HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam ( - The new archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City was installed on Thursday in a sign of new cooperation between the Communist government of Vietnam and the Catholic Church.

      Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, 64, was selected as the replacement for the late Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh, who died in July 1995, by an agreement between the Vatican and the government in Hanoi. The post has been vacant for so long because Hanoi refused to agree to a Vatican-appointed replacement. As with all religions in Vietnam, the administration of the official Catholic Church falls under the Communist party's mass movement umbrella agency, the Fatherland Front.

      Tensions rose last year when Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung of Hanoi sent a letter to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai complaining about restrictions on Church activities. The letter complained that priests faced a bureaucratic minefield to get permits to travel within their parishes, that applications to assign new priests to parishes faced delays, that strict limits on the number of young men permitted to enter seminaries were unreasonable, and that the restrictions forced people to follow their spiritual beliefs illegally.

      Around 200 priests and 1,800 others, including a handful of foreigners, crammed into Notre Dame cathedral for Archbishop Man's installation. Hundreds of others pushed up against the padlocked church gates to listen to the two-hour service. In a sermon, Ho Chi Minh City apostolic administrator Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi hinted that much needed to be done to improve relations between the Church and the Communist party.

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April 3-5, 1998 volume 9, no. 67         DAILY CATHOLIC