Late Vietnamese cardinal put on road to sainthood

VATICAN CITY Mon Sep 17, 2007 12:02pm EDT

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church on Monday began the sainthood procedure for a Vietnamese cardinal who was imprisoned by the communists for some 13 years.

Pope Benedict, welcoming the start of the beatification process for Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, praised him as a "prophet of Christian hope".

Van Thuan, who died in Rome in 2002 after several years as Vatican justice minister, spent 13 years in prison and under house arrest in his homeland when the Communists came to power in 1975 after the Vietnam War.

During his prison years, eight of which were spent in solitary confinement, Van Thuan wrote his thoughts on spirituality, survival and hope.

Van Thuan was eventually released but while he was visiting Rome in the early 1990s, the Vietnamese government declared him persona non grata and said he could never return home.

The process to make someone a saint in the Roman Catholic Church usually do not start until at least five years after a person's death, although exceptions are sometimes made -- as in the case of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul.

A miracle must be attributed to the candidate's intercession with God before the candidate can be beatified. Another miracle is required for sainthood.

A miracle is usually an inexplicable medical healing of someone who prayed to the sainthood candidate.

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