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Friday, 09 September 2016 21:52

LAOS Historic step for the Church

8th September 2016 -  Three new priests and the beatification of 17 martyrs. The little Church in Laos rejoices for two imminent historic events: as Fides learns, on September 16 the ordination of three new Laotian priests will be held in Savannakhet; while on December 11, on the second Sunday of Advent, the solemn celebration for the beatification of 17 martyrs including priests, religious and lay people who lost their lives in Laos is expected to take place in Vientiane. The Church in Laos received the official approval of the government for both celebrations.

Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato will preside over the celebration on 11 December. The Mass of ordination, on September 16, will be attended by Laotian Bishops of the Apostolic Vicariate of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Paksè.

"It is a historic moment for our Church, a real year of grace", says to Fides His Exc. Mgr. Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Paksè. "We are really very happy. We are busy in the preparation of these two important events. We note with satisfaction that the country is opening up more and more and that we are benefiting from this new approach. We hope to strengthen a fruitful cooperation with the civil authorities for the good of the Church and the Lao people. We are confident that we will have guests at the celebrations, such as Bishops or representatives of Cambodia (with whom we share the Bishops' Conference) and we also hope from other neighboring countries. It will be for us a time of full communion with the Holy See and the universal Church. We thank Pope Francis who allowed the celebration of the martyrs to take place in Laos. It is a great gift for all of us", he concludes.

The next three deacons to priesthood belong to the Apostolic Vicariate of Luang Prabang and have the first name of three great saints: Don Paolo Lattana Sunthon, Don Agostino Saegna Sii Bunti, Don Michael Kanthak Vilae Luong Di.

The Laotian martyrs, in all 17, were recognized by Pope Francis in 2015, in two separate cases: the first is that of Italian missionary Fr. Mario Borzaga OMI and of the first local catechist, Paolo Thoj Xyooj, killed in odium fidei in 1960. The second concerns the first Laotian priest, Joseph ThaoTie, along with that of 14 companions of his: ten of these are missionaries belonging to the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). Then there are also four lay indigenous catechists. The fifteen martyrs were killed between 1954 and 1970 by the communist guerrilla fighters, Pathet Lao. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 08/09/2016)

Published in News
Monday, 29 August 2016 17:07

LAOS Slipping into poverty

29th August 2016 - Cost of living up by 30 per cent in Laos, but wages stay the same. Most Laotians are low income, slipping into poverty. A kilo of rice has gone from 1.05 to 1.50 US dollars. The prices of beef, fish, pork, chicken and vegetables are also up. Official at the Ministry of Commerce believes the government should raise wages or impose price controls.

The cost of living in Laos has been rising this year despite a stagnant minimum wage, making it difficult for many low-income people to afford staple foods and other daily necessities.

In the capital Vientiane, food prices have increased by an average of 30 per cent since last October, said a senior official in the Lao Ministry of Industry and Commerce, who declined to be named. A kilogram of sticky rice, a daily dietary staple, has shot up to .50 from .05.

Many Laotians are not surprised about the rising prices because they say the Communist government has not been able to control them.

“The prices of beef, fish, pork, chicken, and vegetables keep going up little by little all the time in the capital,” said a resident of the capital Vientiane who requested anonymity.

Laos doesn’t produce most of its own food and must import it along with other goods from neighbouring Thailand.

For this reasons, Laotians living on the northwestern border go shopping in Nong Khai, Thailand, where prices are cheaper. The capital Vientiane is about 20 kilometres from the border along the Mekong River.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the government has not raised the minimum wage of state employees.

We would like to ask the government to reconsider increasing wages and salaries because the cost of living in Laos is rising; if they do not, then authorities have to control the prices,” said a low-income government worker at the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.

An official at the country’s Department of Domestic Trade, who declined to be named, said that his department is working with other government offices to address the issue.

“The government is concerned about rising costs of living in the country,” he said.

“We are in difficult situation [because] some say government should be laissez-faire and laissez-aller,” he said. “We are a free market economy, so why should the government have to control prices? But others say government should control prices at least for the poor.”

