Dr Waldery Hilgeman, the postulator in Rome for the cause of beatification of Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân, said in a recent Zenit interview in Rome that the process was in a "very advanced phase". Dr Hilgeman noted that over 130 witnesses ranging from cardinals and bishops to religious and lay people had been interviewed.
At the opening of Cardinal Van Thuân's cause in 2007, Benedict XVI praised "the shining witness of faith which this heroic Pastor bequeathed to us."
If canonised the Cardinal would not be the first Vietnamese saint, Pope John Paul II having canonised 112 Vietnamese martyrs in 1988.
Cardinal Van Thuân was named the Archbishop of Saigon just seven days before the fall of South Vietnam to the communist North in 1975. He was then imprisoned in a re-education camp for 13 years, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement. He was released in 1988, only to be placed under house arrest until 1991, when he was forced to leave his homeland.
He spent his exile in Rome where Pope John Paul II appointed him President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1998. He was elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 2001 and died a year later after a long battle with cancer aged 74.
The solemn opening of the diocesan investigation on his life, virtues and reputation for sanctity took place on 22 October 2010, three years after the announcement of the launching of the cause of beatification.
In March 2012, just before its departure, a Holy See delegation led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was denied entry to Vietnam to investigate the possible beatification of Cardinal Van Thuân.
"This is very disappointing news but it proves again how very difficult it is to deal with communist authorities as they are so untruthful in their dealings," Vietnamese-born Bishop Dominic Luong of Orange County said on 28 March.
The Vatican delegation had planned to visit Vietnam from 23 March to 9 April to hear testimonies from people who knew Cardinal Van Thuân and in particular to speak to two women in the Diocese of Hué – a nun and a lay woman – who claim they were miraculously cured through his intercession.
Sister Marie Thi Lan, of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, told the Fides News Service that in 2009 she had to undergo a delicate eye surgery. The doctors could give no assurance that her sight problems would be resolved and feared the danger of blindness. "I prayed to the Cardinal and my eyes healed without surgery."
Mrs Mary Le Thi Than, aged 70, had been bed-ridden for over 40 years because of a severe form of neuralgia. She relied on prayer and the intercession of Cardinal Van Thuân and was recently healed, resuming a normal life and daily activities, which for decades she had been unable to do.
Cardinal Van Thuân was born, grew up and ordained a priest in Hué. He was also Rector of the Seminary of Hoan Thien and Vicar General of the Diocese.
Among the witnesses who want to talk about the work and the Cardinal's virtues, as part of the diocesan phase of the process assigned to the Vicariate of Rome, there are also the Archbishop of Hué, Archbishop Stephen Nguyen Nhu, a professor who taught at the Seminary with the Cardinal, five priests who are his spiritual children, a priest who was the Cardinal's childhood friend, two nuns and three lay members of the "Congregation of Hope" founded by the Cardinal.
Father Peter Nguyen Huu Giai, a priest in the Hué Diocese, told an interviewer that he and several others had been ready to give evidence to the delegation. "I have prepared documents in English and French to present to the delegation, but it is to be regretted that I could not meet them." Fr Nguyen added that he believed the refusal to grant visas was a result of the Vietnamese government's sensitivity surrounding any possible beatification.
"Saint of hope"
Dr Hilgeman said that to speak of the Servant of God Cardinal van Thuân was to consider "a life tested in suffering, in injustice and in the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. He suffered hunger, cold and the contempt of one imprisoned. He was a victim of a blind totalitarian system, which detained him without accusing him of anything, just because he was considered "dangerous."
However, he added, the Cardinal believed God had a plan for him per medium of that cruel life so he continued to hope against all hope. Throughout his long years of imprisonment he loved his persecutors, some of whom were converted while guarding him in his cell.
Cardinal Van Thuân, said Dr Hilgeman, "with his total love for these persons, demonstrated what the love of Christ is without being able to preach, without being able to speak directly of Christ with these persons, but with his example of the incarnate Christ he was able to convert them, which is a unique aspect."
While stating that, due to the political context in Vietnam, it is difficult to interview the former guards for the Cardinal's cause, the postulator said that their testimonies could be included in the process.
Regarding Cardinal Van Thuân's many devotees who hope for his sainthood, the postulator reflected on the Vietnamese prelate's words regarding hope. "In his writings and in his books, he has a term to which he always returns," he said, "and it appears also in the witnesses who arrive before the Court of Rome, and it is this: hope, not to lose hope in God. And he might well be the 'saint of hope'."