ASIA/LAOS - The missionary spirit of the small Catholic faith community

Tuesday, 4 June 2024 evangelization   pontifical mission societies   mission   missionary animation  

Rome (Agenzia Fides) - "The faithful of the small Catholic community in Laos have a fervent missionary spirit, also because the future of the local Church is in their own hands: according to the current regulations, missionaries are not allowed to stay in the country permanently, but only for a short period. It is therefore important that they take care of local vocations, both to the priesthood and to the consecrated life or to lay ministries such as catechists. We offer all the necessary and possible support, since we have the same Episcopal Conference, that of the Bishops of Laos and Cambodia," explains Father Paul Chatsirey Roeung, a Cambodian priest of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh and National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Laos and Cambodia, to Fides. The priest who regularly visits the parishes in Laos reports: "Pastoral life is peaceful. For large gatherings or special initiatives, one must ask for permission from the government authorities. And these authorizations vary from province to province, depending on the local officials. Despite the difficulties, Laos is a small community that nourishes great hopes and attracts young Laotians. Thus, in the minor seminary, the preparatory and the Major seminary, there are a total of about 50 Laotian boys and young men (about 20 in the minor seminary, 10 in the preparatory, 20 in the Major seminary), which bodes well for the future. In any case, the local Church is aware that its future depends on its own mission and witness of faith. In recent months I have experienced spiritual retreats with the Laotian priests and I sensed in them a total trust in God: the Church entrusts itself and all its works to the Lord, and God helps and supports it." "The pastoral and missionary work," says Father Chatsirey Roeung, "is progressing in small steps. There are catechists who accompany the priests when they go to the villages and administer the sacraments. Sometimes, when necessary, the catechists visit the areas alone, giving a testimony of faith and proclaiming the Gospel, sometimes they baptize. I would also like to point out that from the small and very poor Lao community we collected a thousand dollars on the last World Mission Day: this is the small contribution to the Universal Solidarity Fund, which also comes from the poorest, a gesture of great importance, an important sign of the missionary spirit that looks to the universal Church." There are also Franciscans, especially in the south of Laos, in the Apostolic Vicariate of Paksè, with about 22,000 Catholics and eight diocesan priests. "The Franciscans are among the few religious in the Vicariate, in a brotherhood that currently includes four brothers from the Province of St. Francis in Vietnam, two of whom are priests," reports Brother John Wong, General Definitor of the Conferences of the Friars Minor in Asia and Oceania, who recently visited the country. The brothers live in a village originally founded as a leper colony by a French missionary priest: "The main task is the restoration of the local Church, that is, the concrete building of structures for pastoral care, but above all the spiritual growth of the people of God, for the future of the Church in Laos," he explains. The brothers are in charge of pastoral care in five villages and support four missions in the area. "In the last ten years, the brothers have completed the construction of five brick churches and four other wooden chapels, as well as the Vicariate's retreat and formation center," he explains, while they are currently building two more new churches and a wooden chapel. They are also active in the social field: they have initiated a number of projects to provide electricity and clean water to the very poor rural communities and are helping the local bishop to develop a plantation land for the Apostolic Vicariate. The Franciscan community also runs two dormitories to provide education to 15 students from poor villages and, thanks to donors, offers about 50 scholarships to students in need, from primary school to university. The Franciscans in Paksè are fully integrated into the local Church and Bishop Andrew Souksavath Nouane Asa, Apostolic Vicar of Paksè, has often expressed the local community's appreciation for the Franciscans, for their way of life and for their ability to provide a better life for the people of Paksè. The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a socialist state. Once part of an ancient Hindu empire, it now has a Buddhist culture and a majority Buddhist population of 7.5 million people.
The Catholic Church in Laos was originally part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Eastern Siam. Currently, there are four Apostolic Vicariates in Laos (Vientiane, Paksè, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet) with a total of about 60,000 Catholics throughout the country. Since the official recognition of the Catholic Church by the Lao Front for National Development in 1979, relations between the Church and the government have gradually improved, also within the framework of religious freedom recognized in the 1991 Constitution (the State officially recognizes four religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i religion), but with the limitations established by law. Since 2017, the small Church also has a cardinal appointed by Pope Francis: Louis Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, now 80 years old, Apostolic Vicar of Vientiane. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 4/6/2024)