Monday 30 July 2018

Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky - CTS Biographies

Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan
CTS Biographies
Helena Scott
Ethel Tolansky
Catholic Truth Society

ISBN 9781860825835
eISBN 9781784694630

I have been familiar with the works of Helena Scott for years now as the translator of some of the books by Fr. Jacques Philippe, I have recently discovered that she has cowritten 8 books for Catholic Truth Society with Ethel Tolansky. That is the good news. The bad news is most of them are out of print. The physical edition of this book was first released in 2009, and an eBook edition was released in 2017. This one is currently available in both formats and is a fascinating read! I will be honest other than encountering then name while researching the authors I did not know anything about this man. 

The chapters in this book are:
Archbishop Thuan and Vietnam
Early Life: Joy and Hope
Bishop Thuan: Witness to Hope
Cardinal Thuan: The Final Years

The problems began in earnest in 1975, and they proceeded quickly:

"On 23rd April came the news that Bishop Thuan had been appointed coadjutor archbishop of Saigon. In the normal course of events this meant that he would succeed the current Archbishop. However, events were so far from normal that the appointment promised only deeper trouble for the new coadjutor. The new Communist government soon set about dismantling the Catholic Church in Vietnam, confiscating Church property, arresting priests and religious and allocating them to labour camps, and generally making it hard for Christians to practise their faith.

Archbishop Thuan, as was his custom, abandoned himself and his future entirely into God's hands, handed over the diocese of Nha Trang to his successor, and travelled south to the newly renamed Ho Chi Minh City as soon as he could. Once he had settled into Ho Chi Minh City and taken up his work with Archbishop Binh, there was nothing further he could do except wait and see what action the new government would take. The answer came on 15th August."

And shortly after that:

"At the end of this meeting, Archbishop Thuan was put under arrest, and, with a military escort, taken back to Nha Trang by car, a 250-mile drive. There, after sleeping the remainder of the night in soldiers' quarters, he was taken to the Cay Vong parish rectory, a few miles outside the city. The new bishop of Nha Trang, Bishop Hoa, was summoned there too. Together with the parish priest, they were informed that Archbishop Thuan was to remain there under strict house arrest, and was allowed no contact with any of the parishioners. He could say Mass, but only in private.

The next thirteen years of Archbishop Thuan's life were spent in one form of captivity after another. At the time of his arrest he was forty-seven; he had been a priest for fourteen years and a bishop for eight. They had been years of intense pastoral activity, in which his outstanding intelligence, his gift for languages, his capacity for organisation and for sheer hard work, his wisdom in guiding souls, and his many other talents, had been used to the full in the service of God and the Church. All of this was now brought to an abrupt halt. What made it even worse was the tantalising fact that he was back in his old diocese, physically very close to the people whom he had worked with and loved for the past eight years - and they did not know he was there; he could have no contact with them. The sound of the Cathedral bells ringing, morning and evening, tore at his heart."

The heart of this man is what impressed me most while reading this book. I was inspired by his humility. And deeply moved by his devotion to his flock. He lived such an incredible life of service. According to a different site Cardinal Nguyen had 10 Rules of Life:

     I will live the present moment to the fullest.
     I will discern between God and God's works.
     I will hold firmly to one secret: prayer.
     I will see in the Holy Eucharist my only power.
     I will have only one wisdom: the science of the Cross.
     I will remain faithful to my mission in the Church and 
       for the Church as a witness of Jesus Christ.
     I will seek the peace the world cannot give.
     I will carry out a revolution by renewal in the Holy Spirit.
     I will speak one language and wear one uniform: Charity.
     I will have one very special love: The Blessed Virgin Mary

From this book you will find out that lived those rules no matter what his life circumstances. After reading this book, I have tracked down some of the works by Cardinal Nguyen to read, including CTS's edition of 'Five Loaves & Two Fishes'. And will be following his beatification process. Cardinal Nguyen lived a life that can serve as an example to us all. He lived the gospel, he trusted god through 15 years imprisonment, and years in exile. 

Over the last few years I have read a few books about Catholic Military Chaplains who served in Vietnam. From those books I saw a vibrant Catholic tradition that was persecuted and punished. This book is the first I have read about a native of Vietnam, his life and ministry. And it portrays and even more passionate faith than I had previously encountered in my readings. 

This was the third of the biographies by Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky that I have read, and I have now tracked down most of the others. The writing style is engaging and the books very informative. I look forward to reading other books by the authors and highly recommend this volume. This book gives great insight into life as a Catholic Bishop under a communist regime. It shows us his great faith, his trust in God, and his love for his people. It was an excellent read and I recommend it to all who would grow in their faith. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2018 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Scott and Tolansky:
Pius XII
Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan
Benedict XVI

Josemaria Escriva
Alvaro Del Portillo

A Pope of Surprises: The First Five Years of Pope Benedict XVI's Papacy
Sophie Scholl and The White Rose: Resistance to the Nazis
Johann Gruber and Jacques Bunel: Victims of the Nazis

Books by Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan:
Five Loaves & Two Fish
The Road of Hope: A Gospel from Prison
Prayers of Hope, Words of Courage
Prières d'espérance
J'ai suivi Jésus: un évêque témoigne

Author profile and interview with Helena Scott.

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