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Nguyen Van Thuan, 74; Exiled Vietnamese Cardinal

September 17, 2002|From Associated Press

Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, 74, whose agonizing account of imprisonment by the Communists in Vietnam made him an inspirational figure for many Catholics in his homeland, died Monday of cancer at a clinic in Rome.

Although made a cardinal only last year, Thuan appeared on lists of possible successors to Pope John Paul II, particularly by those believing the next pontiff could come from a poor, non-European country.

Born in Hue, Thuan was ordained a priest in Vietnam on June 11, 1953. He was appointed deputy archbishop of Saigon just days before the South Vietnamese capital fell to the Communist North in April 1975.

Targeted for his faith as well as his family connections--his uncle was Ngo Dinh Diem, the assassinated South Vietnamese president--Thuan spent 13 years in a Communist "reeducation" camp, nine in solitary.

During that time, he fashioned a tiny Bible out of scraps of paper. Sympathetic guards smuggled in a piece of wood and some wire from which he crafted a small crucifix.

In his book "The Way of Hope--Thoughts of Light From a Prison Cell," he wrote: "In our country there is a saying: 'A day in prison is worth a thousand autumns of freedom.' I myself experienced this. While in prison, everyone waits for freedom, every day, every minute. We must live each day, each minute of our life as though it is the last."

In 1991, he was forced into exile. At the Vatican, he ran the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, handling issues such as Third World debt.

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