Cardinal Van Thuân Seen as Model of Hope

Vietnamese Support Cardinal’s Canonization Cause

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By Carmen Elena Villa  

ROME, OCT. 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The diocesan phase of the canonization process opened today in Rome for Cardinal François Xavier Nguyen van Thuân (1928-2002), who is remembered by his countrymen as an example of hope.

The opening ceremony took place at midday in the Conciliation Hall of the Lateran Palace in Rome, presided over by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope’s vicar for the Diocese of Rome, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, current president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Also, Cardinal Turkson presided over a Eucharistic celebration in memory of the Servant of God in the Roman church of Santa Maria della Scala, of which he was the titular bishop. Attending the ceremony were members of the dicastery, cardinals, bishops, relatives, friends and others who had the opportunity to know the cardinal during his life.

The diocesan phase of the canonization process will involve gathering documentation of the life, writings, virtues and sanctity of Cardinal van Thuân.

While serving as the coadjutor archbishop of Ho Chi Minh, the prelate was arrested in 1975 and detained for 13 years in a Communist re-education camp in Vietnam. In 1988, he was liberated and forced into exile. Pope John Paul II welcomed him to Vatican City and entrusted him with responsibilities in the Roman Curia.

The Vietnamese archbishop served as vice-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1994, and was its president from 1998 to 2002. He was made a cardinal in 2001. He died in September 2002.

Countrymen

The majority of the faithful who took part in the celebrations for the opening of Cardinal van Thuân’s canonization cause were Vietnamese residents in Rome. Vietnam has a Catholic population of 7 million (6% of the population), making it the second largest Catholic population in Asia after the Philippines.
 
ZENIT spoke with Sister Cecilia, who knew the cardinal personally, and who often visited him in his apartment in Rome, where he always received his compatriots with special kindness.
 
“When he fell ill we went to visit him in the hospital,” she recalled. “His death was a very hard moment although we knew that the suffering he lived here on earth had greater meaning. Truth and forgiveness triumphed.”
 
Father Cuong Pham recalled that when Cardinal van Thuân traveled to New York he would visit the Vietnamese Catholics who resided there, in the parish of the Most Precious Blood, in the city’s Chinese neighborhood.
 
The priest recalled that Cardinal van Thuân was a “very gentle and humble” person “with a good sense of humor.” He said that many young people “admired him and wanted to imitate him.”
 
For Salesian Brother Domenico Nam, the cardinal was “a great example of hope, after so many years in prison,” and he said that the Church in his country “finds itself in a very difficult situation because of the Communist regime.”

However, there are “many Catholic families that pray together. Devotion to Cardinal van Thuân is spreading among them,” and this generates “many vocations” as fruits.
 
For Sister Assunta, of the Institute of Mary Help of Christians, what was most admirable about Cardinal van Thuân was his “immense charity,” as well as his “very profound hope.”

He was a person who was able to give “true justice: that of forgiveness,” the religious said, adding that when she was very young she saw him sometimes in Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh City).

“I pray every day to imitate his virtues in my consecrated life,” said Sister Assunta.
 
After completing the diocesan phase, the Vatican phase would begin which would involve a commission of theologians determining whether or not Cardinal van Thuân lived the virtues to a heroic degree. Should this be the case, he would be declared Venerable. A miracle through his intercession would be then be needed for his cause to advance toward beatification.

13 years

Cardinal Van Thuan was born in 1928 in Hue, a small city located on the central coast of Vietnam. He received his priestly ordination in 1953. He was bishop of Nha Trang from 1967 to 1975, the year in which Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop coadjutor of Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh). He was arrested that same year.
 
He was in prison for 13 years, nine of which were in total isolation. He celebrated Mass daily with three drops of wine — he said he needed it as medicine for stomach pains — and a drop of water in the palm of his hand.
 
While there he wrote books in which he recounted his experiences during his captivity with reflections on the value of forgiveness and the need to live the present time with realism. He also wrote on the power of prayer and love of the Eucharist. Among his writings are
“Prayers of Hope, Words of Courage,” “Five Loaves & Two Fish,” and “The Road of Hope: A Gospel from Prison.” He also wrote “Testimony of Hope: The Spiritual Exercises of Pope John Paul II.”
 
The cause of his beatification was introduced on Sept. 16, 2007, five years after his death, which is the shortest period of time allowed to initiate the process of beatification.

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