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Pope presides at Vatican funeral for Vietnamese cardinal

Pope John Paul II led the funeral service on Friday for Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, praising the Vietnamese church official's heroism and recalling his days in a communist prison.

The cardinal, who had been seen as a possible papal candidate, died of cancer last Monday at 74.

The funeral Mass was attended by top Vatican officials and members of the diplomatic corps. John Paul blessed the coffin, which was placed on a red carpet in front of the main altar in St. Peter's Basilica. A choir sang hymns in Vietnamese.

Nguyen Van Thuan, who went into exile in Rome more than a decade ago, was an inspirational figure for Vietnamese Catholics, the second-largest Catholic community in Asia after the Philippines. He headed the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace.

John Paul described him as a "heroic herald of the Gospel" and an example of Christian coherence.

Targeted for his faith as well as his family connections - his uncle was Ngo Dinh Diem, the assassinated South Vietnamese president - Nguyen Van Thuan spent 13 years in a notorious communist "re-education" camp. Nine of those years were in solitary confinement.

The pope said the man celebrated Mass every day in prison, "with three drops of wine and a drop of water in his hand. This was his altar. This was his cathedral."

Death of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan (18/9/02)
Cardinal Who Survived Prison Dies (Newsday-AP)
My captors, my friends: Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (Catholic Weekly 18/3/01)


Las Vegas Sun - AP

23 Sep 2002