Many have come to know the human story of the Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who lived in prison for more than thirteen years. Many were encouraged by his heroic witness of faith and have personally experienced the love, forged in the crucible of testing, of this great contemporary personality.
On 22 October, the Process of Beatification was begun for him only 8 years after his death.
Born in 1928 in Vietnam, into a family with ancient Christian roots, he was ordained a priest in 1953 and, in 1964, became rector of the Seminary of Hue. On 13 April 1967, Pope Paul VI appointed him the first Vietnamese bishop of Nha Trang. He chose as his motto “Gaudium et Spes” because he wanted to be an apostle of joy and peace.
A man of rich and deep spirituality, he found great inspiration in his personal life and his pastoral mission in the encounter, in 1974, with Chiara Lubich and her spirituality of unity.
In 1975 he was arrested and imprisoned by the Communist government. He was never tried and convicted. He spent well over thirteen years in prison, nine of which in isolation.
His choice of Jesus crucified and abandoned, a cardinal point of the spirituality of unity, as the One to love and imitate, gave him the strength to be a heroic witness of hope and love, always, in an indescribable way during the long dark years of imprisonment. Years later, in July 2001 in front of 1,300 priests gathered at Castel Gandolfo, he would state that “having found Chiara Lubich’s charism of unity is what saved me in those long years.”
His many writings contain real jewels of authentic evangelical spirituality, illustrated with the many experiences that shine as a way of holiness for anyone who meets this great witness of our time.
This is an experience told personally by Cardinal Van Thuân:
“One night in prison, from the depths of my heart, I heard a voice asking me, ‘Why do you ever torment yourself like this? You must make the distinction between God and the works of God. All you’ve done and still want to do – pastoral visits, training of seminarians, nuns and members of religious orders, building schools, evangelizing non-Christians – this is excellent work, it’s the work of God but it’s not God! If He asks you to leave everything and to entrust it all into His hands, then do it and trust Him. God will do things infinitely better than you: He’ll entrust the work to others more capable than you. You have only to choose God and not his works!’ It was a light that totally changed my way of thinking.
When the Communists made me go down into the hold of a ship, the Hai-Phong, crammed together with another 1,500 prisoners to transport us to the North, I told myself: ‘This is my cathedral, this is the people that God entrusts to me that I might care for them, here is my mission: to ensure the presence of God among these people, among these miserable, desperate brothers of mine. His will is that I be here. I accept His will ‘. From that moment on a new peace has filled my heart which has never left me and never did in all those thirteen years.”
Author of numerous books – some published by New City Press – a tireless preacher, a witness to a heroic faith and boundless love, Cardinal Van Thuân will be remembered for his great efforts in preparing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and for the last intense years of his life which were spent guiding the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Family members and friends of Cardinal Van Thuân arrived
from all over the world in order to attend the ceremony.