Given the rising inflation (1.97 per cent in July compared with 1.63 per cent in June), many people are no longer confident in the buying power of the Lao currency, the kip, and they are increasingly using foreign currencies, especially US dollars and Thai baht (Asianews)

Published in News
Wednesday, 02 September 2015 18:00

LAOS The First Youth Day

2nd September 2015 - "We young people of Laos and Cambodia want to continue the personal encounter with Christ in our daily lives; we want to build the Kingdom of God through the witness of charity towards all. Through dialogue and sharing we want to strengthen brotherhood among us. We want to engage in the construction of the common area of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) at a spiritual and human level, by promoting brotherhood, peace, justice and freedom, and giving voice to the poor": are some of the pledges made by young people who in August experienced the first "Youth Day of Cambodia and Laos", which for a week (10-16 August) gathered more than 100 young people in Cambodia, under the aegis of the Episcopal Conference of Laos and Cambodia (CELAC). Young Laotians were accompanied by Mgr. Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Pakse. In the manifesto of the final Day, sent to Fides, the youth highlighted that they intend to "affirm the dignity of every man and commit themselves to the common good and the protection of Creation".

The Week, full of moments of prayer, listening, dialogue, reflection, celebration, was held in three places in Cambodia: Tangkok, land of the Cambodian martyrs, supreme examples of brotherhood with Christ; Phnom Penh; Battambang, where the closing Mass concelebrated by Bishop Ling and Mgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh was held.

Contacted by Fides, Mgr. Schmitthaeusler declares: "The Churches of Laos and Cambodia have been united in the same Episcopal Conference since 1968, but the Bishops were not allowed to meet for many years. Now, every year we can meet alternately in Laos and Cambodia. These meetings are important moments of exchange, understanding and communion, in which joint initiatives are planned such as Youth Day which we celebrated with great joy".

Very importantly, according to the Bishop, is the attention to ASEAN: "The world is changing fast. The ASEAN common market is just around the corner. But will this space be successful only if it is built on economic foundations and policies? We Catholics in Southeast Asia must do our part and contribute to this construction, with the aim to walk together towards peace and justice. The youth responded with great enthusiasm to this appeal". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 02/09/2015)

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7 May 2015 - The joy of Bishops and young peopleThe Holy See has announced that it is recognising the martyrdom of Fr. Mario Borzaga (1932-1960), of the missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), and the lay Laotian catechist Paul Thoj Xyooj, killed in Laos in 1960 by the communist guerrillas Pathet Lao.

As reported to Fides, the news aroused great joy and emotion in the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Laos and Cambodia (CELAC), who are currently gathered in assembly in the Cambodian capital, until May 9. The four Apostolic Vicars of Laos (Ordinaries of the vicariate of Vientiane, Paksè, Luang Prabang, Svannakhet) expressed "satisfaction and unexpected joy": Even the catechist Paolo Thoj Xyooj, the first Laotian to be raised to the glory of the altars, is especially significant today.

Father Mario Ghezzi, PIME, deputy vicar of Phnom Penh, told Fides: "It is good news and we hope that soon even the second cause of Laotian martyrs, which includes other 15, among missionaries and local laity, can be successful.

The immense joy that this event arouses in the small Church of Laos and Cambodia, united in the same Episcopal Conference, will be shared concretely in August, when young Catholics in Laos and Cambodia will live together their Youth Day for the first time in Phomn Penh".

Borzaga, in fact, a young missionary, "is a model for many young people", remarked Fr. Angelo Pelis, OMI, Postulator of the cause of beatification of Borzaga and Thoj Xyooj. "The writings of Fr. Mario Borzaga arouse emotion and devotion in the laity, in young people and consecrated persons. The young especially are fascinated by the figure of the young missionary priest: there are thousands of comments and testimonies of graces obtained through his intercession. His fame for holiness and martyrdom is increasing day by day, as shown by the website, created in 2004". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 07/05/2015)

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Saturday, 07 March 2015 13:08

LAOS Three new priests

6 March 2015 - Hope for the little Church in Laos."2015 will be a year of blessing for the little Church in Laos. Three priests will be ordained in the Vicariate of Luang Prabang: a sign of great hope": says His Exc. Mgr. Tito Banchong Thopanhong, Apostolic Vicar of Luang Prabang to Agenzia Fides. Mgr. Tito, 67, has just another priest in the whole Vicariate, to assist 2,600 faithful in the six existing parishes. The three future priests are: Paolo Lattana Sunthon, Agostino Saegna Sii Bunti, Michele Kanthak Vilae Luong Di.

"It will be a historic moment for Laos", says Mgr. Tito. The four Catholic Apostolic Vicars of Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Savannakhet and Pakse will meet next week. The ordination is to be held in December 2015. "It is really a moment of grace for all", says Mgr. Tito.

