Europe 2000
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European Synod II

Vatican to publish social teaching compendium



Archbishop Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with Tom Fox outside the synod hall last week.

photo by -- John Allen

Catholic social teaching, it is said, is the church’s best-kept secret.

But, perhaps soon, no longer.

Archbishop Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, announced Oct. 7 during his intervention at the European synod that his office is preparing an official compendium of Catholic social teaching. Thaun said he has been consulting with bishops from around the world concerning its contents. Later Thuan told reporters the work would be ready in May of the Jubilee Year 2000.

The work would rely heavily on the church’s social encyclicals, Thuan said.

The Vietnamese archbishop called the church’s social teaching “a privileged instrument of dialogue with a new society” and a “means of evangelization” that should be used to bring people closer to the truths of the Catholic faith.

The pontifical council articulates the church's social doctrine and attempts to apply them to issues such as the arms trade, human rights, labor, economic matters, poverty and peace.

Addressing the synod, Thuan said that Europeans are inclined to judge quite severely the situation of faith in their own countries. He warned that they not be too pessimistic. Seen for the outside, from Vietnam for example, he said, Europe is still the continent that brought the Christian faith to Asia. He praised his European brothers and sisters, saying that in “times of trial, they could be counted on.”

“They tell us: why do you sacrifice yourselves for a religion that is losing its faithful and a Church that is emptied more, day by day?”

Continuing, he said, he could offer a picture of Europe that is not so negative. He said, for example, he finds considerable Christian resources in the young of Europe and in benevolent acts “in all domains.”

Thuan’s remarks were among those that last week that appeared to take on the overwhelmingly pessimistic picture painted in early synodal documents. The synod’s working paper spoke of a “European apostasy.”

Thuan was also among the bishops who said at the synod that they found hope in recently emerging Catholic movements, many still associated more with a zeal for personal piety than an engagement in the pressing social issues of the times.

Thuan, a quiet spoken man who spent 13 years in Vietnamese prisons, is considered a candidate for a red hat at the next consistory, a gathering in Rome when the pope formally installs new cardinals. It is at least possible that he already has one. Pope John Paul II appointed two cardinals that he would not publicly name during the last consistory.

Thuan, 69, was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Saigon, later Ho Chi Minh City, in the closing months of the Vietnam War. He was arrested by government authorities Aug.15, 1975. The communists opposed the appointment, in part because Thuan is the nephew of Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of the Republic of South Vietnam, formed in 1954 after the partition of Vietnam, and the departure of French troops following the fall of Dien Bien Phu.

Thuan remained imprisoned until Nov. 21, 1988. I met him for the first time the next year in Hanoi while he was still under house arrest. He showed no bitterness toward his captors. He was eventually forced to leave the country and has since lived in Australia and in Italy. In 1994, he was named the Vice President of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace. Last year he was named its new president.

Thuan has said his prison experience “enlarged” his heart and taught him how to talk to people whose perspectives differed from his own. He said he made friends with his guards by teaching them French and religious hymns. One guard, he said, eventually gave him wood with which to carve a small cross and a piece of electrical wire to make a chain. He wears the object today as his pectoral cross.

Thuan has written what he calls his “ten rules of life.” They speak of his personal devotion to God and church.

1. I will live the present moment to the fullest.

2. I will discern between God and God's works.

3. I will hold firmly to one secret: prayer.

4. I will see in the Holy Eucharist my only power.

5. I will have only one wisdom: the science of the Cross.

6. I will remain faithful to my mission in the Church and for the Church as a witness of Jesus Christ.

7. I will seek the peace the world cannot give.

8. I will carry out a revolution by renewal in the Holy Spirit.

9. I will speak one language and wear one uniform: Charity.

10. I will have one very special love: The Blessed Virgin Mary

Fox is NCR Publisher and can be reached at TCFOX@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 1999