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Posted December 5, 2006

Book: Five Loaves and Two Fish
Author: Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan
Pauline Books & Media, Boston, MA. 1997. Pp. 84

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In 1975, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was arrested by the Communist government of Vietnam and imprisoned for thirteen years, nine of them in solitary confinement, and then finally exiled from Vietnam in 1991.

Always reticent about speaking of himself, Cardinal Van Thuan slowly began to realize that his prison experience of suffering and hope could help others in their journey of faith. The reflections he prepared for the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris became the framework for Five Loaves & Two Fish; the content is his personal Magnificat for the wonders of God had worked in and through the small offering of his life — like the fish and loaves in the Gospel, which fed thousands.

From the Book:

The Eucharist: My Only Strength
Around the Eucharistic table
the harmonious unity of the Church
is realized and made perfect;
the mysteries of missionary communion,
in which all feel that they are children,
sisters and brothers.
(John Paul II, Message for the Twelfth World Youth Day, 1997, n. 7)

“Were you able to celebrate the Eucharist in prison?” is one question that many people have asked me. And they are right to ask: The Eucharist is the most beautiful prayer; it is the culmination of the life of Jesus. When I answer “yes,” I already know the next question: “How were you able to obtain the bread and wine?”

When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The next day I was allowed to request in writing the things I needed most: clothes, toothpaste. . . .I wrote to my addressee: “Please, could you send me a bit of medicine for my bad stomach?” the faithful understand I meant and they sent a little bottle of wine for Mass, which they labeled “stomach medicine,” as well as some hosts sealed in a flashlight to protect them from humidity. The police asked me: “Do you have a bad stomach?”

“Yes,” I answered

“Here’s some medicine for you.”

I will never be able to express my immense joy: every day, with three drops of wine and one drop of water in the palm of my hand, I celebrated my Mass.

It depended on the situation, however. On the boat that brought us north, I celebrated at night with the prisoners who received communion around me. At times, I had to celebrate while everyone was bathing after calisthenics. In the re-education camp, the prisons were divided into groups of fifty; we slept on common beds and everyone had the right to fifty centimeters of space. We arranaged it so that there were five Catholics near me. At 9:30 p.m. the lights were turned off and everyone had to sleep. I curled up on the bed to celebrate Mass, from memory, and I distributed communion by reaching under the mosquito netting covering us. We made small containers from cigarette packages in which to reserve the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus in the Eucharist was always with me in my shirt pocket.

In The Road of Hope I wrote: “You believe in one strength: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Body and Blood that gives you life. ‘I have come so that they may have life and have it abundantly; (Jn 10:10). As manna nourished the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land, so the Eucharist nourishes you on your road to hope.”

We had weekly indoctrination sessions in which the whole camp had to participate. During our break, I and my Catholic companions took advantage of the opportunity to pass to each, or to the other four groups of prisoners, the little container that held the Blessed Sacrament: they all knew that Jesus was among them, he who could heal all their physical and mental suffering. At night, the prisoners took turns for adoration: Jesus helped us in a tremendous way with his silent presence. Many Christians regained the fervor of their faith during those days, and Buddhists and other non-Christians converted. The strength of Jesus’ love is irresistible. The darkness of prison became light; the seed germinated underground during the storm.

Table of Contents:

The 1st Loaf
Living the Present Moment

The 2nd Loaf
Discerning between God and God’s Works

The 3rd Loaf
Prayer: a fixed point of reference

The 4th Loaf
The Eucharist: My only strength

The 5th Loaf
Love and unity: the testimony of Jesus

The 1st Fish
My First Love: The Immaculate Virgin Mary

The 2nd Fish
I have chosen Jesus