Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân was born on April 17, 1928 in Phú Cam in the Archdiocese of Huê, in Central Vietnam. His parents were Nguyên Van Am and Elisabeth Ngo Thi Hiep, daughter of Ngo Dinh Kha. He was the second of nine children; four brothers and five sisters.

Descendant of a family line with a long Catholic history, which included many martyrs among its members, Cardinal Van Thuân’s ancestors suffered for their faith during the time of Christian persecution from 1698 to 1885.

Raised in a profound Christian household, he received the precepts for an exemplary and holy life from his mother, Elisabeth. Every evening, she would recite various biblical accounts to him, speak of the lives of the Vietnamese martyrs (in particular, the martyrs that belonged to their family line), and describe the lives of the saints, especially that of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. She taught him to love others and to forgive always and everyone, at the same time instilling in him a profound love for his homeland, Vietnam.

At the age of thirteen, he entered into the Minor Seminary of An Ninh in Huê. Afterwards he continued his studies at the Major Seminary of Phú Xuân in the same city.

He was ordained a priest on June 11, 1953.

After his priestly ordination, he carried out his pastoral ministry in some parishes of Huê and, from 1956 to 1959, he was sent to Rome to study at the Faculty of Canon Law in the Pontifical Urbaniana University. He finished his studies with a thesis on the subject of “Military Chaplains According to Canon Law”, for which he received highest approval (Summa cum Laude). During his stay in Rome, he was granted the opportunity to participate in a Pontifical Audience with Pius XII, along with his maternal uncle, His Excellency Pierre Marie Ngo Dinh Thus, Bishop of Vinh Long in Vietnam.

Upon his return to Vietnam, he was nominated Professor; later, Rector of the Minor Seminary Hoan Thien from 1959 to 1967; finally, he was designated as Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Huê from 1964 to 1967.

On April 13, 1967, Pope Paul VI nominated him as successor of Bishop Raymond Paul Piquet, a missionary of Paris Foreign Missions Society. Bishop Van Thuân then becomes the first Vietnamese Bishop of Nha Trang. His Episcopal ordination took place on June 24, 1967 in Huê, presided over by His Excellency, Archbishop Angelo Palmas, the Apostolic Delegate in Saigon for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The episcopal motto chosen by the new Bishop is “Gaudium et Spes” (Joy and Hope), the title of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council.

On July 10, 1967, he took possession of the Diocese of Nha Trang and, for a period of eight years, sought to develop its pastoral life before the oncoming of difficult times.

The heart of his apostolic and pastoral activities was the formation of diocesan personnel: during his pastoral service, the number of seminarians in the Major Seminary increased from 42 to 147; the number of seminarians present in the four minor seminaries was augmented from 200 to 500; he organized educational courses and permanent formation for priests in the provinces of Central Vietnam; through the active collaboration of ecclesial bodies such as “Justice and Peace”, the Cursillo Movement, the Focolare Movement and Scouts, he developed and formed their cadres, gathering and involving young people, the laity, and parish pastoral councils; he also founded the religious communities of La Vang and La Speranza.

To provide solid pastoral guidance for the Diocese of Nha Trang, he published six pastoral letters.

  1. Keep watch and pray (Vigilate et orate, 1968);
  2. Reawaken to the Faith, Advance in Peace (1969);
  3. Justice and Peace (1970);
  4. Christ’s Mission is Our Mission (1971);
  5. On the occasion of the Anniversary of the Foundation of the Diocese of Nha Trang (1971);
  6. The Holy Year: Renewal and Reconciliation (1973).

He held various positions within the Bishops’ Conference of South Vietnam, such as:

Chairman of the Committees for Justice and Peace, for Social Communications, and for Development. He was Director of the Corev Organization (Committee for the Reconstruction of Vietnam), which worked on behalf of those migrating from warzones to nationalistic regions. He was a founder member of Radio Veritas in Manila, Philippines, and of the Asian Bishops’ Conference. He participated numerous times in Meetings of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (F.A.B.C.). He was Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1971 to 1975; Consultor, and later Member, of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; Member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

As Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, he had the opportunity to meet, on numerous occasions, the then-Archbishop of Cracow and, later, Pope John Paul II, with whom he had discussed intensely various issues related to the life of the faithful under the communist regime in Poland.

Cardinal's history over the years

From 1975 to 1987

On the 23rd of April 1975, Pope Paul VI nominated him Coadjutor, with the right of succession, of the Archdiocese of Saigon (now: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam), raising him to the dignity of Titular Archbishop of Vadesi. The communist authorities of Saigon, however, did not permit him to remain in the city. On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15th of August 1975, he was arrested and transferred to Nha Trang, to be imprisoned in Cay Vong. Then, he was transferred to the Prison of the Security Forces in the city of Hanoi in North Vietnam. Sometime later, along with 250 other prisoners, he was relocated to the Re-education Camp of Vinh Quang (Vinh Phú). He was placed under house arrest at Giang Xâ, in the Province of Son Tay. During the thirteen years of his imprisonment, of which 9 years were spent in solitude, he wrote his spiritual will, “The Road of Hope”, directed towards the Vietnamese faithful living in the Homeland and in diaspora.

Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân passed away in Rome on the 16th of September 2002.


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