(Independent Catholic News, Sept 18,2017): The recognition of the heroic virtuoes f Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan of Vietnam was celebrated with a solemn Mass in the Church of Santa Maria della Scala in Rome on Friday, the eve of the 15th anniversary of his death. Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, celebrated the decree which Pope Francis signed on May 4, 2017, recognizing the heroic virtues of the cardinal.
With the recognition of heroic virtues a candidate to sainthood is conferred the title ‘Venerable Servant of God’, or simply Venerable. This is a step just before Beatification and final Canonization or sainthood.
Cardinal Van Thuan was president of the Vatican’s former Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from June 24, 1998 until his death. The council along with three other pontifical councils: the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers and Cor Unum were combined by Pope Francis on August 17, 2016, into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The new dicastery came in effect on January 1, 2017.
Born on April 17, 1928, Van Thuan was ordained a priest in 1953 and consecrated bishop of Nha Trang in 1967. On 24 April 1975, six days before the city fell to the North Vietnamese army, Pope Paul VI appointed Van Thuan as Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon. Targeted for his faith and being the nephew of South Vietnam’s first president, Ngo Dinh Diem, he was subsequently arrested by the communist government and held in a ‘reeducation camp’ for 13 years, nine of which were in solitary confinement.
Rather than breaking him, his imprisonment brought the best out of him making him a beacon of Christian faith, hope and love. In prison, he smuggled out messages to his people on scraps of paper. These brief reflections, copied by hand and circulated within the Vietnamese community, were later compiled into the book, ‘The Road of Hope.”’Another book, ‘Prayers of Hope’ contains his prayers written in prison. The bishop fashioned a tiny Bible out of scraps of paper. Sympathetic guards smuggled in a piece of wood and electric metal wire from which he crafted a pectoral cross and the chain which he wore till the end.
After his release on November 21, 1988, Thuan was prevented from reaching his see of Ho Chi Minh City. Allowed to visit Rome in 1991, he was barred from returning. He served for a while at the International Catholic Commission for Migration in Geneva, Switzerland, and on 24 November 1994, St Pope John Paul II appointed him the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He was made a cardinal in 2001. Cardinal Van Thuan passed away at the age of 74 in Rome on September 16, 2002.
The process of his beatification and canonization at the diocesan level was initiated on October 22, 2010, and concluded on July 5, 2013.
The decree that Pope Francis promulgated in May, compares the life of Van Thuan to a “grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies”, not only to bear fruit but also “to save your own life”, that is to continue to live. It cited Pope Benedict in his encyclical, “Spe Salvi”, where he held up the late cardinal as a “witness of hope, to that hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.”
“This witness of faith, hope and charity of the Servant of God, given generously day after day with humility and discretion, is a constant invitation to collective holiness, which finds its greatest expression in fidelity to God and in his reciprocal help to travel the way of holiness,” the decree read.