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The Cause of BeatificationRome, 16 September 2007
The cause of beatification of the Servant of God Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân began on 16 September 2007. This was exactly five years after his demise and practically coincided with the audience granted on 17 September 2007 by His Holiness Benedict XVI, who highlighted “the shining witness of faith which this heroic Pastor bequeathed to us”. The official announcement of the beginning of the cause of beatification was made by his successor, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino.
The Vietnamese cardinal served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 24 June 1998 to 16 September 2002.
SOLEMN EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION IN MEMORY OF CARDINAL FRANÇOIS-XAVIER NGUYÊN VAN THUÂN ON THE V ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH
HOMILY OF CARDINAL RENATO RAFFAELE MARTINO
Santa Maria della Scala Church, Trastevere (Rome), Sunday 16 Septemebr 2007
Dearest brothers and sisters,
In calling us around this holy Eucharistic table the Lord guides our hearts as we engage in devout remembrance of the Servant of God François-Xavier Card. Nguyên Van Thuân, who left us on 16 September five years ago to return to the house of the heavenly Father. Five years not spent in a vacuum of forgetfulness, but enriched by edifying memories of his life as a Christian of stalwart faith, indestructible hope and boundless charity. Five years embellished with works and endeavors for good launched in name of this Servant of God. Five years of anxious waiting – the years requested by the wise laws of the Church – to print a holy card with a prayer and begin the Process of Beatification. For all this we wish to thank the Lord, who wrote an eloquent page of the Christian Gospel of hope and joy in the hard and tormented life of Cardinal Van Thuân.
Thankful is Bishop Crepaldi, who had the most fortunate chance to live and work closely with Cardinal Van Thuân, receiving the grace of friendship and trustful closeness as a gift from him. Thankful to the Lord are the members of the Pontifical Council who had a beloved president ever committed to spreading the Gospel of Justice and Peace. Thankful to the Lord as well are the members of his family – two of his sisters are here with us today – his friends, his many disciples and the Vietnamese community at large that quite rightly sees in the life experience of their cardinal divine confirmation for the future journey of the Church in their beloved homeland. I too thank the Lord, I who inherited his legacy as President of the Pontifical Council and during these past five years have learned to know and love him, willingly letting myself be won over by his example and teachings.
The liturgy of the Word on this Sunday focuses of that enchanting sequence of parables in Luke’s Gospel that constitutes a Gospel of mercy in the true sense of the word, a Gospel so incisively interpreted by Cardinal Van Thuân. He summons us to recover the value of reconciliation, living it with love and joy, and not as an act driven by fear. Suggestive is the apologue in the novel entitled Don’t Shoot at Narcisists by Santucci: “Fear knocked at the door. Faith went to open the door and there was no one there”. Love wipes fear away; nothing can stop God’s love. All this had been so well understood by Cardinal Van Thuân, who overcame all fear because he abandoned his life into the provident and loving hands of God. Many times have I asked myself this question: what was the secret behind such a holy life? When reading some of his writings I found some insights regarding this secret and I would like to share them with you, letting the Servant of God speak as much as possible.
a) Firstly, he knew how to distinguish between God and the works of God. Let us listen to him:
“During the lengthy and arduous years of imprisonment I meditated on the question the disciples asked Jesus during a gale: ‘Master do you not care? We are going down!’ (Mk 4:38), until one night a voice spoke to me from the depths of my heart: ‘Why do you afflict yourself like this? You have to distinguish between God and the works of God; everything you have done and wish to continue doing – pastoral visits, the formation of seminarians, male and female religious, laypeople and youngsters, the construction of schools, student centers, missions for the evangelization of non Christians –are excellent works, but they are the works of God, not God Himself! If God wants you to abandon all these works, placing them in His hands, do it immediately and trust Him. God will do things infinitely better than you: He will entrust His works to others more capable than you are. You have chosen God alone, not His works!’ This light brought a new force into my life which completely changed my way of thinking”.
b) Secondly, he nourished his Christian faith with the Eucharist.
