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30 March 2019 - UN special envoy criticizes the government: "Ticking boxes and boosting numbers, not the lives of Laotians". 80% of Laotians live on less than $ 2.5 a day. Over 20% of children are underweight, 9% suffer from malnutrition and a third are rickety.

The massive Chinese projects of the Belt and Road Initiative (Bri) and the vast concessions to exploit land and resources generate few jobs and too many debts: the current strategy of the Lao socialist regime favors a wealthy elite and increases economic inequalities with the poorest sections of the population.

This is according to Philip Alston, special envoy of the United Nations (UN) for poverty and human rights. According to the Australian expert, Vientiane should focus less on Beijing-funded projects - such as dams and railways - and devote more resources to children and the marginalized.

Alston released these statements two days ago, in a video-broadcast press conference from the Laotian capital. The UN official closed an 11-day mission (18-28 March) in various regions of the country. The visit touched Vientiane and the provinces of Champasack, Xienkuang, Houaphanh and Attapeu, where a dam burst last year. Alston met with government officials of various levels, village leaders, workers, farmers and traders, to gather information about their daily lives.

Nestled between Thailand, China, Myanmar and Cambodia, the economy of small Laos has grown rapidly in recent years. However, the benefits of this growth have not reached the entire, largely rural, population.

It is estimated that 80% of Laotians live on less than 2.5 US dollars a day and are at risk of poverty. While acknowledging the country's economic progress, Alston criticizes the government of "simply ticking boxes and boosting numbers, rather than ensuring significant changes to the lives of Laotians".

The special envoy points out that many infrastructure and plantation projects take land away from local residents, forcing their resettlement. Most initiatives generate "few jobs and too many debts," he says. “These concessions potentially cover something like 40% of the national territory and many, if not most, have produced very few returns on the national budget; real revenues that can be spent for the well-being of the Laotian people ”.

Alston notes that women in Laos are largely excluded from the decision-making process and that ethnic minorities - which make up nearly half of the population - are "severely deprived" of almost all development measures, with low incomes and less access to education and health care.

Over a fifth of Laotian children are underweight, 9% suffer from "debilitating" or severe malnutrition and a third are rickety. Less than half have been vaccinated. "You may not have any interest in children, but all you need to know is that they are the economic future - he concludes -. You will not have a large workforce if those statistics are your starting point.

Asianews

Published in News
Friday, 04 January 2019 21:39

LAOS Seven Christians arrested

4 January 2019 - Savannakhet, seven Christians were taken to prison for religious reasons. As reported by Agenzia Fides, on December 29, 2018, a group of nine police officers, led by the police chief of the district of Phin, stormed a Christmas church service in Nakanong Village in Savannakhet and arrested 3 leaders of the local evangelical Christian community: Akeo, Kert, and Somwang. The arrested were charged with illegal gathering for Christmas church service without permission.

As reported to Fides by the NGO "Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom" (HRWLRF), the three church leaders are detained in the Phin district police headquarters. Soon after, the police returned to the Nakanong church and detained four more Christian men (Boulai, Champee, Agàe and Ayoung). Security forces also demolished the stage, cut off the power line, destroyed the sound system, and seized three mobile phones.

The NGO HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009. The NGO also urges the Lao government to "release immediately and unconditionally the seven Lao Christians and pay for the damages to the physical properties of the church". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 3/1/2019)

Published in News
Friday, 07 December 2018 10:54

In Laos: female promotion

In Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, the cutting out “Centre Nazareth”, celebrates its first anniversary! It welcomes the 2 nd group of young women hailing from the faraway villages who don’t sit for their A level examinations. Most of them arrive from Thailand where they risked becoming victims of human trafficking,of prostitution and undeclared work.
This group is made up of 17 persons who follow an intensive 6 months’ programme with some internships in different designers’ houses. Then, after 4 months’ production, at the end of their itinerary, they obtain the diploma that permits them to go ahead with their life and to work with dignity.
The sisters of Charity run this centre since 2017, with the help of two associations : « De la Loire in Mekong » and « Children of Mekong »; they accompany these young women and offer them an orientation
in searching for work. In turn, some of the first group young graduates have become teachers who help the new comers of the Centre.

