Prelate, Prisoner, Exile, Prince

François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân: A Man Who Loved His Enemies

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 17, 2002 ( François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân was once a prisoner, but ended life as a prince — of the Church.

The cardinal died Monday at age 74 after a long fight with cancer.

In March 2000, then Archbishop Nguyên Van Thuân moved John Paul II and members of the Roman Curia when he preached spiritual exercises in which he recalled his experiences during 13 years of imprisonment under the communists in his native Vietnam.

During an interview with ZENIT on that occasion (March 12, 2000), the cardinal described his experiences.

To his non-Catholic fellow prisoners, who were curious to know how he could maintain his hope, he answered: “I have left everything to follow Jesus, because I love Jesus’ defects.”

The then archbishop said: “During his agony on the cross, when the thief asked him to remember him when he arrived in his Kingdom — had it been me I would have replied: ‘I will not forget you, but you must expiate your crimes in purgatory.’ However, Jesus replied: ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise.’ He had forgotten that man’s sins. The same happened with Mary Magdalene, and with the prodigal son. Jesus does not have a memory, he forgives the whole world.”

“Jesus does not know mathematics,” the Vietnamese prelate added. “This is demonstrated in the parable of the good shepherd. He had 100 sheep, one is lost and without hesitating he went to look for it, leaving the other 99 in the sheepfold. For Jesus, one is as valuable as 99, or even more so.”

Another topic he emphasized during the 2000 spiritual exercises was the need to love one’s enemies.

“One day, one of the prison guards asked me: ‘Do you love us?'” Archbishop Nguyên Van Thuân recalled.

“I answered: ‘Yes, I love you.’

“‘We have kept you shut in for so many years and you love us? I don’t believe it …’

“I then reminded him: ‘I have spent many years with you. You have seen it and know it is true.’ … The guard asked me: ‘When you are freed, will you send your faithful to burn our homes and kill our relatives?’ ‘No, although you might want to kill me, I love you.’

“‘Why?’ he insisted.

“‘Because Jesus has taught me to love everyone, even my enemies. If I don’t do this, I am not worthy to bear the name Christian. Jesus said: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’

“‘This is very beautiful, but hard to understand,’ the guard replied.”

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