Pope Francis is keen for the Church to tap into Asia, a continent where the number of Catholics, currently just 3.2 percent of the population, is rocketing.

During his five-day visit to South Korea in August his first trip to Asia the pope called for communist countries Vietnam and China, which do not have formal ties with the Vatican, to accept a "dialogue" with Rome, insisting that Catholics did not view Asia with the mentality of "conquerors".

In a statement released after the fifth meeting of a joint Vietnam-Holy See working group in Hanoi, the Vatican "reaffirmed that it attached great importance to the development of relations with Vietnam in particular and Asia in general."

It said the pope's trip to South Korea and scheduled 2015 visits to Sri Lanka and the Philippines were "evidence" of a determination to strengthen ties.

The Vatican repeated "its commitment towards the goal of establishing diplomatic relations with Vietnam", and said Hanoi for its part "reiterated the consistent policy... in respecting freedom of religion... and supporting the Catholic Church."

The communist regime severed diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1975, but both sides have been working towards warmer relations since 2007.

Among other things, the Church is still seeking the return of properties confiscated in the past and wants to run its own social programmes in Vietnam, particularly focusing on "health care, education, charity and humanitarian works," the statement said.

Agence France Presse - September 12, 2014