ASIA/LAOS - Laos has its first martyrs

Monday, 12 December 2016 martyrs   religious minorities   local churches   evangelization   religious freedom   human rights  


Vientiane (Agenzia Fides) - Historic Step for the Catholic Church in Laos where yesterday December 11, the solemn liturgy of beatification of 17 new martyrs, including missionaries and lay Laotians was held in the Cathedral of the capital Vientiane.
We are talking about a group formed by foreign missionaries and local catechists killed between 1954 and 1970 by the communist Pathet Lao guerrillas who seized power in the tiny nation of Southeast Asia. Five of them belong to the congregation of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP), the first missionaries who in 1885 brought the Gospel in Laos; six are Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), and among them there is a young Italian missionary Mario Borzaga, who died in 1960 at 27 years of age, along with the local catechist Paolo Thoj Xyooj. Among the Laotians beatified there is also the priest Joseph Thao Tien, the first Laotian priest, killed in 1954, and four other native catechists.
The new martyrs were recognized by the Holy See in 2015, in two separate causes for beatification: the first is that of Italian missionary Mario Borzaga and Paolo Thoj Xyooj. The second concerns Joseph Thao Tien and 14 companions.
Pope Francis during the Angelus on Sunday, December 11, said he hopes "their heroic fidelity to Christ can be of encouragement and example to missionaries, especially catechists, who in mission lands play a valuable and irreplaceable apostolic work, for which the entire Church is grateful".
As reported to Fides, the solemn Eucharist for the beatification was celebrated by Filipino Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Special Envoy of Pope Francis, in the cathedral of Vientiane. Also Vietnamese Cardinal Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon, and Thai Cardinal Francis Xavier kriengsak kovitvanit, the apostolic nuncio who arrived from Bangkok, as well as bishops, priests, religious and faithful from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and other neighboring countries were present. Among the missionaries, there were European representatives of the MEP and Omi. Over two thousand faithful present, who filled the church and who were also crowded into an outdoor area with big screens set up for the occasion. The celebration was also attended by some representatives of the civil authorities.
Stressing that the martyrs "are heroes and their story is to be made known to the younger generation", Cardinal Quevedo read a message with the solemn apostolic blessing sent by Pope Francis, announcing that the liturgical feast of the new Blessed is set for December 16.
In the new climate of openness and availability shown by the Laotian government, Archbishop Paul Tschang In-Nam, apostolic nuncio in Bangkok and apostolic delegate in Myanmar and Laos, at the end of the Mass expressed his thanks, hoping that in the near future Laos can forge diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
The Catholic community in Laos has about 60 thousand baptized (1% of the population out of more than 6 million inhabitants), spread in four apostolic vicariates and accompanied in pastoral service by a score of priests in all. Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, described the celebration as "moment of full communion with the Holy See and with the universal Church, in a real year of grace". Last September, in fact, the local Church in Savannakhet celebrated the ordination of three new Laotians priests, an important sign that testifies the attitude of greater openness and freedom granted by the government. Mgr. Ling points out that Catholics in Laos "wish to live in harmony and hope to strengthen the fruitful cooperation with the civil authorities for the good of the Church and the people of Laos". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/12/2016)