By Venerable Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan
After my liberation many people said to me: Father, in prison you must have had a lot of time to pray.” It was not as simple as one might think. The Lord permitted me to experience all my weakness, my physical and mental fragility. Time passes slowly in prison, particularly in solitary confinement. Imagine a week, a month, two months of silence . . . There were days when I was so won out by exhaustion and illness that I could not manage to say a single prayer! This reminds me of a story.
There was an older man named Jim who would go to church every day at noon for just a few minutes, and then he would leave. The sacristan was very curious about Jim’s daily routine, and one day he stopped him to ask: “Why do you come here every day?” “I come to pray,” Jim answered.
“That’s impossible! What prayer can you say in two minutes?” “I am an old ignorant man. I pray to God in my own way.” ‘I say: ‘Jesus, here I am, it’s Jim.’ An then I leave.”
After some years, Jim became ill and had to go to the hospital, where he was admitted to the ward for the poor. When it seemed that Jim was dying, a priest and a nurse, a religious sister, stood near his bed. The priest asked, “Jim, tell us how it is from the day you came to this ward everything changed for the better? How is it that patients have become happier, more content and friendlier?”
“I don’t know. When I could walk around, I would try to visit everyone. I greeted them, talked a bit with them. When I couldn’t get out of bed, I called everyone over to me to make them laugh, to make them happy. With Jim they are always happy.”
“But why are you happy?” “Well aren’t you happy when you receive a visitor?”, asked Jim. “Of course, but we have never seen anyone come to visit you.”
“When I came here, I asked you for two chairs. One was for you, Father, and one was reserved for my guest.” “But what guest?” the priest asked. “I used to go to church to visit Jesus every day at noon. But when I couldn’t do that anymore, Jesus came here.”
“Jesus comes to visit you? What does he say?” “He says: ‘Jim, here I am, it’s Jesus!” Before dying, Jim smiled and gestured with his hand toward the chair next to his bed, as if inviting someone to sit down. He smiled for the last time a closed his eyes.
When my strength failed and I could not even pray, I repeated: “Jesus, here I am, it’s Francis.” Joy and consolation would come to me and I experienced Jesus responding: “Francis, here I am, it’s Jesus.”
Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan (2002) was imprisoned by the Vietnamese government for thirteen years.