Saigòn (AsiaNews) – The process of beatification of Card Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận is currently underway. A delegation appointed by the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace has already travelled to France, Germany, United States and Australia. It will also visit Vietnam from 23 March to 9 April 2012 to listen to witnesses speak about the cardinal.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận was born on 17 April 1928 in Phu Cam Parish. He entered the An Ninh Minor Seminary in his early teens. After studying philosophy and theology at the Phu Xuan Major Seminary, he was ordained priest on 11 June 1953 by Bishop Urrutia.

He served as vicar general in Hue Archdiocese from 1964 to 1967. On 13 April 1967, Pope Paul VI appointed him bishop of Nha Trang. During this period, he spared no efforts to build the diocese, especially in relation to clergy education. In fact, the number of students rose from 42 to 147 in major seminaries and from 200 to 500 in minor seminaries. He also organised youth and lay groups, set up schools and promoted parish councils.

At the same time, he held a number of ecclesiastical posts, such as president of the Vietnam Bishops’ Conference and chairman of the Justice and Peace Committee and the Social Communication Committee. He was one of the founders of Radio Veritas. In 1971, he was appointed advisor to the Pontifical Council of the Laity, a post he held until 1975. During his time in office, he met the then archbishop of Krakow, the future John Paul II. From him, he became familiar with the pastoral experiences under the most difficult period of Communist rule.

He was arrested and jailed by Vietnam’s Communist regime in May 1975 and released in 1988. He was placed under house arrest until 1991 when he was forced to leave his homeland. John Paul II welcomed him in the Roman Curia, and in 1998 appointed him chairman of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He died on 16 September 2002 after a long illness.

AsiaNews met a number of Vietnamese Catholics who went home for the Lunar New Year with stories about the prelate.

“I saw Cardinal Francis twice in the US,” said Joseph, a Vietnamese American and a former officer of the Republic of Vietnam. “He visited us in Anaheim and addressed crowds of over 10,000 people.”

“Whenever he visited the United States and said Mass for Vietnamese Catholics, people came in droves to listen to his preaching. We liked his cheerfulness and good humour. Although he spent 13 years in a Communist prison, he was always open, living in faith and charity, loving people and the nation.”

“I was in a Communist prison for seven years,” Joseph said. “So I sympathised and admired him. He stayed alive because he believed in God. When you are in the prison, you are hungry. Every day you get just a spoon of rice and salt without drinking water. You are very thirsty and you feel like an iron brush is raking your tongue,” he explained.

“Prisoners suffered from hunger and in the spirit. This was especially true for Catholic prisoners who were always discriminated. Nevertheless, Card Francis Xavier was able to celebrate Mass with three drops of holy wine in his palm. Many people have heard that he celebrated Mass in prison, and that he had kept the faith. For this reason, many already believe that he is a saint.”

“He always talked to us heart to heart. We learnt goodness by listening to his preaching. In 2000, he spoke to Vietnamese Catholic youth and told their parents in the US, ‘You must show them that they are Vietnamese, that we are Vietnamese. We have a responsibility towards our country. [. . .] We have dignity. We must be good Catholics. We are proud of Vietnam and Catholic youth. Catholics do not only go to church or great conferences about Our Mother Mary, they must also live according to the teachings of the Bible.”

“We are living in the 21st century,” he said. “We need to learn morality and the catechism. God heals our wounds as we can help others escape sorrow and evil. We are proud of Vietnam’s Catholics and of the Vietnamese nation.”

The cardinal also visited Tam Biên Parish, which was set up for Vietnamese Catholic refugees after 1975. The parish, which has about a thousand members, is run by Fr Trần Quốc Tuấn. All of them say they love Card Francis Xavier’s religion. “He held young people in high esteem. As president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, he nurtured their sense of justice and peace. He bore witness to his faith in prison, and led a life dedicated to charity and morality. He never showed any hatred or a desire for revenge against the Communist regime.”

In today’s Vietnam, many Catholics are attracted by consumerism, and have lost the joy of family life. However, many have read his book The Road of Hope, and have come gone to their families, children, God and the Church. His book is a school of life. Many also remember his stories.

“I went to re-education camp and lived in the prison,” the cardinal said. “I did not want to complain or blame others for my situation. I wanted to see the future in positive terms,” and “it was a turning point. Although I was not suffering physically, I was concerned about faith and hope. I tried to finish The Road of Hope in Nha Trang City’s prison. I was afraid I might be moved to another place (prison). On 18 March 1976, the day before the feast day of Saint Joseph, I was moved to Phú Khánh Camp in Nha Trang.”

“Day and night, I heard the sound of Nha Trang church bells. I had been the diocese’s bishop for eight years and loved everyone there. I had taught future leaders of Catholic associations, increased the number of major and minor seminarians, organised youth and lay groups, established schools and promoted parish councils.”

“I was worried and asked myself. ‘Does God not allow me to do his work?’ Yet, at a night, I’d hear a voice say, ‘Do not think like that! You must know God and work for him. All your deeds are good but note that when God wants you to hand over a task to someone else, you must continue to believe in him and hand it over. God can do everything. God will entrust the task to others, and they will do it better than you. You must just choose God and look for his holy ideas. Choose God, but do not choose for him. All the task you let go, parishioners will do for you.”

Many people both inside and outside Vietnam know The Road of Hope. In this book, Card Francis Xavier tells us that we must love our country and fellow countrymen. We must have an open heart as well as love and compassion for others and other religions. We must do good deeds for our country and the Church.