Witness of this may be found in the following teaching about the Eucharist offered by the Cardinal shortly before his demise. “We already have what we need in the Eucharist: love, the art of loving, love always, love with a smile, love immediately and love enemies, love forgiving, forgetting you have forgiven. I think Jesus in the Eucharist can teach us seven aspects of this love. In the cenacle Jesus shows us love sacrificed: ‘This is my body offered in sacrifice for you’. When He then goes to Gethsemane after the last supper it is a love abandoned: Jesus feels abandoned by the Father, but He is actually abandoning Himself completely and totally into the Father’s hands: “Non sicut ego volo sed sicut tu”.
On the Cross Jesus reveals love fulfilled because He loved us to the end and said: ‘It is accomplished’. There is nothing left that He had not done for us. When accompanying the two disciples to Emmaus after rising from the dead, explaining the Scriptures to them and breaking bread with them, He reveals an intimate love. In the Mass Jesus offers Himself into our hands each and every day: His sacrifice for us, His blood shed for us and for all is a love immolated, a love consumed as the Cure of Ars was wont to say: ‘The priest and all Christians are eaters’. In the tabernacle Jesus manifests love hidden in silence and prayer. In the ostensory Jesus projects radiant love and we are all a beam of Jesus: we must be light as He so wishes.”
c) Thirdly, he lived the Christian mystery of reconciliation to the hilt, forgiving everything and forgiving everyone. Let us listen to his words:
“IIn prison I lived dreadful moments. All alone for days, months and years. Alone in a cell without windows, without any contact with the outside world; eating a bit of rice with vegetables and salt; forced to live in that cell with the light on for ten days, and then in complete darkness for another ten days. I often asked myself if what I was living was really true. . . .But what helped me? I decided to love and forgive my jailors just like Jesus loves and forgives me.”
The outcome of this decision proved to be a series of minor and major facts that changed both life and heart”. This was really his great secret. As he said: “It is not possible to be holy at intervals; it is necessary to be holy at every moment, at this precise moment in time”. Hence, amidst practically unbearable difficulties he knew how to live the joy of Christ in forgiveness, love and unity. This attitude on his part changed his jailors, who became his friends. In all secrecy they even helped him make a cross out of a piece of wood and then make a chain out of a stretch of prison electrical wire that he always wore, because for him it evoked the love and unity that Jesus handed down to us in His testament. He used that same chain for his pectoral cross as both a Bishop and a Cardinal, that old wooden cross plated with a bit of metal, a poignant emblem of Christian paradoxes insofar as the cross of love.
d) The Servant of God loved Our Lady as a child loves his mommy.
We are gathered together in this beautiful church dedicated to Mary and whose titular was Cardinal Van Thuân. The cardinal joyfully revealed the “special role” Our Lady had had in his life. He was arrested on 15 August 1975, the Solemnity of the Assumption. When they took him away he was wearing his cassock and had nothing but a rosary in his pocket. Here is how he recalls that experience. “Mary had prepared me for persecution as of 1957 when, as a young and hyper active priest at the Grotto in Lourdes, she compelled me to meditate on these words: ‘I promise you not joys and consolations in this life, but trials and sufferings’. Awesome words I then found sewn to my very flesh”.
Thank you Bishop Francis, as you loved introducing yourself. Continue to help and sustain us from heaven above.
Article published in “L’Osservatore Romano” – 16 September 2007
In remembrance of Cardinal Van Thuân five years after his death.
by Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi – Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Five years after his death, our wish to recall and revive the figure of Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân is driven not by a sense of duty, but a need welling forth from the heart of all those who knew and loved him, especially the persons who worked with him at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace where he served as vice president and then president until 16 September 2002.
Anyone who had the grace to encounter Cardinal Van Thuân immediately felt the presence of a unique man of God, a man of prayer who attributed everything to God, knowing how to see God’s providential hand in everything. He had lived his tormented and dramatic life as both a Christian and a bishop in the martyrdom of God’s love, ever participating in merciful divine communion with every iota of his being.
While still among us, the cardinal often spoke about the distressing temptation of solitude and despair that he had had to deal with and suffer during the thirteen years of unjust imprisonment in Vietnamese jails. He confided that during that terrible existential isolation which deprived him of any human contacts and all his ecclesial relations, flooded upon his soul had been the grace not to succumb to despair, but to open up to the joyful recognition of God’s love and His merciful presence. God revealed Himself to him as the All and this was more than enough for him to down scale the weight and the suffering of the privation of personal dignity and freedom. When we are in communion with God, who is the All, why let anguish set in regarding all the rest?
