Salt+Light documents cardinal's struggle

  • September 5, 2008

The compelling story of a charismatic Vietnamese church leader imprisoned for 13 years has evolved into documentary form.

In Road of Hope: The Spiritual Journey of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, Salt + Light Television writer/director David Naglieri unfolds the gripping events that surrounded the cardinal’s life using vivid photos, rare archival footage and interviews with friends and family.

At the end of the Vietnam War, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, on his way to serve as coadjutor bishop in Saigon, was arrested under the Communist regime and placed in solitary confinement for the next nine years. During this time, he drew strength from Christ, secretly celebrating the Eucharist in his hand with a small host and a few drops of wine.

The following four years were spent in re-education camps and under house arrest, during which Thuan reached out to Vietnamese Catholics through pastoral letters written on calendar leaflets. These letters were later published together as a book, The Road of Hope.

“I’ve never encountered a saint who has moved me as radically as Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan,” Naglieri said. “It’s very easy in our everyday lives to deal with feelings of anger, betrayal and a lack of trust in our neighbours, but the cardinal’s message is that no matter what happens, there is always hope in Christ.”

When Naglieri heard of Thuan’s story, he was struck by many aspects of Thuan’s struggle in prison. Instead of giving in to despair, Thuan looked forward with hope, converting many of the prison guards because of his loving and forgiving spirit.

“His story is a special case that transcends culture, language and geography,” Naglieri said. “He has faith in the Eucharist, faith in Christ — which comes through in his story and is relevant to any person of faith.”

Two years ago, Naglieri contacted Thuan’s sister, Elizabeth Nguyen Thi Thu Hong, in Windsor, Ont., who was quite eager to help tell the cardinal’s story.

“I felt the message of unity was very necessary and needed for the people in our (Canadian) society,” she said.

As an educator, she said that doubt and estrangement facing immigrants is evident even among the children in her community.

“Unity can only be built upon love and forgiveness, and Thuan spent most of his adult life perfecting this love and forgiveness,” she said.

Salt + Light will broadcast the documentary Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET. It premiered at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress held in Quebec this past June.

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