This is the very first of our monthly appointments: “Leaders in fraternity”. What we would like to do is take a look through history and discover people who have lived for this ideal. We want to begin with Cardinal Francois-Xavier Ngujén Van Thuan, an Asian contemporary. The 6th July marked the conclusion of the first phase of the beatification process
Simplicity and hope. For many people, whether in Tanzania or in Korea, he was known simply as ‘Bishop Francis’ which is what he wanted to be called. He was a simple and friendly person. His love for humanity and confident hope made him an icon of the Asian Catholic Church. The first phase of Cardinal Van Thuan’s beatification process concluded on 5th and 6th July in the Vatican. It is a process that began immediately after his death in 2010.
Life and hope. François-Xavier Ngujén Van Thuan was born in 1928 in the province of Hue to a Christian family which was persecuted by the regime. He was the eldest of 8 children and the grandson of the first President of the Republic of South Vietnam. He grew up and lived in war–torn Vietnam with the regime on the one hand and lack of hope on the other.
During that time François chose to enter a Religious Order and was ordained priest in 1953. After graduating in Canon Law in 1959 in Rome, he returned to Vietnam and became the rector of the Seminary. In 1967 he was appointed Bishop of Nha Trang and in 1975 he became coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon. His motto “Gaudium et spes” accompanied him throughout his life, even when he was taken prisoner by the Communist regime in 1975 right after his appointment as Archbishop.
Fraternity in action. All he had with him on that night was his Rosary. This is how he later recalled how he wanted to live that day that marked the start of 13 years’ imprisonment with 1,500 other people: ‘“This is my cathedral, these are the people that God has entrusted to me so that I may take care of them. Here is my mission: to ensure the presence of God among these people, among these miserable and desperate brothers of mine. It is his will that I’m here. I accept his will.” From that moment on, a new peace filled my heart which never left me throughout those 13 years.”
Thirteen years of imprisonment went by. He was imprisoned in Saigon, Nha Trang and Quang Vihn rehabilitation camp, nine years of which were in solitary confinement, accompanied by two guards. On small slips of paper, the Cardinal compiled a tiny book with more than 300 transcripts of phrases from the Gospel that he remembered by heart. Upon his release in 1988, when asked: “Are you happy now?” he responded “Even before, I was happy.”
After 1988, John Paul II appointed him Vice-President of Justice and Peace Pontifical Council. He died on 16th September 2002. Eleven years after his death, he remains for us an extraordinary legacy for his land, for his people and for the whole of Asia: a legacy that stands for universal brotherhood.