Pope Francis has signed a decree declaring Vietnamese Cardinal François Nguyen Van Thuan as Venerable.

The decree confirms that Cardinal Van Thuan – who spent 13 years in jail, nine of which were in solitary confinement – lived a life of heroic virtue.

During those years he clandestinely ordained priests, distributed Communion to Catholic prisoners, and converted atheists and Buddhists. He became so effective at evangelising his prison guards that the authorities had to keep changing them round, according to the Telegraph.

Vietnam’s communist regime jailed Van Thuan, who was born in 1928, in 1975, when he was the newly named coadjutor bishop of Saigon, later renamed Ho Chi Minh City. He was never tried or sentenced. His uncle was South Vietnam’s first president, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic who was assassinated in 1963.

After his release, Van Thuan was placed under house arrest before being exiled to Australia, where he had family. From 1998 until his death in 2002 he served as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, named the cardinal as a personal hero. He told the Spectator: “He led his torturers to Christ. He converted, taught and ordained priests in prison. He breathed in the presence of Christ.”

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