Among other things, "we are blessed by other vocations: eight seminarians in Pakse, 5 in Savannakhet and 3 in Luang Prabang", reports the Vicar.

The three deacons who will be ordained have studied in the Seminary of Savannakhet and one of them spent a year of study in the Philippines. The four Apostolic Vicars of Laos will invite the Apostolic Nuncio, who is based in Bangkok, and other Asian Bishops. The Apostolic Vicar of Luang Prabang told Fides that in regard to relations with the civil authorities, "the situation is calm and peaceful, and there are no obstacles to the activities of worship and pastoral activities of the Church", a sign of a gradual, steady improvement of freedoms in the small country, still ruled by a communist party.

Of about 6 million people, mostly Buddhists, Christians in Laos are about 1% including about 45 thousand Catholics. Currently, in addition to the four Apostolic Vicars, Catholic priests in the country are, in total, 14. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 06/03/2015)

Published in News
Monday, 23 February 2015 21:54

SOUTH SUDAN Also children recruited

23 February 2015 - A “ferocious” civil war, new rebel offensives and the recruitment of anyone able to carry a weapon, including children and teens, to defend territories and communities at all costs: these, according to MISNA sources in South Sudan, are the factors to consider in attempting to comprehend what occurred in the Wau Shilluk village.

“The village is situated around 20km north of the city of Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, where in the past weeks a new offensive was launched by Nuer ethnic rebels linked to former vice-president Riek Machar”, explained the MISNA sources. According to the same sources, the 89 minors taken from the village last week were “recruited”. “After all the adults and youths, it was the turn of the children, deemed able to hold a weapon and useful to defend the communities under attack”, the sources told MISNA.

The village where the minors were abducted, some even just 12 years-old, is situated in an area inhabited by the Shilluk ethnic group. The area is presided by militants led by Johnson Olony, a former rebel chief now allied to government loyalist troops and therefore now targeted by Machar’s forces. “Olony is recruiting throughout the area, with little resistance by the Shilluk people”, said the sources.

The MISNA sources explained the dramatic context behind the episode reported Saturday by UNICEF (UN Child’s Fund): “the children and teens are not able to go to school, since they have been closed for months, so they look for small jobs to survive, and in some cases are the ones to go to the training camps, without being forced”. VG/BO © 2014 MISNA

Published in News
Saturday, 15 November 2014 13:10

LAOS Evicted after converting to Christianity

15 November 2014 - Seven Hmong Christians were arrested in the province of Luang Namtha, northern Laos, on November 2, after converting from animism to Christianity. As Fides learns, after a few days five of the Christians were released after signing a pledge to renounce their faith, while others who refused were transferred to the provincial jail. The charge is that they have "disturbed social peace".

Another episode demonstrates the government's hostility: Six Hmong Christian families have been forced to leave their village in central Laos after refusing to renounce their faith. The six families, (consisting of 25 people) were made to leave their homes in Borikhamxay province’s Khamkeut district because they would not revert to animism as practiced by the majority of residents in their Ko Hai village. They converted to Christianity, the local authorities became unhappy and ordered them to revert back to animism, but they refused and the authorities detained two men from among the families and held them for nearly a month after they refused to renounce Christianity. Once they were released the authorities again tried to force them to believe in animism, but they still refused, so they were forced to leave their homes. Two of the Christian families were evicted from Ko Hai at the end of August, while the other four were sent away in September and resettled in the nearby village of Hoi Keo, near the town of Lak Sao. Families have lost their homes, land and farm they had in the original village. The governor of Khamkeut district, interviewed by Radio France International, claimed to have no knowledge of the forced eviction, that violates the Constitution, but vowed to investigate.

Lao authorities have also long been wary of opposition among the Hmong, many of whom say they face persecution from the government because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the United States. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 15/11/2014)

Published in News
Monday, 17 March 2014 21:21

LAOS Eviction order for Christian

17 March 2014 - The Christian faithful living in the Laotian village of Natahall in Phin district, in the province of Savannakhet (southern Laos) are struggling hard to defend the constitutionally guaranteed right to profess the Christian faith, and the right of property with regards to their homes. Eight Christian families in the village, after a campaign of intimidation and violence that has been going on for over three months, have appealed to the leaders of the Religious Affairs Office of the District of Phin, but have received no reply. 
On March 11, Amka, the village chief, along with the district police officers, convened eight Christian families. The officials mocked the Christians, inviting them to abandon their Christian faith, stating that it is "a foreign faith, belonging to Americans".

