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Posted August 6, 2013
The Road of Hope is a collection of teachings written by an imprisoned Vietnamese archbishop to his people. Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (1928-2002) was ordained a priest in 1953. Subsequently he served as a pastor, studied canon law in Rome, served as a seminary professor in the archdiocese of Hue, and was consecrated as bishop of Nha Trang in 1967. During the following eight years he took on additional duties that included traveling widely to support peaceful solutions to the Vietnamese conflict and solicit aid for reconstruction. In 1975, after the communist takeover, he was arrested as he journeyed to Saigon for a new assignment as an archbishop.
In the introduction to The Road of Hope Translator John Peter Pham describes the communist persecution of priests and religious who were deported to “re-education camps,” as Church property was seized. In March of 1976, Pham writes, the Archbishop was deported to North Vietnam along with 2000 other prisoners. For the next 13 years he was confined to prisons and camps, spending the bulk of that time in isolation. For a period in 1975, Van Thuan was placed under house arrest. “Realizing that this ‘respite’ would be brief and that the Church, bereft of its shepherds, was facing a period of possibly years of persecution, the Archbishop took up his pen,” writes Pham. The plan was to write a few messages to encourage and offer spiritual counsel to his flock. Over time, the messages formed a manuscript, and pages were smuggled to the outside and assembled as 1001 reflections, which were printed clandestinely and disseminated widely despite government efforts to interfere. Van Thuan was eventually able to edit the manuscript himself following his expulsion from Vietnam.
As for the content of this book, the 1001 messages are grouped under headings such as duty, interior life, the apostle, ordinary work, and a life of hope. Most of us are familiar with the themes here, but the way this priest from this background presents them is extraordinary, yet simple and specific.