Thursday, June 19, 2008

Live from Quebec

Straight from this week's International Eucharistic Congress in Canada's primatial see (livestream), a fresh batch of viral goodies:

An Old Milwaukee-plugging/PopeTrip post-game interview with Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington...

(That sound you hear? The longstanding DC blockade of new media parting like the Red Sea as Mose -- er, The Don makes his webvideo debut... and not a moment too soon.)

...yesterday's catechesis from the archbishop of Buenos Aires -- and, according to some accounts, last conclave's runner-up -- Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ...

...another from the primate of the Gauls, the rising star Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon...

...and in text, a testimony from the youngest sister of the late Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan -- the onetime prisoner of his native Vietnam's Communist regime, eventually called to Rome as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:
Through his writings, and most particularly through his correspondence from prison, one clear fact emerges: Francis Xavier's life was firmly rooted in an extraordinary union with the Living God through the Eucharist, his only strength. It was also to him the most beautiful prayer, and the best way to give thanks and sing the Glory to God.

Our mother often reminded us of the time when her eldest sister was dying of tuberculosis in the city of Hue, in Vietnam. Back then, tuberculosis was considered a highly dangerous and contagious disease for which there was no cure, hence the difficulty of finding altar boys to help the parish priest administer Holy Communion to my aunt. Nevertheless, Francis offered to accompany the frail old priest on his regular visits to my aunt, on foot, every day after school, until my aunt's death.

When asked about it, he explained his great devotion to my aunt with a quote from Saint John: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have the Life within you."

This unshakable faith in the Eucharist was always the guiding force in his life, the strength and food for his long journey in captivity. [As my parents had initially feared, Francis would eventually contract the disease and spend a long time in a hospital for infectious diseases. Successive tests reconfirmed his advanced tuberculosis, necessitating lung surgery that, if successful, would, at best, leave him permanently incapacitated. However, he survived miraculously, and recovered fully.]

During an interview with the media after his release, he was asked what his secret strength had been that kept him alive and sane. His answer was always, "The Eucharist." He explained how when he was arrested, he had to leave immediately, empty-handed. The following day he was allowed to write to his faithful to ask for some personal effects. He wrote: "Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomach pain." They understood right away. A few days later, the guards handed him a small container addressed to him, and labeled "Medicine for stomach aliments." He also received another small container containing small pieces of Holy Host.

With three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of his hand, he would celebrate Mass. "Each time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with Him the bitter chalice" (Testimony of Hope).

And those were the most beautiful Masses of his life.

In Testimony of Hope he continued: In the re-education camp, we were divided into groups of 50 prisoners. We slept on a common bed, and everyone had the right to 50 cm of space. We managed to make sure there were Catholics around me. At 9:30 pm, we had to turn off the light. It was then that I would bend over the bed to celebrate Mass by heart, and I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net. We even made little bags with the aluminum foil from cigarette packs to preserve the Holy Host and take it to others. The Eucharistic Jesus was always present in my shirt pocket.

He always ended his clandestine letters to our parents with these words: Dear Mum and Dad, do not burden your hearts with sadness. I live each day united with the Universal Church and Jesus' sacrifice. Pray that I have the courage and the strength to always remain faithful to the Church and the Gospel, and to do God's will....

He silently celebrated the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, his patron Saint, who had also travelled north over the same channels of the South China Seas. By the time the cargo ship of prisoners reached Haiphong, Thuan realized he was already following Jesus to the roots of evangelization. It was like going with Him to die "extra muros", i.e., outside the walls, outside the sacred walls (Five Loaves and Two Fish).

Van Thuan described how he practised his ministry in the Vinh Quang Prison Camp: At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With His silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith ife, and their quiet display of service and love had an even greater impact on other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians joined in the faith. The strength of Jesus' loving presence was irresistible. The darkness of prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the ground during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptised fellow prisoners and became godparents to their companions.

Van Thuan never stopped praising the providence of God in allowing almost 300 to 400 priests to be held in different prisons throughout Vietnam during the period from 1975 to the late 1990s: their presence there opened up a period of truly meaningful interreligious dialogue and fostered deep friendships among hundreds of thousands of prisoners belonging to different faiths. On one occasion, a group of prisoners came running to ask for his help: one inmate in total despair was trying to hang himself with an electric wire.

Van Thuan knelt beside the man with prayers and encouraging words. Other inmates, moved by this strong display of faith, joined Thuan in prayers, and finally the man broke down, sobbing, and surrendered to God. Years later, Thuan and the once-suicidal inmate met again in California, and together, they would rekindle the memory of that blessed day when the presence of a Eucharistic Jesus made healing possible.

During his 9 years in solitary, he celebrated Mass everyday around 3 pm, the hour of Jesus' agony and death on the cross. He was alone, so he could sing the Mass as he wished in Latin, French, or Vietnamese. He always carried in his shirt pocket the little container holding the Blessed Sacrament. He would repeat "Jesus, You in me and I in You" adoring the Father. Van Thuan reminds us, throughout his writing, that it is not enough to celebrate the Eucharist strictly according to the liturgical rites.

He points out to all of us that Christ offered his sacrifice with immense fervour, as in the hour of His passion and crucifixion, when He obeyed the Father; and this, even to the point of His humiliating death on the cross to bring back to the Father a redeemed humanity and a purified creation. ln prison with the Eucharistic Jesus in their midst, Christian and non-Christian prisoners slowly received the grace to understand that each present moment of their lives in the most inhuman conditions can be united with the supreme sacrifice of Jesus and lifted up as an act of solemn adoration to God the Father. Together each day, Thuan would remind himself and encouraged everyone to pray: Lord, grant that we may offer the Eucharistic sacrifice with love, that we accept to carry the cross, and to be nailed to it to proclaim Your glory, to serve our brothers and sisters.
Already garnering the support of B16, the cause for the late cardinal's beatification was opened in late 2007.