September 16, 2002 marked the 19th anniversary of the death of the Venerable Servant of God, Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận. It is with these sentiments in mind that this month, we feature The Road of Hope, published by WellSpring Books.
If you were an innocent bishop, locked up in prison for thirteen-years, nine of them in solitary confinement, what would you do? How would you lead your flock? How would you deal with a broken heart upon hearing the bells of your Cathedral? These are questions that one would pose to the Venerable Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận. He was imprisoned for 13 years by the Communists due to a variety of factors. Not only was he a Catholic Bishop, but he was also the nephew of the president of democratic Vietnam, president Ngô Đình Diệm.
The reality of COVID-19 has continued to hit hard in many countries around the world. Particularly in Vietnam, the country of nationality of the late-Cardinal have faced harsh effects of the fourth delta-driven wave. Many, particularly those in Sài-gòn and Đồng Nai have been under strict lockdown measures for four months. While Toronto had the longest lockdown in the world, the standards of “lockdown” were nothing compared to what has been implemented in Vietnamese in recent months. Vaccine supply was not the only issue, but even the basic needs like food supply were at one point scarce, particularly in Sài-gòn. It is in these moments of the lives of the Vietnamese people that Cardinal Văn Thuận serves as an inspiration.
The Road of Hope: A Gospel from Prison, is a beautiful compilation of 1001 quotes of the Cardinal during his imprisonment. In the darkness of his confinement, wanting to communicate to his flock, he asked a little boy named Quang, who was an altar server at the church near Thuận’s prison cell, to ask his parents for old calendar leaves (of the daily tear-off calendar blocks). It was with paper and pen that he wrote this quotes about various themes of the Christian life, or rather, quotes that would serve as inspiration for one’s life. Quang would secretly pass by Thuận’s cell to take home these messages. His siblings would copy them out and share them among the community. Taking inspiration from St. Paul the Apostle, this became the form of communication between the bishop and his flock, even in his confinement.
The book The Road of Hope is not merely a compilation of quotes of a bishop. I see it in several perspectives. First, it is a pastoral letter of the bishop in prison to his people. In the early days of communist Vietnam, these letters would give people a sense of hope and spiritual assurance. Second, this book could be seen as a window of hope for an innocent prisoner. These thoughts and reflections compiled here speak to the inner core of what it means to be a Christian, a Catholic in any circumstance of life, particularly in the midst of oppression, of persecution, of injustice. Third, this book is a call for deeper prayer and meditation. In the midst of a secularized society, what really matters in life? I think Cardinal Văn Thuận addresses this very well in this book. No, it is not a self-help book, nor is it a theological textbook. It is a very approachable text that is only truly understandable if one gets the opportunity to know who Cardinal Văn Thuận was. Without the historical and biographical background of the author, then this book specifically, will be taken by the reader for face value, see it as a compilation of quotes rather than a book that should lead one into a deeper relationship with Jesus, even the most darkest moments of life.
On that note though, a companion that I would highly recommend is The Miracle of Hope: Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận; Political Prisoner, Prophet Of Peace written by Văn Thuận’s biographer, Andre Châu Nguyễn. It is a very detailed biography of the late-Cardinal which outlines very well his ministry and the political and historical background of the times in which he lived in. Another resource I would recommend to one before picking up The Road of Hope, is a visit to the newly designed website set up by the Cardinal’s Cause for Beatification and Canonization, cardinalvanthuan.org. The Cause is currently backed by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, (formerly the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace of which he was president from 1994 to his death in 2002). These materials I believe will give one an informed outlook of The Road of Hope and get a sense of where Thuận is getting with the quotes.
The Road of Hope is a book to keep near your breviary, prayer corner or bedside. I do not recommend reading the quotes like a chapter book, reading it in one sitting. Each quote deserves time for meditation and prayer, and a sincere look into one’s Christian life. It is best to read this quote in a spirit of prayer, and maybe, even with a pencil and journal in hand to jot down one’s reflections. Use The Road of Hope as a tool to support one’s spiritual and prayerful meditation.
There have been a couple editions of The Road of Hope that have been published throughout the years. The edition presented and reviewed here is a beautiful, hardcover version published by WellSpring books.