Published in Events
Wednesday, 02 May 2018 15:08

LAOS Four new priests

2 May 2018 - The Church of Laos rejoices for the ordination of four new priests. As confirmed to Agenzia Fides, on April 29th the small Catholic community in Laos lived a solemn Eucharist celebrated in the Cathedral of St. Louis, in Takhek, in central Laos, with the ordination of four new priests: Fr. Peter Mituna Tanvilay of the Apostolic Vicariate of Khamnouan-Savnnakhet (Central Laos); Fr. Mattia Paly and Fr. Pietro Bounten Heuanded, of the Apostolic Vicariate of Paksé (Southern Laos); Fr. Francesco Saverio Sayasith, of the Apostolic Vicariate of Luang Prabang (Northern Laos). The day after the ordination, on April 30, the new priests celebrated the first Holy Mass in the chapel of Jean-Marie Vianney Seminary, in Takhek.

The celebration, note local sources of Fides, was a moment of joy for the Laotian Church. Mgr. Jean-Marie Inthirath, Apostolic Vicar of Paksé presided over the ordination rite, together with Mgr. Tito Banchong, Apostolic Administrator of Luang Prabang, while almost all the priests of Laos, many religious women, and many lay faithful were present. Sources of Fides confirm that there was no interference or any obstacle posed by the civil authorities, who were even informed of the ordination ceremony.

The new priestly ordinations constitute an important step forward for the local Church which, as Cardinal Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Vientiane told Fides, "needs new priests: for this reason the work of formation and deepening of the faith is very important for us today".

The Church in Laos experienced two historical events in recent years: the first was the celebration held in the Vientiane capital on 11 December 2016, when Filipino Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, special envoy of Pope Francis, proclaimed the beatification of 17 new martyrs, including missionaries and Laotian laity, killed between 1954 and 1970 by the Pathet Lao communist guerrillas. The martyrs were recognized by Pope Francis in 2015, in two distinct causes of beatification: the first is that of the Italian missionary Mario Borzaga and catechist Paolo Thoj Xyooj. The second concerns ThaoTien, first Laotian priest, and 14 companions.

A second important step was the creation of the first Laotian Cardinal, Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, now Apostolic Vicar in Vientiane, who took possession of the Roman church of San Silvestro in Capite on 22 April.

The Catholic Church in Laos is made up of about 60 thousand baptized (1% of the population out of 6 million mainly Buddhists). The last priestly ordinations date back to 2016: Don Paolo Lattana Sunthon, Don Agostino Saegna Be Bunti, Don Michele Kanthak Vilae Luong Di, all belonging to the Apostolic Vicariate of Luang Prabang.

In 2005, thirty years after the last ordination of 1975, priest Sophone Vilavongsy, Laotian and missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) was ordained in Vientiane. In December 2006 Pierre Wilaiphorn Phonasa and Luca Sukpaphorn Duangchansai became priests. In 2009 in Savannakhet it was the turn of Fr. Matthieu Somdet Kaluan. In 2011 another new priest was Fr. Pierre Buntha Silaphet.

Today, in addition to the three apostolic Vicars, the Laotian diocesan priests present in the country as a whole, with the four newly ordained, now rise to 24, while 11 are religious priests. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 2/5/2018)

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25 February 2018 - The small Laotian Church participates spiritually, with great affection and gratitude, at the memorial of Mgr. Lionello Berti, missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) who died in Laos on 24 February, 50 years ago. As Fides recalls Fr. Angelo Pelis, OMI missionary for many years in the small Southeast Asian country, "half a century after the tragic death of Mgr. Berti, the first Bishop of North Laos, we will participate with deep feeling at the Eucharist for his commemoration in Reggello (Florence), on February 24, with other witnesses of the drama still engraved in the soul". Reggello is located in the diocese of Fiesole, Mgr. Berti’s birthplace.

