to play a just role in the nation's life, at the service of the whole people, in a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration."
The best way to do that, Pope Francis said, is through "the concrete practice of charity" in response to "the cry of the poor."
"This spirit has always enlivened the Catholic community in your country," the Pope said, which is why it has been "a leaven in society, accompanying it in its development and contributing to its progress as faithful, responsible and credible believers."
Pope Francis also quoted St. John XXIII's encyclical letter, "Peace on Earth," expressing the hope that, "by establishing contact with one another and by a policy of negotiation, nations will come to a better recognition of the natural ties that bind them together as men and women. We are hopeful, too, that they will come to a fairer realization of one of the cardinal duties deriving from our common nature: namely, that love, not fear, must dominate the relationships between individuals and between nations."