Christians certainly do not despise life.
In prison, I would often recall the happy days of my pastoral service as a priest and a bishop. I would think of the Catholics in the dioceses where I had been, of my confreres, of my friends, and of my family. What joy it would have been to see them again! And yet my faith could not be bargained with. It could not have been surrendered at any price, not even that of a happy life. I seemed to understand a little more that martyrdom does not place limits on loving the Lord, not even the very natural limit of saving oneself, one's own life, one's own happiness. At such times I would think of the many Christians who were prisoners, suffering, deported. I would think of those who were undergoing great sufferings. I would remember the words from the Letter to the Hebrews: In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. I would find myself in communion with so many witnesses. I would think of the persecutions, of the deaths, of the martyrdoms that took place in the 350 years of Vietnam's history, which gave to the Church many unknown martyrs who number around 150,000.
I believe my priestly vocation is mysteriously but concretely linked to the blood of these martyrs — fallen in the last century while announcing the Gospel and remaining faithful to the unity of the Church despite threats of death and violence. I believe that the fidelity of the Vietnamese Church can be explained with the blood of these martyrs. The priestly and religious vocations that enrich the Church in Vietnam are born from the grace of trials. The martyrs 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 compromises, to injustice — even with the intent of saving one's own life and having a little tranquility.
It is an inheritance, but one that has to be accepted. The inheritance of the martyrs is not a matter of heroism but of fidelity. And fidelity is matured by turning one's gaze toward Jesus, who is the model of the Christian life, the model of every witness, and the model of every martyr.
Venerable Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. "It will lead to your giving testimony" from Testimony of Hope: The Spiritual Excercises of John Paul II (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media/The Daughters of St. Paul, 2000).
Used with permission from Pauline Books & Media.
Venerable Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (1928-2002) was arrested by the Communist government of Vietnam in 1975 and imprisoned for thirteen years, nine of them in solitary confinement, and then finally exiled from Vietnam in 1991. Always reticent about speaking of himself, Cardinal Nguyen slowly began to realize that his prison experience of suffering and hope could help others in their journey of faith. The reflections he prepared for the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris became the framework for Five Loaves & Two Fish. He is also the author of Testimony of Hope: The Spiritual Excercises of John Paul II.
back to top