As a priest, after joining the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1957, Berti accepted his designation in northern Laos. Laos, a former French colony, independent since 1955, then had just over three million inhabitants, belonging to a mosaic of ethnic groups very distant from each other: language, customs and traditions.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate were present in the north of the country, in an area with animist and Buddhist population, since 1935, and the arrival of the six young Italian priests gave new impetus to the missionary work. In 1963 the Vicariate of Luang-Prabang was created, of which Mgr. Berti will be the first Bishop. The conditions of life for the population, in this poor country which lacks ways of communication, were complicated by guerrilla actions that the opposing factions, among them the Pathet-Lao communists, hired to obtain independence.

In this context it was easy to identify the Catholic religion as "the religion of the colonialists" and the missionaries paid the price. In fact, in total 17 priests and catechists, who in those years sacrificed their lives, engaged in pastoral service, beatified on December 11, 2016 in Vientiane. Moreover, the first missionaries had arrived together with the French colonizers who had seen in the propagation of the Christian faith a possible vehicle for extending their political influence on the population.

In 1962, at the age of only 37, Fr. Lionello Berti was consecrated Bishop and appointed vicar of Luang-Prabang. When the Luang-Prabang area was entrusted to Mgr. Berti it had 80 Catholics and in 1968, year of his death, there were a thousand: in his five years of pastoral ministry, despite the poverty of means and personnel, the mission extended to the borders of Thailand, Burma and China. Bertì began construction work on the cathedral, the seminary and the schools. He entrusted the care of the sick and partly the formation of the catechists to the Sisters of Charity. He founded the congregation of the "Auxiliaries of Mary Mother of the Church" for the human and Christian formation of women, secular order that continues its work even today.

On February 24, 1968, a small group of Hmong families prepared to leave for the area of Sayaboury, where they sought refuge from the guerrillas that raged in the mountains. Mgr. Berti decided, with paternal devotion, to accompany them.

Inexplicably, just a few minutes from destination, the plane on which they traveled crashed in the Mekong. The remains of the bodies of 13 people (out of the total 35) were torn apart by the animals in the river. Eleven days after the disaster, the body of the young Bishop emerged from the river, miraculously intact.

During the 1975 revolution, foreign missionaries were expelled, their properties seized and used for civilian use, the chapel was transformed into a warehouse and there were no traces of Mgr. Berti’s tomb for thirty years. Subsequently, thanks to a patient work of mediation with the Laotian local authorities, the tomb was traced and repaired with dignity. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 23/2/2018)

Published in News
Saturday, 23 December 2017 21:37

LAOS Increasingly dependent on foreign aid

23 December 2017 - Lack of funds has made the country increasingly dependent on foreign aid. Laos strives to become a middle-income country by 2030. Healthcare is a priority. The hope for an economic boost thanks to the Chinese high-speed railway.

The Laos government aims to expand universal health care to strengthen its popular consensus, but needs Beijing's help to distribute medical supplies and services. Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith is working to rebalance the country's diplomacy, following concerns that the small landlocked nation is too dependent on Beijing's aid to improve the conditions of its largely impoverished population.

The interventions include loans granted to build a $ 6 billion high-speed railroad, which aims to connect southern China with Southeast Asia in the context of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (Bri). Once completed, Vientiane hopes to revolutionize its economy. At the same time, the Thongloun government recognizes the negative side of some Beijing investments. This was manifested in the ban imposed on the creation of new bananas plantations owned by China, due to their harmful impact on the environment. However, the executive can hardly do without Chinese financial assistance for its underdeveloped medical sector, in light of the ambitious health reform desired by the ruling Communist Party. It has identified the health field as a priority, especially as Laos strives to become a middle-income country by 2030.

