Saturday, September 17, 2011
Remembering Cardinal Van Thuan: Love, forgiveness and reconciliation
The following are extracts from the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan's address - "Experiencing God's liberating power" - given at a religious education conference in Los Angeles prior to his death in 2002.
On 15 August 1975, on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, I was invited to the Palace of Independence, the President's Palace in Saigon, only to be arrested. The motive was that Pope Paul VI had transferred me from my diocese in Nha Trang where I had been bishop for eight years, between 1967 and 1975, to Saigon, to become Archbishop Coadjutor.
For the Communist Government this transfer, made one week before their arrival in Saigon, on 30 April 1975, was proof of a conspiracy between the Vatican and the "Imperialists".
From the very first moment of my arrest, the words of Bishop John Walsh, who had been imprisoned for 12 years in Communist China, came to my mind. On the day of his liberation Bishop Walsh said, "I have spent half my life waiting."
It is true. All prisoners, myself included, constantly wait to be let go. I decided then and there that my captivity would not be merely a time of resignation but a turning point in my life. I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die.
No, I will not spend time waiting. I will live the present moment and fill it with love.
A straight line consists of millions of little points. Likewise, a lifetime consists of millions of seconds and minutes joined together. If every single point along the line is rightly set, the line will be straight. If every minute of a life is good, that life will be holy.
Alone in my prison cell, I continued to be tormented by the fact that I was forty-eight years old, in the prime of my life, that I had worked for eight years as a bishop and gained so much pastoral experience and there I was isolated, inactive and far from my people.
One night, from the depths of my heart I could hear a voice advising me: "Why torment yourself? You must discern between God and the works of God - everything you have done and desire to continue to do, pastoral visits, training seminarians, sisters and members of religious orders, building schools, evangelising non-Christians.
All of that is excellent work, the work of God but it is not God! If God wants you to give it all up and put the work into his hands, do it and trust him. God will do the work infinitely better than you; he will entrust the work to others who are more able than you. You have only to choose God and not the works of God!"