Bush sings religious freedom tune at Hanoi Church

Shaking hands with choir members after praying at a Hanoi Catholic Church on Sunday, US President George W Bush urged governments to respect religious freedom, saying that "there's no more basic freedom than the freedom to worship as you see fit".

The International Herald Tribune reports that President Bush arrived at the Cua Bac Catholic Church early on Sunday morning and prayed silently at a ceremony hosted by Hanoi Catholic Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet.

The congregation of men in crisp white shirts and women in traditional long silk dresses sang hymns in Vietnamese with a mixed group of Vietnamese, including many members of the Hanoi Protestant Church, which was too small to accommodate a visit by the Protestant President.

Cua Bac, a stately church on one of Hanoi's most beautiful tree-lined streets, was built in the 1920s and has about 500 regular members. It has a weekly service in English for expatriates in Hanoi, but President Bush came for the Vietnamese service.

The sanctuary is just two blocks from Truc Bach Lake, where US Senator John McCain's plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.

It is also very close to the home of Gen Vo Nguyen Giap, who led North Vietnamese troops to victory against French and US forces, and a few blocks from Communist Party Headquarters and the tomb of Ho Chi Minh, who led Vietnam's communist revolution.

President Bush's visit to the church came just days after the US removed Vietnam from its list of the world's worst violators of religious freedom.

Cua Bac priest, Fr Nguyen Quoc Khanh, told reporters that Bush said nothing during the service and did not participate in communion.

"We all had a silent dialogue with God," Fr Khanh said.

Fr Khanh said members of his church pray comfortably, free of government harassment.

"Its very good news that the United States took Vietnam off its list," he added.

"I'm very glad that President Bush was here this morning," said Phung Quang Huyen, pastor of the Hanoi Protestant Church, who participated in the service. "It shows that faith is universal."

Bush said later that he was pleased to spend a "moment to converse with God."

"We were touched by the simplicity and the beauty of the moment. We appreciate very much the congregation for allowing us to come and worship with them," he said.

"A whole society is a society which welcomes basic freedoms and there's no more basic freedom than the freedom to worship as you see fit," Bush said.

The President and first lady shook hands with a few dozen choir members standing on cobblestones outside the church. He urged all governments to feel comfortable in saying to their people, "If you feel like praising God, you're allowed to do so in any way you see fit."

Bush joins Protestant, Catholic worshippers at Hanoi church (International Herald Tribune, 19/11/06)

Bush spotlights concern on Vietnam religious rights (Reuters, 19/11/06)

US President joins congregation at Hanoi's church (Vietnamnet, 19/11/06)
US President joins congregation at Hanoi's church (Vietnamnet Bridge, 19/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in Vietnam (Catholic-Hierarchy)

Mother Teresa's order invited to Vietnam (CathNews, 15/11/06)
Vietnam steps up persecution of Montagnard ethnic group (CathNews, 19/4/05)
Asian countries worst offenders on religious freedom (CathNews, 28/6/04)
New decree ensuring religious freedom (CathNews, 28/4/99)

20 Nov 2006