The national life expectancy at birth was only 63.5 years in 2015, one of the lowest rates in Southeast Asia and eight years below the global average. Last month, the National Assembly set its health objectives for 2018: reducing the number of underweight children, infant and maternal mortality rates and the number of deaths of children under five. Poor infrastructure in a 70% mountainous country makes it difficult to access healthcare facilities. Laos is as big as France, but has a population of only 6.7 million. Corruption is another concern, exacerbated by the low wages perceived by public sector workers, including doctors and nurses. Public employees can often spend a months without receiving any salary. This means that medical personnel often expect small bribes, another deterrent for the poor to access health services.

The lack of funds has made the country increasingly dependent on foreign aid, largely from China. The Laotian gross domestic product (GDP) is less than 1,690 euros, one of the lowest rates in Asia, despite a 7% growth in recent years. The government is confident that the new high-speed rail, a joint venture of which Laos owns about 30%, will transform the nation into a modern logistics center for job creation and Chinese trade. So far the development of the railway line has required the transfer of 4,400 families this year alone and 22% of the expected 414km of the mega-project is built. Part of the government's hope of becoming the "battery of Asia" with its hydropower exports, even the numerous dams built along the Laotian stretch of the Mekong River have caused forced displacement and triggered strong dissent against the state. (Asianews)

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 30th June 2017 "Our poverty, suffering and persecution are the three columns that strengthen the Church,” said Card Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Paksé, citing Pope Francis, to explain the reasons that led the pontiff to appoint the first Laotian prelate in the history of the Church.

The first Laotian cardinal talks about his election and the life of the Catholic Church in Laos. The latter endures persecution and bears witness to its faith amid many adversities. It has 45,000 members, 20 priests, 98 religious and 218 parishes. The cardinal was a prisoner of the government for three years. “I accepted it, as it was true. They were right, I was ‘promoting’ Jesus. It was a correct accusation,” he said. The government exercises tight controls over religions. Relations between Church and State are difficult. “We can change the government's way of thinking that we are not its enemy."

On 21 May, at the end of Regina Caeli, the Holy Father announced the unexpected nomination of five new cardinals, including Mgr Ling, who will be elevated in today's consistory.

On 16 and June 17, about 350 Hmong, Kmhmu, Lao and Karen Catholics gathered in Belleville (Illinois, US) to experience and celebrate the 17 martyrs of Laos, their native country, with gratitude and thanksgiving for their exemplary life of faith.

The cardinal attended the event, where he gave an interview to the National Catholic Reporter on his election and on the life of the Catholic Church in Laos.

During the conversation, the prelate expressed his immediate astonishment and the following wave of congratulations from all over the world following his nomination.

Asked about the motives that led the Holy See to choose him, Cardinal Ling said the ad limina visit of the bishops of Laos and the meeting with Pope Francis on 26 January played a role.

"During the visit, the pope told us that the strength of the Church resides in the local Church, especially the Church that is small, the Church that is weak, and the Church that is persecuted. This is the backbone of the universal Church. I was a little puzzled.”

“The next day we celebrated Mass with the Holy Father, and again he reiterated the same theme in his homily. It made me wonder. I came to a conclusion from what he said that the strength of the Church came from patience, perseverance and the willingness to accept the reality of faith. This made me think that our poverty, suffering and persecution are the three columns that strengthen the Church.”

Laos has about 45,000 Catholics, less than 1 per cent of the population of 6.4 million people, served by 20 priests and 98 religious in 218 parishes. In an interview with AsiaNews in 2015, Ling described the Laotian Church as a "baby" church, still growing from the first proclamation, especially among tribals and animists.

The Laotian Church experiences the persecution and bears witness to her faith amid many adversities. After the Communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975, foreign missionaries were expelled and Catholics were persecuted. Priests and monks were imprisoned or sent to re-education camps, including the cardinal.