The village chief also prepared documents to transfer the eight families, saying that "there is no place for them in Natahall", but the Christians said they do not intend to move. To force them to convert, the village chief publicly stated that Christians "will be held responsible for any death or adverse event that will take place among the inhabitants of Natahall". According to the village elders, the fact of professing a different faith violates ancient customs and beliefs, and can have harmful effects.
The eviction order for Christian families dates back to December 2, 2013. The families have decided not to give in and raise the case at provincial and national levels, asserting their right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to profess a faith according to their conscience, and freedom of worship for all Lao citizens. In a note sent to Fides, the NGO "Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom" (HRWLRF) urges the Lao government to enforce religious freedom as provided for by the Constitution and the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/03/2014)

Published in News
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 21:15

LAOS Christians expelled because of their faith

25 September - The civil authorities of the district of Atsaphangthong, in the province of Savannakhet, have determined that the Christian Lao citizens in the various villages in the district, must renounce their faith, otherwise they risk expulsion from the district. As Fides learns, the measure was enacted given the growing number of conversions to Christianity in several villages. The decision was announced on 21 September, during an official meeting of members of the civil authorities with the population of the village of Huay. The meeting was attended by people of all religions. On hearing the news, the Christians rejected the decision, claiming that their right to religious freedom is guaranteed by the Laotian Constitution and saying they are prepared to suffer expulsion, rather than renouncing their Christian faith.
In a note sent to Fides, the NGO "Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom" (HRWLRF) denounces the failure to comply with this constitutional provision, often disregarded by local civil servants in many districts of the various provinces. The NGO calls on the government of Laos to enforce the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009. The right to adopt a freely chosen faith, as well as the right to publicly manifest one's religion, is confirmed by Article 16 of the Convenant. The text condemns any form of coercion of personal freedom, including the freedom of faith. HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the right of the Laotian people to full religious freedom, controlling the moves and the abuses of local civil servants and protecting the Lao citizens of Christian faith.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 25/09/2013)

Published in News
Tuesday, 28 May 2013 14:51

LAOS I cristiani difendono la vita

28 maggio - Il governo laotiano incoraggia le donne alle sterilizzazione: una campagna di pianificazione familiare lanciata dal Dipartimento per la sanità della provincia di Huaphan (Laos orientale) incoraggia le donne laotiane a sottoporsi all’intervento chirurgico di sterilizzazione (legatura delle tube). Come riferiscono a Fides fonti locali, il progetto, sostenuto dal Fondo Onu per la Popolazione (UNFPA) – che offre il servizio gratuitamente e si concluderà alla fine 2013 – finora ha riguardato 60 donne. Secondo il vicedirettore del Dipartimento, Thongbay Thavisouk, l’iniziativa si è resa necessaria perché le donne della provincia mettono al mondo, in media, sei bambini. Questo, a suo dire, incide negativamente sia sulla salute della donna, sia sul livello di benessere delle famiglie. Il Dipartimento incoraggia anche che l'uso di altri metodi contraccettivi, come preservativi, iniezioni di ormoni, la pillola, dispositivi intrauterini. Tali metodi, però, sono recepiti perlopiù da donne nelle aree urbane, meno nelle aree rurali. La sterilizzazione viene presentata dalle autorità come “mezzo per migliorare lo status economico della vita familiare”.
Nonostante tali politiche anche in Laos cresce, soprattutto fra le comunità cristiane, ma non solo, il “movimento per la vita”. L’associazione cattolica “Human Life International” (HLI), grazie agli sforzi della sua sezione asiatica, opera per assistere piccoli gruppi pro-life locali, nati partire dal 2008. Gruppi di religiosi e laici cattolici, insieme con altri cristiani, sono impegnati a promuovere i temi legati al rispetto della vita. Come riferito a Fides, nonostante le difficoltà e un ambiente culturale e politico sfavorevole, nella capitale laotiana Vientiane suor Milagros Azucena svolge il lavoro pastorale per le coppie, le donne e i bambini. Nell’opera educativa si presentano ampiamente i testi del magistero della Chiesa che toccano la sfera della vita. La sterilizzazione sessuale, impedendo in modo permanente la trasmissione della vita umana, è dichiarata illecita dalla dottrina morale cattolica come “atto contro la vita”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 28/5/2013)

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