Pope meets Vietnam Communist Party chief

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Pope Benedict XVI (right) greets Nguyen Phu Trong -- the secretary general of Vietnam's Communist Party -- during a private audience at the Vatican on January 22, 2013. Photo: AFP 

Pope Benedict XVI received Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong of Vietnam's Communist Party on Tuesday as the Catholic Church seek to develop "fruitful collaboration" with Vietnam, the Vatican said.

The meeting was rare both because the pope usually reserves private audiences for heads of state and because Tuesday is traditionally Benedict's day of rest.

"During cordial talks, themes of interest were touched upon and the hope was expressed that certain unresolved situations can be resolved," the Vatican said in a statement. 

Vietnam's some eight million Catholic followers make up less than a tenth of the country's population.

While the Vietnamese government and Holy See do not have full diplomatic relations, ties between the two have been slowly improving, and in January 2011, the Vatican appointed an envoy to Vietnam, though from outside the Holy See's administration.

The Vietnamese delegation of 10 Communist party members, including Secretary General Phu Trong -- also met with the Vatican's powerful number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

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