Hanoi, Jun 11, 2008 / 03:10 am (CNA).- A Vatican delegation to Vietnam led by Monsignor Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretariat of State’s undersecretary for relations with states, began its visit in meetings with bishops and priests of Vietnam to discuss the impact of secularism in Vietnam, the intense controversies that have surrounded Church property disputes and the appointment of bishops in the country.

On Monday the delegation met with the bishops of Thanh Hoa, Nha Trang, and Lang Son in the office of the Archbishop of Hanoi, J.B. An Dang told CNA. The archbishop’s office is next to the former papal Nunciature where thousands of Catholics organized daily prayer vigils earlier this year to secure the return of the building, which was confiscated by the Communist government in 1959.

The delegation later met with 123 priests from Hanoi and neighboring dioceses who were attending an annual training session at Hanoi’s Major Seminary.

Monsignor Pietro, speaking to the priests, said such education was especially important in Vietnam, where the Church now faces widespread secularism. The monsignor said the delegation will discuss with the Vietnamese government issues such as bishop appointments, Church property disputes, and religious freedom.

The appointment of bishops is an issue that is especially charged, as the officially atheist Communist government refuses to grant control over appointments to the Vatican and the Vatican insists upon its right to name bishops. The conflict has resulted in long delays in the appointment of bishops and diocesan administrators.

Disputes surrounding church properties confiscated by the government especially focus on the Vietnamese government’s promise to return the former papal nunciature to the Church. On February 1 Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet confirmed that the government had agreed to return the property. However, the nunciature continues to be administered by the government.