“I was detained for three years. The arrest and eventually incarceration frightened me in the beginning. I thought to myself, why would they arrest me? Later, they told me the reason for the arrest. ‘You are promoting Jesus Christ.’ “I accepted it, as it was true. They were right, I was "promoting" Jesus. It was a correct accusation.”

Today, Laos has opened up to the outside world. However, despite economic reforms, the country remains poor and dependent on foreign aid.

The government still tightly controls religions and the mass media.  The difficult relationship between Church and State, including the ban on Church education, is particularly true at the local level.

“Each region or city carries out this provision of religious liberty differently. Priests can go around to say Mass. At any village that there is already an existing parish or church, there is no problem.

“However, there is a problem if you are building a new church because that is something new. But such a problem can be discussed with local government officials. We need to establish relationship with them and talk with them. It is easy at one place, but might not be easy at another place.”

For the local Catholic community, the appointment of the first Laotian cardinal is a reason to hope in better relations between the Vatican and the Government of Laos.

“Look at the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Southeast Asian countries. [. . .] Only Laos does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See,” the cardinal said.

“We can change the government's way of thinking that we are not its enemy. We are a friend. We need to build up friendship. If both parties are working together, we foresee a better relationship ahead.”

With respect to relations with other religions in the Buddhist majority country, “There is no problem with relations with our Buddhist brothers and sisters. But between Catholics and other Christians, there might be some problems,” the cardinal said.

"Each of us has a different way of evangelization. Our Christian brothers may have a developed program of evangelization and can draw a lot of numbers. Our program, on a contrary, is simple and low-key.

“The problem lies between the understanding of tradition and culture. For example, we think a baci ceremony [tying of wrists and praying over someone] is a traditional event of people gathering to pray upon certain individual on a different occasion. Other Christian groups might see such a ceremony as adhering to animism. Well, each one has a different way of thinking on the matter, so a dialogue just does not solve anything.” (Asianews)

Published in News
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 20:42

LAOS Two new priests in 2017

1st February 2017 - The small Catholic community in Laos (less than 1% out of seven million inhabitants) is preparing to celebrate two new priestly ordinations in 2017: say to Agenzia Fides the Laotian Bishops that concluded the ad limina visit at the Vatican. One of the deacons who is preparing for his priestly ordination - programmed in the current year, belongs to the Apostolic Vicariate of Pakse, the other belongs to Luang Prabang. Louis-Marie Ling, Apostolic Vicar of Pakse, tells Fides is "hopeful", after the solemn public celebration of the beatification of the martyrs: "It was a feast with more than seven thousand faithful, a historical event, a miracle for us".

The pastoral activities, Ling says to Fides, proceed calmly, "we sometimes have some small problems with some diligent provincial officials, but as priests and religious we visit families, we celebrate the sacraments, we do catechism without problems". With the new deacon, whose ordination is scheduled for next March, "I will have five active and two retired priests in Pakse", he says. They are entrusted parishes and over 13 thousand faithful of the Vicariate. "It is not my job nor my merit, everything is God's work. We follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit", confides the Bishop to Fides.

Even Tito Banchong, apostolic administrator in Luang Prabang, in the north of the country, celebrated the ordination of three priests in September 2016 and is preparing for the gift of another vocation. "In my area, where for 12 years, from 2000 onwards, I was completely alone, we are blessed with the thriving of vocations to priesthood: a sign that the Lord is near. He is the God-with-us. And he was also with us in the time of suffering", says the Bishop, who between 1976 and 1986 spent five years in prison, when the pressure of the communist Pathet Lao regime on religious freedom was stronger.

On 30 January in his homily during Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, before the Bishops of Laos, Pope Francis said that "the greatest strength of the Church today is in the little Churches, tiny, with few people, persecuted, with their bishops in prison. This is our glory today, and our strength today".

