Pope John Paul II's

Autographed letter of thanks for Spiritual Exercises



Friday 20 September 2002

1. "Their hope is full of immortality" (Wis 3,4).

These consoling words from the Book of Wisdom invite us, in the light of hope, to offer our prayers of suffrage for the elect soul of the late Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, who lived his whole life under the banner of hope.

Certainly, his death saddens all who knew and loved him:  his relatives, especially his mother, to whom I renew my expression of affectionate closeness. I think of the beloved Church in Vietnam, who generated him to the faith; and I also think of all the Vietnamese people, whom the venerable Cardinal expressly remembered in his spiritual testament, saying that he had always loved them. The Holy See mourns Cardinal Van Thuân; he spent his last years in its service, as Vice President and then President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Even at this moment, with great affection he seems to address to everyone, the invitation to hope. When I asked him to give the meditations for the Spiritual Exercises of the Roman Curia in the year 2000, he chose as his theme:  "Testimony of Hope". Now that the Lord has tested him, as "gold in the crucible", and has accepted him "as a sacrificial burnt offering", we can truly say that "his hope was full of immortality" (cf. Wis 3,4.5). It was full of Christ, the life and resurrection of all who trust in him.

2. Hope in God! With this invitation to trust in the Lord the beloved Cardinal began the meditations of the Spiritual Retreat. His exhortations have remained impressed upon my mind, for the depth of his reflections, enriched with continuous personal memories; most of them were related to the 13 years he spent in prison. He told us that precisely in prison he understood that the foundation of the Christian life is "choosing God alone", totally abandoning oneself into His fatherly hands.

He added in the light of his personal experience, we are called to proclaim the "Gospel of hope" to everyone; and, he specified, only with the radicalness of our sacrifice can we bring this vocation to its full realization, even in the midst of the harshest trials. "To treasure each suffering", he said, "as one of the countless faces of Jesus crucified, and to unite our suffering to his, means to enter into his own dynamic of suffering-love. It means to participate in his light, his strength, his peace, it means to rediscover within us a new and abundant present of God" (Testimony of Hope, Rome 2001, pp. 93-94).

3. We might wonder where he found the patience and courage that have always distinguished him. On this subject, he confided that his priestly vocation was mysteriously but truly bound to the blood of the martyrs who died in the last century while they were preaching the Gospel in Vietnam. "The martyrs", he noted, "taught us to say yes - a yes without conditions and limits to the love of the Lord. But the martyrs also taught us to say no - no to flattery, to compromise, to injustice - even with the intent of saving one's own life" (ibid., p. 107). He added that it was not a question of heroism, but of fidelity, developed by looking at Jesus, the model of every witness and martyr. It was a heritage to be accepted every day in a life full of love and gentleness.

4. In offering our last farewell to this heroic herald of Christ's Gospel, let us thank the Lord for giving us, in him, a shining example of Christian loyalty to the point of martyrdom. He said of himself with striking simplicity: "In the abyss of my sufferings ... I never shut anyone out of my heart" (ibid., p. 94).

His secret was indomitable trust in God, nourished by prayer and suffering, accepted with love. In prison he celebrated the Eucharist every day with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of his hand. This was his altar, his cathedral. The Body of Christ was his "medicine". He recounted with great feeling: Each time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice. Each day in reciting the words of consacration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine" (ibid., p. 131).

5. "For me to live is Christ" (Phil 1,21). Faithful unto death, Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuân made his own the Apostle Paul's words we have just heard. He preserved serenity and even joy, during his long and painful stay in the hospital. During the last days, when he could no longer speak, he fixed his gaze on the Crucifix before him. He prayed in silence while he consummated his last sacrifice, crowning a life marked by heroic configuration with Christ on the Cross. Very applicable to him are the words Jesus proclaimed in the immediate view of his Passion: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit (Jn 12,24), aptly apply to him.

Only with the sacrifice of himself does the Christian contribute to the salvation of the world. It was so for our venerable Brother Cardinal. He leaves us, but his example remains. Faith assures us that he is not dead but has entered into the eternal day which knows no sunset.

© Copyright 2002 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Pope Benedict XVI

Address on the fifth anniversary of the death





Castel Gandolfo

Monday, 17 September 2007

Your Eminence,

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.

© Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Pope Francis

Apostolic Exhortation







17. At times, life presents great challenges. Through them, the Lord calls us anew to a conversion that can make his grace more evident in our lives, “in order that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:10). At other times, we need only find a more perfect way of doing what we are already doing: “There are inspirations that tend solely to perfect in an extraordinary way the ordinary things we do in life”.[15] When Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân was imprisoned, he refused to waste time waiting for the day he would be set free. Instead, he chose “to live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love”. He decided: “I will seize the occasions that present themselves every day; I will accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way”.[16]


[15] FRANCIS DE SALES, Treatise on the Love of God, VIII, 11

[16] Five Loaves and Two Fish, Pauline Books and Media, 2003, pp. 9, 13.

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