05/04/2017, 20.04
VATICAN – VIETNAM
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Pope acknowledges the "heroic virtues" of Cardinal Van Thuân, witness of hope

After 13 years in prison without trail, under harsh conditions, he was the "witness of hope", a theme to which he dedicated thoughts and writings. John Paul II said he spent a life “in coherent and heroic adherence to one's vocation", whilst Benedict XVI quoted him twice in Spe Salvi.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – One more step has been taken toward the altars for Cardinal Phanxicô Xaviê (François Xavier) Nguyễn Văn Thuận. Today in fact, Pope Francis issued a decree recognising his heroic virtues.

Few have been as heroic as him, in our time, above all in the virtue of hope. After 13 years in prison, without trial and under harsh conditions, he was the "witness of hope" to which he dedicated thoughts and writings.

John Paul II said that he spent a life “in coherent and heroic adherence to one's vocation". Pope Benedict XVI quoted him twice in Spe Salvi to reiterate the view that whoever hopes is never alone. The German pope noted that, placed in isolation, the cardinal did not feel alone but was united to God in the prayer of hope, united to the pope, the Church, the diocese of which he was a pastor, united to all humanity.

The Servant of God Phanxicô Xaviê Nguyên Van Thuân, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, was born in Huê on 17 April 1928 and died on 16 September 2002, experienced martyrdom through the history of his own family, which was wiped out when their village was torched in 1885 because it was Christian. Only his maternal grandfather survived.

Brought up as a Christian, Van Thuân entered the seminary at the age of 13 and became a priest on 11 June 1953. He graduated in canon law in Rome in 1959 and returned to Vietnam to teach, run a seminary and act as vicar general in the Diocese of Nha Trang, of which he became bishop in 1967, at the age of 39. In 1975 he was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Saigon, a few days before the city fell to North Vietnam.

On 15 August 1975, the feast of the Assumption, he was arrested. He was dressed only in his cassock, and had a rosary in his pocket. By October, he was writing messages in jail, on a sheet of paper that a seven-year-old child, Quang, smuggled in. Those pages eventually became books, with hope as their central theme.

He spent 13 years in prison without trial. From Saigon, he was moved shackled to Nha Trang, then to the Vinh-Quang re-education camp in the mountains. Those were hard times.

He was held in solitary confinement for nine years, watched by two guards only for him. Since he could not have a Bible, he scrounged for whatever paper he could find to transcribe about 300 Gospel passages he knew by heart.

He celebrated Mass using the palm of his hand as chalice with three drops of wine and one of water. He got the wine from his family, saying it was to treat his stomach ache. His relatives realised what he meant and sent him a bottle of wine with the label "medicine against stomach ache". He kept consecrated bread crumbs in cigarette packs.

He was still in isolation in Hanoi when he got a fish to cook, wrapped up in two pages of "L’Osservatore Romano", which police confiscated when it arrived by mail. He cleaned out the two page and dried them in the sun, as a sign of union with Rome and the pope.

The authorities were concerned about his goodness and his attitude of love towards his persecutors, fearing that the guards might be won over. For this reason, they were changed every two weeks.

In one prison, a guard allowed him to carve a piece of wood into a cross. In another he got a piece of electric wire with which he made a chain to carry his cross. Nguyen Van Thuân never separated from that cross and that chain. Not even in Rome, when he was a cardinal.

He was released on 21 November 1988 and later expelled. He arrived in Rome in 1991. John Paul II appointed him as head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, calling him in 2000 to perform the spiritual exercises to the Roman Curia and in 2001 made him a cardinal.

He died on 16 September 2002 after a long battle with a rare form of cancer. He said once, "I dream a Church that has in the heart the fire of the Holy Spirit. Wherever the Spirit is, there is freedom, sincere dialogue with the world, and especially with young people, with the poor and marginalised."

His process of beatification began at the diocesan level in 2007, ending on 5 July 2013. The Vietnamese government does not want him to be beatified.

A witness to the process, literary critic Nguyên Hoang Duc was invited to the Vatican for the final ceremony marking the end of the diocesan phase. However, he was prevented from embarking on the plane. It would seem that hope and faith continue to cause fear. (FP)

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