Archbishop Van Thuân: From Prison to "Prince"

He Reflects on His Being Named a Cardinal

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2001 ( Vietnamese Archbishop François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân´s life might well be summarized by the phrase, «from a Communist prison to a prince of the Church.»

In 1975, Pope Paul VI appointed him coadjutor bishop of Saigon. The Communist government described his appointment as a plot and imprisoned him three months later. He remained incarcerated for the next 13 years, nine of which were in solitary confinement.

Once released, Bishop Van Thuân was obliged to leave Vietnam, where he has been unable to return, not even to visit his elderly mother. Today as archbishop he is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Last March, Archbishop Van Thuân preached the spiritual exercises for John Paul II and the Roman Curia. The exercises were followed daily in ZENIT and are now available in book form.

In the following interview on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Van Thuân talks about his recent appointment as cardinal.

–Q: How did you receive your appointment?

–Archbishop Van Thuân: When I received the appointment from the Holy Father, I felt a very strong sensation in my heart: I am unworthy. «Pray for me!» However, in the Lord´s abundant grace I feel full of the Lord´s mercy. I am thinking of my elderly mother. Her feelings are like a guiding lesson to me.

I recall that at times over the years, some Vietnamese priests have gone to see her and someone once asked her if she wanted me to be named cardinal. She answered: «No. When I sent him to the seminary I always prayed that he would be a good priest, so that he could offer holy Mass; and this is enough.

–Q: What does being a cardinal mean to you?

–Archbishop Van Thuân: Fidelity to the Church, which is represented in the deep red, the color of blood. It means that I must be prepared even to spill my blood. I have some experience and I understand what this means. Not only in martyrdom, but also in daily work, in patience so that each one will carry his cross, in learning to share the suffering of so many people around us, and in this way promote the evangelization of all.

–Q: So, after 13 years in prison, one can continue to give one´s life as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

–Archbishop Van Thuân: I give my life in my work; a sacrifice whose objective is to try to reduce misery, bring peace, cancel the debt, and alleviate hunger and sickness in the world.

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