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Long-jailed Vietnamese cardinal set on path to sainthood

.- The cause for the canonization of Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was officially opened in Rome this week. The cardinal, who suffered for years in Vietnamese prisons without trial, was exiled from his homeland and is remembered for never losing hope.

The diocesan phase of Cardinal Van Thuan's canonization cause was inaugurated on Oct. 22 at Rome's Lateran Palace. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar of Rome, was on hand. So too was Cardinal Peter Kodwa Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which Cardinal Van Thuan once led.

Cardinal Vallini remembered the Vietnamese prelate as a "witness of hope."

Fr. Van Thuan was highly respected in his homeland. He worked in a number of roles including prison and hospital chaplain, seminary professor and rector before becoming the Bishop of Nha Trang, Vietnam in 1967. Through his direct involvement, in his eight years as bishop there the seminaries in the diocese more than tripled their enrollment.

Elected by Pope Paul VI as the coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon in 1975, he was subsequently jailed for "having plotted with the Vatican and the imperialists against the communist revolution." He spent a total of 13 years imprisoned in North Vietnamese jails without ever receiving a trial. He was in solitary confinement for nine of them.

During this time, his hope was buoyed through the Eucharistic celebration, through which he transformed his cells into veritable chapels. Using breadcrumbs and wine, smuggled in under the guise of stomach medicine, he consecrated the bread and wine in the palm of his hand into the Body and Blood of Christ. He was also able to fashion a pectoral cross out of wood that hung from his neck by a chain made of bits of wire.

His imprisonment, John Paul II recalled in the year 2000, serves to "reinforce in us the consoling certainty that when everything around us and maybe within us falls apart, Christ remains our unfailing support."

Archbishop Van Thuan was released in 1988, but after making a trip to Rome in 1991 he was not allowed to return home. He continued to work to build up the Vietnamese Church from Eternal City and in 1994 he entered the Roman Curia under appointment by John Paul II as the vice president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. In 1998, he was named the council's president. He was created cardinal in Feb. 2001 and died in Sept. 2002.

Little more than eight years after his death, on Oct. 22 celebrations for Servant of God Van Thuan's cause for canonization were opened with a suffrage Mass celebrated by Cardinal Turkson. Following the Eucharistic celebration was the third edition of the Van Thuan Awards and the official opening of the cause. An artistic show inspired by the late-cardinal called "Witness of Hope" was performed later that evening.


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