Pope Francis today signed a decree recognising that the late Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, who evangelized his gaolers while incarcerated in a Vietnamese prison, heroically lived Christian virtues and will now be known as “Venerable.”
The announcement marks a significant step in the canonization cause of the Vietnamese cardinal who led a remarkable and heroic life of suffering, and died in 2002 at the age of 76.
On April 24, 1975, six days before the city fell to the North Vietnamese army, Father Văn Thuận was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Saigon. It led to his subsequent arrest by the new communist regime, which sent him to a “re-education camp” for 13 years, nine of which were in solitary confinement.
During those years in jail, although in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, he instead saw it as an opportunity to come into closer communion with Christ, increasing his hope, which he was then able to pass on to others.
From his obituary in the Telegraph:
“At first, he wondered how he could set about achieving this; the Communists had closed Catholic schools, ransacked Church libraries and sent nuns and priests to work in the rice fields. Then, late one night, as he later recorded in his biography 'Five Loaves and Two Fishes', Thuận heard the voice of God saying: "Francis, it is very simple. Imitate what St Paul did when he was in prison - write letters to the Church communities."
This became his mission for the next 13 years, while Thuận was moved between prisons and re-education camps. He clandestinely ordained priests, distributed Communion to Catholic prisoners, and converted Buddhists and atheists who had been curious to know why he was so cheerful.”
He became so effective at evangelizing his jailers that the prison had to change them regularly.
After his release in 1988, he was exiled in 1991, but welcomed home by Pope John Paul II, who made him an official in the Roman Curia, and later, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace — a post he held from 1998 to 2002. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 2001.
Those who knew Cardinal Văn Thuận recall his gentle smile and the greatness of his soul, and many came to know him through his simple and profound writings which revealed “his priestly spirit, closely united to the One who had called him to be a minister of his mercy and his love,” Pope Francis told a Vietnamese delegation in 2014.
“So many people have written to tell of graces [received] and signs attributed to the intercession of the Servant of God Cardinal Văn Thuận. We thank the Lord for this venerable brother, son of the East, who ended his earthly journey in the service of the Successor of St. Peter,” the Pope said.
Venerable Van Thuận once said of his confinement that he was happy there, as it was God’s turn to speak and for him to listen.
He also devised the following “10 Rules of Life”:
“I will live the present moment to the fullest.”
“I will discern between God and God’s works.”
“I will hold firmly to one secret: prayer.”
“I will see in the holy Eucharist my only power.”
“I will have only one wisdom: the science of the cross.”
“I will remain faithful to my mission in the Church and for the Church as a witness of Jesus Christ.”
“I will seek the peace the world cannot give.”
“I will carry out a revolution by renewal in the Holy Spirit.”
“I will speak one language and wear one uniform: charity.”
“I will have one very special love: the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The cause for the beatification of Cardinal Văn Thuận opened in 2007.
Benedict XVI expressed his “profound joy” at the announcement, as did Catholics in Vietnam, who consider him “an example of holiness for the Catholics of Vietnam and the entire world.”