MANY people found the second lockdown in December harder to endure than the first in March.

It may have been the cold and dark days, the thought of a disrupted Christmas or even the economic uncertainty over Brexit.

While the roll out of the vaccines provides hope and a roadmap for a return to normality, this third lockdown has all the makings of the worst yet: the return of home schooling (to the detriment of children and parents alike) the absence of the sunny days to lift spirits and weeks of enforced isolation in which there won’t even be Joe Wicks to keep us company.

But encouragement is to be found in the lessons of those who have lived through lockdowns even worse than these and yet have somehow managed to flourish in the midst of trial and adversity.

An unlikely example is to be found in Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.

In April 1975, Van Thuan was appointed the Roman Catholic Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon. Six days later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, and Van Thuan was arrested for his faith and was detained by the communist government. He spent the next 13 years in prisons and “re-education” camps – including nine years of which were spent in solitary confinement.

During those years, Cardinal Van Thuan began using scraps of paper to compose messages of hope to the people of his diocese which were smuggled out by fellow prisoners and sympathetic prison guards.

More than 1,000 of the notes were assembled and published under the title The Road of Hope. Translations were made into both French and English and copies of the book sold by the thousands.

Van Thuan was eventually released from prison in 1988 but was kept under house arrest until being expelled from Vietnam in December 1991.

Pope John Paul II welcomed Van Thuan to Rome where he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace until his death in 2002.

Pope Benedict said of Van Thuan that during 13 years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.

During his incarceration, he celebrated Mass daily in his cell, which he said using a grain of rice and just enough rice wine to hold in the palm of his hand. His refusal to give in to hopelessness and to be sustained by a vision of hope had consequences for others around him.

As Justin Welby has noted: “Van Thuan led his torturers to Christ. He converted, taught and ordained priests in prison. He breathed in the presence of Christ.”

Over the past weeks, the Church has marked the coming of Christ into the world at Christmas. In the weeks to come, we will prepare to celebrate his resurrection at Easter. The sustaining hope of faith is a constant which accompanies us through confinement and isolation and even through lockdowns.

L The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church, Durham