At the end of the ad limina visit, Bishop Tito Banchong remarked: "We are very happy. This visit gave us the certainty of unity with the Pope. The Pope knows us, loves us, has opened his heart. He is really a father for us who listens to us. He told us to move forward in our mission: it is for us a precious encouragement". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 01/02/2017)

Published in News
Sunday, 11 December 2016 21:49

LAOS 17 new martyrs

11th Decembre 2016 - Pope Francis on Sunday spoke about the beatification of a group of martyrs which took place earlier in the day in Vientiane, Laos.

Father Mario Borzaga, OMI, a 27-year-old Italian missionary and his catechist Paul Thoj Xyooj where murdered by communist rebels in 1960. The beatification ceremony also included 14 other in Laos who were killed “in hatred of the Faith.”

Pope Francis recalled their sacrifice following his recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square.

“Their heroic fidelity to Christ can be an encouragement and example to missionaries, especially catechists, who in mission lands play a valuable and irreplaceable apostolic role, for which the entire Church is grateful,” Pope Francis said.

Speaking off the cuff, the Pope added: “And ... we think of our catechists: They do a lot of work, such a beautiful job! Being a catechist is a beautiful thing: you bring the message of the Lord so that it grows inside of us. But, a round of applause to the catechists: Everyone!” (RAdio Vaticana)

Published in News
Wednesday, 28 September 2016 18:10

LAOS Three new priests ordained

27th septembre 2016 – A historic step for the Church.  "First of all let us thank the Lord for his great gift: we are very happy for the three new priests who will work full time in the small Catholic Church in Laos. All three will dedicate themselves, in particular, to the pastoral work in the Vicariate of Luang Prabang: for me it will be a great help": this is how Mgr. Tito Banchong Thopanhong, Apostolic Administrator of Luang Prabang, expresses his joy to Agenzia Fides for the ordination of three new Laotian priests: Don Paolo Lattana Sunthon, Don Agostino Saegna Sii Bunti, Don Michael Kanthak Vilae Luong Di, all belonging to the Apostolic Vicariate of Luang Prabang, who were ordained in a solemn celebration held on 16 September in Savannakhet, where the Major interdiocesan Seminary that provides the formation of Laotian seminarians is situated.

At the ordination Mass, presided by His Exc. Mgr. Prida Inthirath, Apostolic Vicar of Savannakhet, the other two Laotian Bishops (from the Apostolic Vicariate of Vientiane and Paksè, in addition to the Apostolic Administrator of Luang Prabang) were present as well as two other Bishops (one from Thailand and one from France), 54 priests from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, numerous religious women and over a thousand Catholic faithful who came from all over the country.

Mgr. Tito Banchong told Fides: "It was a moment of intense prayer and of great hope for us. A historic moment, in which we received a special effusion of God's grace. Everything was done in the best way, in an atmosphere of great serenity. Civil authorities from the town of Savannakhet were also present. It was a very happy moment for all of us".

In 2005 in Vientiane, thirty years after the last ordination in 1975, Sophone Vilavongsy was ordained priest, Laotian and missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). In December 2006 Pierre Wilaiphorn Phonasa and Luke Sukpaphorn Duangchansai were ordained priests. In 2009 in Savannakhet it was the turn of Fr. Matthieu Somdet Kaluan. In 2011 another new priest: Fr. Pierre Buntha Silaphet.

Of about 6 million people, mostly Buddhists, about 1% are Christians in Laos among whom about 45 thousand Catholics. Besides the three Apostolic Vicars, the number of diocesan priests in the country with the three newly ordained priests goes up to 20, while 11 are religious priests.

The church in Laos is now preparing to celebrate the beatification of 17 Laotian martyrs, to be held in Vientiane on 11 December. In 2015 the Holy See recognized the martyrdom of Father Mario Borzaga, a young missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and the Laotian catechist Paul. There was also the successful outcome of a second cause of beatification regarding 15 other martyrs, including missionaries and lay Laotians. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 27/09/2016)

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