Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan (1928-2002): How faith survived in a Communist prison
In Spe Salve the Holy Father refers to Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, Prayers of Hope. He is a truly remarkable man.
Here is an extract of an article about him:
When the Communists put me in the hold of the boat, the Hai-Phong, along with 1500 other prisoners and moved us to the North, I said to myself, "Here is my cathedral, here are the people God has given me to care for, here is my mission: to ensure the presence of God among these, my despairing, miserable brothers. It is God's will that I am here. I accept his will". And from that minute onwards, a new peace filled my heart and stayed with me for thirteen years.
"Were you able to say Mass in prison?" is a question I have been asked many, many times. And when I say "Yes", I can foretell the next question, "How did you get the bread and wine?"
I was taken to prison empty-handed. Later on, I was allowed to request the strict necessities like clothing, toothpaste, etc. I wrote home saying "Send me some wine as medication for stomach pains". On the outside, the faithful understood what I meant.
They sent me a little bottle of Mass wine, with a label reading "medication for stomach pains", as well as some hosts broken into small pieces.
The police asked me: "Do you have pains in your stomach?" "Yes." "Here is some medicine for you!"
I will never be able to express the joy that was mine: each day, with three drops of wine, a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I celebrated my Mass.
The six Catholics in my group of 50 prisoners tried to stay together. We lined up the boards we were given as beds; they were about 20 inches wide. We slept close together in order to be able to pray during the night.
At 9.30 every evening when lights out rang everyone had to be lying down. I bent over my wooden board and celebrated Mass, by heart of course, and distributed Communion to my neighbours under their mosquito nets. We made tiny bags from cigarette paper to protect the Blessed Sacrament.
At night, the prisoners took turns and spent time in adoration. The Blessed Sacrament helped tremendously. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians were converted. The strength of the love of Jesus is irresistible. The darkness of the prison turned into light, the seed germinated silently in the storm.