U.S. prelates visit Vietnam

LA VANG, Vietnam -- Seeking to strengthen relations between American and Vietnamese Catholics, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., led a small U.S. delegation on a tour of three Vietnamese dioceses that included a stop at a Marian shrine.

Bishop Skylstad, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and two others visited the Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang, near Hue, Aug. 20; there he concelebrated Mass with two Vietnamese clerics for a congregation of more than 2,000 people, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

"I am very happy to be at the shrine," Bishop Skylstad told the congregation, which included 35 priests and a contingent of men and women religious from across the country.

The American bishop praised Vietnamese Catholics for their strong faith and deep devotion to the Eucharist.

Also concelebrating the Mass were Archbishop Etienne Nguyen Nhu The and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong, both of the Hue Archdiocese.

During the Mass Archbishop The thanked Bishop Skylstad for making his first visit to the shrine.

Bishop Skylstad was accompanied by Vietnamese-born Father Joachim Le Quang Hien who now serves in the Spokane Diocese, and Virginia Farris, foreign policy adviser for Eurasia and human rights in the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

Archbishop The and other Vietnamese church leaders had visited Bishop Skylstad in 2008 and invited him to visit Vietnam.

The archbishop, 73, urged the congregation to show solidarity with the U.S. church by praying for all American Catholics, including members of Vietnamese-American communities, to continue witnessing to the good news of the Gospel.

Father Jacob Le Sy Hien, rector of the shrine, invited Bishop Skylstad to visit again in 2011, when the local church will celebrate the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the first two apostolic vicariates in Vietnam and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the local church hierarchy.

The delegation, which concluded its six-day visit Aug. 21, also visited church sites in the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese and the dioceses of Da Nang and My Tho. The group arrived after attending the ninth Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences assembly Aug. 11-16 in Manila, Philippines.

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