The future Blessed laid the bases for the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church when he was president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. A club in Hanoi inspired by him spreads the doctrine and collects books through a ‘Bookcase of hope’ to encourage young people to read in every parish and engage in charity and mission.
Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – The "heroic virtues" of Card Francis Xavier (Phanxicô Xaviê) Nguyễn Văn Thuận, which Pope Francis recognised on 4 May, includes not only the faith, hope, and charity he maintained during 13 years of imprisonment, but also his commitment to the Church's social doctrine. In fact, under his presidency, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace produced an important Compendium on the matter, published two years after his death.
In Vietnam and abroad, where Vietnamese immigrants live, the news of his imminent beatification fills people with joy. Everyone has a story about his life and his "heroic virtues", first of all, about his love. "Once he told a prison guard,” a young man remembers, “‘Even if you kill me, I will love you all the same because Christ taught me to love everyone. If I do not this, I am not worthy of being called a Christian."
For Joseph Vinh, a 20-year-old student in Hanoi, Card Văn Thuận "is already a saint. Whilst in prison, he tried to celebrate Mass for himself and other prisoners. Each day he used three drops of wine and a drop of water to pour on his palm to celebrate the Eucharist. Then he passed the Eucharist to other prisoners in silence and in secret. This is a strong faith full of love!"
He also bore witness to hope. "He always had love and a smile for the young prison guards,” another young man noted. “For this reason, prison authorities forbade guards from talking to him. At first, the order was to change the guards every 15 days because the authorities feared that the young police agents might be ‘infected’ with Mr Thuận's infectious virtues. They feared that the guards would befriend him if they stayed with him for too long. Eventually, they decided against changing [the guards], fearing that the ‘infection’ would infect the whole police force."
The Card Văn Thuận Club
The memory of Card Văn Thuận does not stop at anecdotes but has led to imitation. On 24 April 2014, Fr Mátthêu Vũ Khởi Phụng, a redemptorist in Hanoi, founded the " Phanxicô Xaviê Nguyễn Văn Thuận Club" to glorify "an excellent servant of God".
Fr Mátthêu died on 2 March 2016. The current club president, Fr Jean (Gioan) Nguyễn Ngọc Nam Phong continues his work. "Card Văn Thuận has a lot of merit, including that of organising the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. He was a real servant of God. He experienced very harsh pastoral situations, sentenced to 13 years in prison without trial. But he always lived in faith and hope."
All the members of the Club are always ready to engage actively in pastoral outreach and in charity. The Club has four goals: 1. promote Card Văn Thuận’s message of hope; 2. explain the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church; pray for the cardinal's beatification and canonisation processes; 4. organise conferences, seminars, and discussions on the Church's social doctrine.
The Club also pursues the goal of promoting hope among Vietnam’s young people, helping them in their cultural development. As Card Văn Thuận often said, "If you learn a word every day, if you read a book every month, you will gradually improve a little bit. It starts today; it starts now."
Since it was founded three years ago, the Club had been based in Thái Hà parish. Here, members have set up volunteer groups who collect and donate books as part of ‘Bookcase of hope’, a programme that will be extended to other parishes in Hanoi diocese in the coming days.
"We need parish participation to develop this programme,” Fr Jean said. “This way we will spread Card Văn Thuận’s hope. This will help boost the role of lay people in the mission of the Church. As the cardinal once said, when the Church evangelises, the Church matures."
The Vietnamese in the US
For Vietnamese Catholics who emigrated to the US, the hope borne by Card Văn Thuận also touches their country. Mr Ngô Đình Thu, of Saint Barbara parish, remembers participating in a Mass with the cardinal. "I met him in 2000 in Missouri. I still remember his exhortation to all of us: 'Be happy, not sad and always smile to each other. You believe in Jesus and Mary. They will bring joy and prosperity to the Vietnamese people. Meanwhile, let us pray for the freedom of our country."
In an interview with a US newspaper, Ms Phạm Thanh Tâm said, "Card Văn Thuận is a saint and an example for us. He pushes me to do my best for God in my life, bringing the Good News to others."