JOACHIM NGUYEN TAN VAN was born on 15 March 1928 in the largely Catholic village of Ngam Giao in Tonkin in the north of Vietnam. On 16 October 1944, he was admitted to the Redemptorist monastery in Hanoi as a postulant lay brother at the age of 16. He took the habit and received the name of Brother Marcel. In July 1954 North Vietnam was taken over by the Communists. There was a mass exodus of Catholics to the South, including Brother Marcel's family. Brother Marcel pleaded with his superiors to be allowed to return to the North as he felt that there should be someone to love God amongst the Communists. His superior, albeit with a certain reluctance, granted his request. Brother Marcel was then arrested in Hanoi on a trumped-up charge on 7 May 1955. His refusal to confess to any crime resulted in a sentence of 15 years imprisonment. He died in a Communist prison in North Vietnam on 10 July 1959, aged 31. Brother Marcel Van wrote many letters. Over 300 were kept or garnered by his novice-master, and then spiritual director, Father Antonio Boucher and translated by him from Vietnamese into French. They provide a cornucopia of insights, experiences and examples of 'the little way of spirituality', first expounded to Marcel by his 'big sister', St Thérèse, against the backdrop of his daily life in the monastery, as he fulfilled his mission of 'changing suffering into joy'. These letters are now published for the first time in English. Marcel Van's little sister (Sr Anne-Marie Tế, OSsR) remarked: 'The language that Van uses in his letters is, at the same time, simple, frank, warm, friendly, respectful and very realistic.' This springs from the depth in which he lives in the company of his habitual and invisible hosts: Jesus, Mary, Thérèse and also, without any doubt, with his brothers and sisters, the saints of the heavenly court. It is close to this hearth of light, of wisdom and of strength that Van draws what is appropriate for each of his correspondents, 'as a good and faithful servant of the Gospel who apportions to each one his measure of wheat'.
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