VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope John Paul II has sent a senior official to Vietnam to assess aid needs and meet with Roman Catholic leaders in that nation, the Vatican said Monday.
The Vatican and Communist-led Vietnam do not have diplomatic relations. Vietnam's 8 million Roman Catholics constitute a small percentage of that nation's 76 million people but they are among the largest Catholic communities in Asia outside of the Philippines.
The Holy See described the focus of Monsignor Paul Josef Cordes' weeklong mission as ''combatting poverty and isolation.''
Vietnam is predominantly Buddhist, with a government-run church, but also recognizes a few other religions, including Catholicism and Islam.
Religious freedom remains a thorny issue. In 2001, Vietnam sentenced an outspoken Catholic priest, Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, to 15 years in jail for advocating religious liberty.
Cordes heads the Vatican charity organization Cor Unum. He will travel to southern Vietnam to assess and coordinate aid needs, and then meet with Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung in Hanoi.
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