That extraordinary spiritual experience indelibly marked Cardinal’s life and made him an authentic man of peace, a serene Christian and a trustful bishop. This experience became the living font that he drew from day after day in order to attend to the many tasks and duties of his pastoral ministry, which were often difficult and not bereft of painful trials. When placed at the head of a dicasterium of the Roman Curia, the cardinal also assumed the style of the apostle Paul by asking for things in the name of charity, even though in Christ he enjoyed the full liberty of command (cf. Fm 8-9). Evident in this style was his inner awareness that he had fought the good fight and had kept the faith (cf. 2Tm 7),
He had a rich and multi-faceted personality: the manifold events and experiences he had lived through, and with which many people were familiar, had mostly become vicissitudes of the historical period in which he had lived since he was and always felt himself to be Vietnamese. Therefore, it is not easy to commemorate Cardinal Van Thuân without keeping this part of his person in mind.
He was a man of God, but also a man of relations, a man open to all and who spoke with one and all in a most gentle manner blended with a marked sense of humorism. Whoever lived close to the cardinal will have been impressed by the enormous quantity, quality and variety of his relations; persons of all social backgrounds, religious and laypersons, Catholics and otherwise, and persons from all continents. When speaking with them there was always a tone of affection in his voice, and he was assisted by his command of many languages in addition to his native language.
Constantly urged and invited to speak before all kinds of audiences – bishops, priests and religious, workers, businessmen and political leaders – Cardinal Van Thuân, during his countless journeys and with his great simplicity, felt at ease everywhere and made everyone else feel at ease as well. A man of peace and unity, the cardinal reacted with love to any form of physical or moral violence perpetrated against his person. The main witnesses of this sort of reaction on his part were his jailers, who became his friends during the thirteen years of imprisonment and isolation he lived in Vietnamese jails. In his testament he stated that his most pressing desire was that those who had been dearest to him, his “spiritual children” would remain “eternally united”.
A free and fearless man: this may be considered the most evident characteristic of Cardinal Van Thuân’s personality. A freedom of spirit forged in prison, a freedom from fear manifested throughout his painful and long illness. Both the former and the latter sustained by the Eucharist celebrated every day, even under impossible conditions, and consoled by his profound devotion to the Virgin Mary. All this made him, made Bishop Francis as he liked to introduce himself in all simplicity, an exceptional “witness of hope”. During the homily at the funeral Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s, John Paul II referred to the virtue of hope as the password for grasping Cardinal Van Thuân’s personality. Here are the words of the Hoy Father: “He placed his entire life under the hallmark of hope. . .At this very moment, with his customary persuasive affection, he seems to be extending to one and all a summons to hope. When I asked him to preach the Retreat for the Roman Curia back in 2000, the theme he chose was: ‘Witnesses of hope’. Now that the Lord has tested him ‘like gold in the crucible’ and found him pleasing unto Him ‘like a holocaust’, we can truly say ‘his hope was rich with immortality’ (cf. WS 3: 4.6). That is to say he was full of Christ, the life and resurrection of all those who place their trust in Him”.
During these five years the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has treasured this summons to hope and capitalized on it. Thus has it been able to embrace his spiritual heritage and make it bear fruit, continuing work on one of Cardinal Van Thuân’s main insights that had led to the launching of work on material for the publication of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a project concluded by his successor, Cardinal Martino. The insight in question may be expressed in the following terms: the compelling eagerness to make the Social Doctrine of the Church known and appreciated by the local Churches on all five continents in a simple manner and adapted to local realities.
As the Cause for his beatification now begins, remembrance of Cardinal Van Thuân highlights an indomitable faith, the witness of an impassioned love for the Lord, hope abounding with evangelical trustfulness and ever the wellspring of reassuring optimism. Remembrance of his person reveals to us the beauty of a soul blessed by the Lord and shows us the holy way to reach God along pathways ever possible to illuminate with faith, charity, and above all hope as Cardinal Van Thuân bore witness to in such a resolute and incisive way.
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL
FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE ON THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE DEATH OF CARD. FRANÇOIS-XAVIER NGUYÊN VAN THUÂN
Monday, 17 September 2007
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I address a cordial welcome to all of you, gathered to remember beloved Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, whom the Lord called to himself on 16 September five years ago. Five years have passed but the noble figure of this faithful servant of the Lord lives on in the minds and hearts of all who knew him. I too cherish many personal memories of the meetings I had with him during the years of his service here in the Roman Curia.
