Catholics in predominantly Buddhist Laos say celebrating the traditional New Year festival is an important way of maintaining social harmony. The Buddhist New Year festival, Songkran or Bunpimay (water-throwing) as it is known locally, takes place every April 13-15. Simon Som Thu, a Vietnamese-Laotian Catholic, took his wife and two daughters to the Sacred Heart Church in Savannakhet on Sunday morning, where they and another 50 Catholics attended a special Mass to mark the festival. “We prayed to God for the nation’s peace and prosperity and to bless our work in the New Year,” Thu said. During the Mass, celebrants splashed holy water on others for good luck. “Local people traditionally believe water will bring happiness and good health and wash away the sins of the past year,” Thu added. Thu, 47, who makes fire cookers for a living at a local market, said later that afternoon he and his family also attended water-pouring rites at a local temple. They poured water over Buddha statues and the hands and feet of 10 monks “to express our deep respect for them.” After that they paid a visit to his wife’s parents. “We knelt down and kissed their hands to show our respect to them. Then we poured water on their hands wishing them both health and long life,” he said. He said his wife converted to Catholicism last year. “As Catholics, we must respect traditional values and rites. If not, we will be treated with contempt,” Thu said. “Following traditional values is an effective way to live in harmony with other people,” he added. Lucia Souk Khang from Thakhek Church visited a Marian grotto during the festival. She put a garland of orchids on the Marian statue and prayed for her family’s happiness. Then she took it back home and put in on what she calls God’s altar. Khang, a trader, said local Buddhists also believe in Mother Mary. “They often visit, put garlands on and pray in front of the Marian statue.” Catholics offered sticky rice and branches decorated with banknotes to priests and Religious to show their respect to them. Father Phonethep, pastor of Seno parish, said they bring sticky rice to the church and he blesses it. Then they take it home and treat their guests during the festival. “I often visit local monks and they visit me on Church feasts. We respect each other’s beliefs and live in harmony,” he said.
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