Updated: September 20, 2021 09:45 AM GMT
Bishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan pictured with scout seminarians in Nha Trang in 1971. (Photo courtesy of giaophannhatrang.org)
Catholics in central Vietnam have praised the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan as a witness of joy and hope when marking his death anniversary.
On Sept. 16, Bishop Joseph Vo Duc Minh of Nha Trang celebrated a special Mass at the bishop's house marking the 19th death anniversary of Venerable Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who served the diocese between 1967 and 1975.
Only some priests and seminarians attended the Mass due to strict social distancing to contain the contagious Delta variant outbreak. It was live-streamed on the diocesan website.
Bishop Minh said local people are immensely proud to have Venerable Thuan as their father, master and pastor, who gathered them on his death anniversary.
According to Catholic and native tradition, death anniversaries are opportunities for family reunions.
The 77-year-old prelate said his predecessor, who was declared venerable in 2017 indicating that he lived a life of heroic virtue, is well known as a witness of hope. His name is included in apostolic exhortations that often mention the names of saints.
The late cardinal's story, especially his 13-year jail sentence, captured the special attention of Vatican leaders, he said.
Wherever he went and whatever he did, he always said his homeland was Vietnam and that he was Vietnamese
In 2006, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, former president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, asked him to retain the old house where the cardinal used to live and all remembrances of his life after the Vatican approved the cardinal’s beatification cause.
He said that after being told that he was from Nha Trang, succeeding Cardinal Thuan, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI said that “he is a saint.”
The bishop said the late cardinal also brought glory to his beloved Vietnamese people as, wherever he went and whatever he did, he always said his homeland was Vietnam and that he was Vietnamese.
Explaining his motto, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said: “My message is smile because I am closely associated with Vatican Council II in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern world Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope). So people full of joy and hope must wear happy smiles.”
Bishop Minh said local people still remember the cardinal’s words saying that “Nha Trang is in my heart,” even though he left the local Church 46 years ago.
One week before South Vietnam fell to the communists on April 30, 1975, the Vatican nominated Bishop Thuan as coadjutor archbishop of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. The government rejected his nomination and sent him to prison for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement in Hanoi.
The prelate, a nephew of South Vietnam’s Catholic president John Baptist Ngo Dinh Diem who was assassinated in 1963, and Archbishop Peter Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc, went abroad in 1991 and was banned from returning home by the government. He was made a cardinal in Rome 10 years later.
Bishop Minh said the cardinal quietly recorded his emotional farewell to local people in a priestly ordination attended by a few people at the bishop’s house on May 7, 1975, before moving to Saigon. He burst into tears for loving his diocese.
He said Cardinal Thuan whispered “Nha Trang” with his last breath on Sept 16, 2002, in Rome. He was 74 years old.
“Although he has passed away, he is still living among us. Love is never lost, life is never lost, for God is love, the source of love never dies and runs out,” the bishop said.
In a state of such turmoil, we need the testimony of hope and to hold on to hope
Bishop Minh said his predecessor’s life was that of a saint. “He was a caring father and a devoted, good, and true pastor who mixed happily with all people, the powerful as well as the poor, and those in urban and rural areas.”
He said Venerable Thuan, who was full of God’s grace and devoted to Mother Mary, always flashed gentle smiles at those he met as his gift.
Bishop Minh said the late cardinal, who wrote the famous work The Path of Hope in jail, bears witness to hope to people today during the Covid-19 pandemic that causes great loss of life, pain and suffering to people around the world.
“In a state of such turmoil, we need the testimony of hope and to hold on to hope. He reminds us about hope that is to turn to Mother Mary with the rosary, and Jesus, the only Savior of the world,” he said.
A dozen priests who teach at Stella Maris Major Seminary in Nha Trang concelebrated a Mass to mark the cardinal’s death anniversary. They expressed their profound gratitude to him for having laid a solid foundation for priestly formation.
The former bishop set up three seminaries forming hundreds of young vocations and held many refresher courses for young priests.
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