ROME (UCAN) – Pope Benedict XVI expressed "profound joy" at news of the official opening of the cause for the beatification of Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.
The cause was launched Sept. 16, the fifth anniversary of the cardinal's death, at the Church of Santa Maria della Scala, the Roman church assigned to him when he was made a cardinal.
Cardinal Thuan spent the last eight years of his life in Rome and served as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 1998 until his death of cancer at age 74 in 2002. Earlier he spent 13 years in detention under harsh conditions in his homeland.
Cardinal Renato Martino, current president of the pontifical council, presided and preached at the Sept. 16 Mass attended by Vietnamese bishops, clergy, Religious and laypeople. Cardinal Martino appointed a woman canon lawyer, Silvia Monica Correale, as postulator for cause to have the late prelate proclaimed a blessed and then a saint.
Pope Benedict XVI, who came to know Cardinal Thuan well at the Vatican, hailed him as a "singular prophet of Christian hope" when the pope received members of the pontifical council on Sept. 17 at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence.
Members of the Cardinal Van Thuan International Observatory for the dissemination of the church's social doctrine also were present at the papal audience, together with relatives and friends of the late prelate.
The pontiff recalled Cardinal Van Thuan's "simple and immediate cordiality," his "capacity for dialogue and for being close to everyone," and "his fervent commitment to spreading the church's social doctrine among the world's poor," according to a Vatican press release.
He spoke of the Vietnamese prelate's "great visions, full of hope," and his "longing for evangelization in his own continent, Asia," as well as "his skill in organizing activities of charity and human promotion which he initiated and supported in the most out-of-the-way places on earth."
Cardinal Van Thuan "lived on hope, and he spread it to everyone he met," Pope Benedict stated. "Hope sustained him as a bishop isolated for 13 years from his diocesan community; hope helped him to see, in the absurdity of the events that befell him (he was never put on trial during his long imprisonment), a providential plan of God."
Born in Vietnam's former imperial capital of Hue on April 17, 1928, the future cardinal joined An Ninh minor seminary in 1941 and was ordained a priest in 1953. After six years of further studies in Rome, in 1959 he was appointed faculty member and rector of Hoan Thien minor seminary in Hue archdiocese, which he also served as vicar general. According to local Church records, he held both posts until 1967, when Pope Paul VI appointed him bishop of Nha Trang.
Seven days before South Vietnam fell to the communist North on April 30, 1975, he was named coadjutor archbishop of Saigon Archdiocese. His uncle, Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, had once headed Hue archdiocese. That uncle was the brother of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, whose assassination in 1963 intensified U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Communist authorities rejected his appointment and imprisoned him for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement. Released in 1988, he was allowed to travel overseas in 1991. While abroad, he was barred from returning to Vietnam.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II called him to Rome. The late pope greatly admired him. Besides promoting him as the first Vietnamese prelate to hold a high Vatican office, the pope had him preach the Lenten retreat to the Roman Curia in the year 2000. On Feb. 21, 2001, Pope John Paul made him a cardinal.
Vietnamese Catholics in Rome were overjoyed at the opening of the beatification process. One of those who knew him well is Father Joseph Doan Nguyen Cong, provincial of the Jesuits in Vietnam from April 1975 until 1981, when he was imprisoned for nine years. "Everybody is happy, even the pope, who knew him very well. I'm very proud of this, as are all Vietnamese Catholics," the priest told UCA News in Rome.
"When the cause concludes, and he is beatified and canonized," Father Doan said, "then in addition to our many martyrs, we will also have the first Vietnamese confessor of the faith."
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Gerard O'Connell, based in Rome, is a special correspondent for UCA News.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).