Sunday, September 21, 2008

"For All the World, a Witness to Hope"

Amid the reemergence of church-state tensions in Vietnam over recent days, it's eerily providential that tonight marks the premiere of a long-in-the-works documentary on the best-known survivor of the faithful's persecution there.

He might've died in Rome as a cardinal and dicastery head, but for 14 years as coadjutor-archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan's residence was no grand palace, but a prison, the office alone being a threat to the Communist regime.

Nine of those years spent in solitary confinement, the stories of his "most beautiful Masses" -- how he celebrated the Eucharist on a faded candy box "with three drops of wine and a drop of water in my hand," his only vestment a makeshift pectoral cross he made from small shards of wood and barbed wire -- have entered the ongoing chronicle of the church's "living" martyrology.

Released from "reeducation" in 1989, the authorities barred Van Thuan from exercising his ministry; shortly thereafter, he was exiled from his homeland and welcomed in Rome, where John Paul II named him president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1994 and a cardinal in 2001. He died a year later at 74, and his cause for beatification was opened last year, shortly before the reigning pontiff cited him in Spe Salvi as a figure who "became for people all over the world a witness to hope."

Produced by Toronto's Salt + Light, Road of Hope: The Spiritual Journey of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan had the cooperation of the cardinal's family and several of his closest collaborators. The hourlong doc takes its title from Van Thuan's collected prison meditations -- 1,000 in all -- which were smuggled out and clandestinely circulated.

Airing at 8pm Eastern (0000GMT) tonight, the film can be viewed via the network's livestream... and in the meantime, a trailer's available on-demand.

SVILUPPO: Lest anyone missed its premiere, encores are airing Monday at 12.30pm and Saturday at 5.30pm, both Eastern (-4GMT).