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Death of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan

74 year old Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan of Vietnam, who could have become the first Asian Pope, died in Rome on Monday.

The 74-year-old President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who had a tumour, is the second potential papal candidate to die this month, following Brazilian Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves. Van Thuan, one of the few Asians to occupy top Vatican posts, was considered a man of simple faith who had suffered for his beliefs.

He spent 13 years in prison and under house arrest in his homeland when the Communists came to power in 1975 after the Vietnam War and began repressing the Catholic Church.

During his prison years, eight of which were spent in solitary confinement, Van Thuan wrote his thoughts on spirituality and survival and hope.

In one of his books, he recalled how his jailers often asked him why he was usually so happy and he would reply: "Because I have faith in my God."

And his faith was infectious. He taught one of his jailers to sing the liturgical song "Veni, Creator Spiritus" (Come, Holy Spirit). One day when Van Thuan fell into depression, the Communist guard sang it for him in perfect Latin, boosting his spirits.

Van Thuan was released in 1991 but while he was visiting Rome, the Vietnamese government declared him a persona non grata and said he could never return home.

He became a cardinal in February 2001 and ever since was touted as a possible successor to Pope John Paul.

Pope John Paul II immediately sent telegrams of condolence to Bishop Paul Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang, president of the Episcopal Conference of Vietnam and to the deceased cardinal's mother, who lives in Sydney.

The Holy Father will preside at the funeral of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan on the Altar of the Confession in the Vatican Basilica on Friday.

Cardinal Who Survived Prison Dies (Newsday-AP)
My captors, my friends: Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (Catholic Weekly 18/3/01)


18 Sep 2002