Pope John Paul II on Saturday said the Vatican and Vietnam are moving toward reconciliation and he is hopeful the church can achieve full freedom in the Communist country.

"In a climate of mutual respect, understanding and good will, a dialogue has begun which augurs well for the lts of a visit to Vietnam earlier this month by an official Vatican delegation. Cardinal Roger Etchegary, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace Commission, held talks with officials in Hanoi and elsewhere on church-state issues."The road will still be long and the difficulties will not be lacking, but it seems that it is the right path," the pope said in French. "I hope that in the near future the Vietnamese church finds that the place which it deserves in society is ever more recognized."

"Be assured," he told the bishops, "that the Holy See will do all in its power so that these first steps in dialogue can lead to an understanding which brings lasting fruit for the good of the church of Vietnam."

There are an estimated 4 million to 5 million Catholics among Vietnam's largely Buddhist population of 63 million.