Category Archives: Beatification

Penciling Prisoner

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On January 1, 2012, the Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) announced that a delegation from the Vatican plans to visit Vietnam from March 23 to April 9.  The purpose of the visit is to collect evidence towards the cause for the beatification of Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, a former coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon.

Thuan was named coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon by Pope Paul VI seven days before Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975.  The communist authorities arrested Thuan on August 15, 1975, and placed him in prison, where he remained for the next 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement.

The Archbishop was imprisoned in a small windowless stone cell, so damp that he said mushrooms grew out of the mattress where he slept.  His guards were not supposed to speak with him, but he slowly won them over by his respectful attitude and his humble acceptance of their authority.

Thuan said he wanted to look upon the guards as his brothers, and to be kind to them. But he had nothing to offer.  Then one night a thought came: “You are still rich.  You have the love of Christ in your heart.  Love them as Jesus loves you”.

 The next day he set to work, smiling at them, and showing appreciation for what they did.  He began to tell them stories about his journeys in other countries.  That stimulated their curiosity, and they began to ask questions.  Slowly they became friends.  They asked him to teach them French and English, and soon the guards became his pupils.

They allowed him to have a page-a-day calendar, and a pencil to write.  Each day he wrote his reflections on the back of the calendar page, and then sent them out with a little boy who used to visit him every day.  Those reflections became a book called “The Road of Hope”, which was translated into several languages.

Eventually he was released on November 21, 1988.  He went to Rome to be made a Cardinal, but was blocked from returning to Vietnam.  Pope John Paul appointed him President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and in the year 2000 invited him to preach the Lenten Retreat to the Pope and the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Thuan was 74 years of age when he died of cancer in 2002.  He was revered by all, even by his prison guards.  He showed that by his humble respectful attitude to all, he could change a harsh prison into a school for saints.