A few days after I was freed from a Communist prison in Hanoi, I had the great joy of meeting a brother bishop, Archbishop Roger Mahony, who had come there from the free world. I can still feel my anxious heart beating with emotion like Saint Peter when he met his friends after being let out of prison: "Now I know it is all true. The Lord really did send his angels and saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting (Acts 12:11).
Several days have gone by ... On two different occasions, the American Episcopal Conference invited a delegation of three Vietnamese bishops to visit the Catholic Church in the United States: Cardinal Joseph Trinh van Can from Hanoi, Archbishop Paul Nguyen van Binh from Saigon and myself. The visit, however, never took place and since then my two brother bishops Can and Binh have passed away.
Today, I can say, is an historic one for me indeed, since it is I, the least fortunate of all three - and the sole survivor, who am here among you. It is proof of God’s liberating power and a truly wonderful surprise to be with Archbishop Mahony, now a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, in his own Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as an officially invited guest to speak to you about that very subject: "God’s Liberating Power". This time I was able to come without permission as I am a free man in Rome! Thank you so much, Your Eminence. And thank you all for your kindness and prayers.
The gospel story of the resurrection of Lazurus will serve as our meditation. I have been asked to share with you my experience of Christ’s liberating power during my 13 years of imprisonment, 9 of which I spent in solitary confinement.
The verses of this gospel passage acted like a light, illuminating the darkness of those years. Allow me to retell the story and highlight 4 points. They are rays of the same light for us all on our way to the Third Millennium.
1. Jesus weeping for Lazarus
Are you not amazed at Jesus’ humanity? He is so human, so near to us. "Our friend Lazarus is at rest. I am going to wake him." (John 9:11)
"Jesus was greatly distressed... Where have you put him?... Jesus wept and the Jews said, "See how much he loved him!" (John 9:33, 34, 35)
Every time Jesus sees our miseries, our sorrows, he suffers as if they were his own.
2. Jesus calls Lazarus forth
"He cried out in loud voice, ‘Lazarus come out,’ The dead man came out!" Jesus is the Savor, the Master of life. "Many of Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what he did, believed in him." (John 9: 43,44,45)
3. Jesus breaks the bonds that held Lazarus captive
"His feet and hands were bound with strips of material and a cloth over his face... Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, let him go free." (John 11,14).
Lazarus is now raised from the dead but he is not yet free. He is still bound. Jesus frees him, "Take the stone away," but he asks for our help. "Unbind him." We are, with Jesus, participants in the history of evangelization, ministers for the world.
4. Jesus gives Lazarus a mission "Let him go free"
Lazarus discovers that Jesus is not only a friend but above all, that he is the Savior, the Liberator, transforming, life-giving. Lazarus embraces a new life and Jesus sends Lazarus on a mission of liberation.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but the miracle is only a symbol. Lazarus was to live for a few more years and then die. The freedom Jesus granted him was infinitely more precious - eternal life! "Whosoever believes in me will never die." (John 9:26)
In 1977, funeral masses were celebrated for me all over the world. Thanks to all the graces received, I am still alive and here among you today.
Let us praise God’s liberating power! Jesus freed Lazarus after four days in the tomb. Jesus freed me after thirteen years in prison.