I greet Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, respectively President and Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, together with their collaborators. I greet the members of the San Matteo Foundation established in memory of Cardinal Van Thuân, and of the International Observatory, called after him and created for the dissemination of the Church’s social doctrine, as well as the deceased Cardinal’s relatives and friends. I also express my sentiments of deep gratitude to Cardinal Martino for his words on behalf of those present.
I willingly take the opportunity once again to highlight the shining witness of faith which this heroic Pastor bequeathed to us. Bishop Francis Xavier – this is how he liked to introduce himself – was called to the Father’s House in autumn 2000, after a long and difficult period of illness faced in total abandonment to God’s will. A little earlier, my venerable Predecessor John Paul II had appointed him Vice-President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, of which he later became President, and he set about publishing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. How can we forget the outstanding features of his simple, ready cordiality? How can we not shine light on his conversational skill and his ability to make himself close to everyone? We recall him with deep admiration while we remember the great visions full of hope that inspired him and that he was able to present easily and engagingly: his fervent dedication to disseminating the social doctrine of the Church among the world’s poor; his longing for evangelization in Asia, his Continent; his ability to coordinate activities of charity and human promotion which he encouraged and supported in the most remote places of the earth.
Cardinal Van Thuân was a man of hope. He lived on hope and spread it among those he met. It was thanks to this spiritual energy that he was able to withstand all the physical and moral difficulties. Hope sustained him as a Bishop who for 13 years was cut off from his diocesan community; hope helped him to see in the absurdity of the events that had happened to him – he was never tried throughout his lengthy detention – a providential plan of God. He received the news of the disease, the tumour that was later to lead to his death, at the same time that he learned of his appointment as Cardinal by Pope John Paul II, who held him in high esteem and was very fond of him. Cardinal Van Thuân liked to repeat that the Christian is the man of the moment, of the now, of the present time that must be welcomed and experienced with Christ’s love. In this ability to live in the present shines forth Cardinal Van Thuân’s intimate abandonment in God’s hands and the Gospel simplicity that we all admired in him. And could it be possible, he used to wonder, that those who trust in the Heavenly Father then refuse to allow themselves to be embraced by him?
Dear brothers and sisters, I accepted with great joy the news that the Cause of Beatification of this unique prophet of Christian hope is being initiated. As we entrust this chosen soul to the Lord, let us pray that his example may be an effective lesson for us. With this hope, I cordially bless you all.
ADDRESS OF CARDINAL RENATO RAFFAELE MARTINO TO HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI AT THE AUDIENCE GRANTED TO MEMBERS OF THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, RELATIVES OF CARDINALVAN THUÂN, MEMBERS OF THE ‘SAN MATTEO’ FOUNDATION AND THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVATORY CARDINAL VAN THUÂN ON THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF THE SERVANT OF GOD CARDINAL FRANÇOIS XAVIER NGUYÊN VAN THUÂN.
Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo
Monday, 17 September 2007.
Most Blessed Father,
Interpreting the feelings of all present, I wish to voice heartfelt gratitude for having granted this special audience on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the return of most beloved Cardinal Van Thuân to the House of the heavenly Father. Here with me are the members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who today renew their filial and generous readiness to serve Your Holiness’ universal mission; some members of the Council of the San Matteo Foundation in memory of Cardinal Van Thuân, who are most thankful for the approbation received from Your Holiness for the erection of this promising Institution linked to the dicasterium; the representatives of the International Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân for the Social Doctrine of the Church, who follow Your Holiness’ magisterium with utmost diligence and dedication; relatives, friends, and some disciples of the cardinal representing the Vietnamese community.
Your Holiness, in granting us this audience you have interpreted the relationship of love which, in remembrance and prayer, continues to bind us to Cardinal Van Thuân, to the example of his heroic life of Christian martyrdom, to his witness as an indomitable servant of the Church and the Gospel of justice and peace. Holy Father, I am pleased to announce that in response to your wishes, initial steps are now being taken in the Process of Beatification of Cardinal Van Thuân. Thank you Your Holiness. Please bestow your blessing upon us!