VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 20, 2002 ( John Paul II remembered Cardinal François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân as a "shining example of Christian faithfulness to the point of martyrdom," during a funeral service for the Vietnamese prelate.

Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuân, who died Monday at age 74, was president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He spent 13 years under communist confinement in his homeland, following his appointment in 1975 as coadjutor bishop of Saigon.

"He placed all his life under the sign of hope," said John Paul II, who traveled from Castel Gandolfo to preside over the funeral service in St. Peter's Basilica this afternoon.

It was, in fact, with an invitation to hope, the Pontiff recalled, that then Archbishop Nguyên Van Thuân began the meditations for the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia in March 2000.

The Pope, who welcomed the archbishop to Rome after the communist regime deported him, said that in "prison, he understood that the foundation of Christian life is 'to choose God alone,' as the martyrs of Vietnam also did in the last century."

"The martyrs have taught us to say 'yes': a 'yes' without conditions or limits to love of the Lord; but also a 'no' to vanity, to compromise, to injustice -- justified, perhaps, with the object of saving one's own life," the Holy Father said, quoting the Vietnamese cardinal.

"His secret was his indomitable trust in God, nourished by prayer and suffering accepted with love," John Paul II explained.

"He celebrated Mass every day in prison with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of his hand. That was his altar, his cathedral. The body of Christ was his 'medicine,'" John Paul II continued.

"Faithful unto death, he preserved serenity and joy even during his long and painful stay in the hospital," the Holy Father concluded. "During the last days, when he could no longer speak, he fixed his gaze on the crucifix before him. He prayed in silence, while his supreme sacrifice culminated, crowning a life marked by heroic configuration with Christ on the cross."