Hope in the Lives of the Saints // Venerable Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan
Soon after Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army in 1975, thousands of civilians were imprisoned. One of these was Saigon’s newly appointed archbishop, Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan, seized on August 15th.
For the next 13 years, Thuan would undergo intense suffering in body, mind, and spirit. His book, The Road of Hope, reveals secrets of his survival as he wrestled with confused feelings, fear, and fatigue. What might have engulfed his soul upon hearing nearby cathedral bells? What would become of his flock?
Yet God used that ordeal to transform Thuan into an apostle of hope, a man whose life proclaimed the triumph of the Risen Christ over the despair in Vietnam.
One night, Thuan pondered the One who had plunged even deeper into despondency than he had—this Jesus on the Cross, appearing “useless” to the world. Thuan understood that disciples conquer in dying and they rise victorious in the very places they are most subdued. They “choose the Road of Hope”, they choose a relentless persecution that moves the Church forward: purifying it, unifying it, strengthening it, and growing it.
Thuan quickly resolved to continue mission and began composing pastoral letters to his people. These were often smuggled out with a subtle request to send his "medicine" (cough syrup bottles filled with wine and pieces of bread to celebrate the Eucharist).
Only Hope could transform that crammed cell into a blessed cathedral. Only Hope could safeguard his heart from impatience and doubt. Only Hope could elevate the place of his greatest immobility to become a place of his greatest influence. Only the Hope of the Resurrection!
That sobering recollection blurs my eyes even as it sharpens my sight. It changes the lens with which I see my own personal persecution, those times when I’m tempted to settle, those moments when I feel "useless" in sickness and sin. And it offers me hope as I "turn" to see Jesus on the Cross... nails puncturing, voice resounding, “It is finished,” and I repent again. And I rise with Him.
Thuan was deeply devoted to Our Lady. It is no coincidence that he was arrested on August 15th, on the feast of Assumption. Who better than Mary, Queen of Apostles and martyrs, to unveil to us the mystery of God’s love poured out on the Cross? This love that triumphs over all evil, this love that empowers us to become "prisoners of hope," and this love that transforms our staggering realities into sainthood.
Upon release, Thuan spent the rest of his life “living the present moment,” becoming a witness of hope, this same Hope that invites us to treasure our vision of eternal communion, continue mission, and comfort fellow prisoners along the way.
Let Us Pray
Jesus, thank You for sending us Venerable Thuan to be an apostle of hope for our time. May his example in the face of immense suffering inspire our own hidden humility and hope, enabling us to be more conformed to Yourself on the Cross. Amen.
In what ways or areas are you feeling "most subdued" right now? How might that be an invitation to hopeful witness to Christ?
Venerable Thuan was supported by a community of believers even while he was imprisoned. How can you spiritually support those in your life who are "far away": from you, from the Church, from peace?