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 faithful are a tiny minority in the officially atheist country.

The Communist regime has been accused of restricting religious practice amid reports of the persecution of Christians.

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 - 10 Communist party members including secretary general Nguyen Xuan Phuc - also met with the Vatican's powerful number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Agence France Presse - January 23, 2013