ucanews.com reporter, HanoiUpdated: May 21, 2018 05:59 AM GMT
Cardinal-designate Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun (left) meets with Father Raphael Tran Xuan Nhan (right) at his residence in Pakse in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Father Raphael Tran Xuan Nhan)
Published May 24, 2017
Catholics in Laos have welcomed their first cardinal appointment in anticipation of improved religious activities within the communist-run country.
"We are extremely happy to hear that our Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun has been named as the first ever cardinal in Laos," Martha Le Thi Thuy Hanh from Sacred Heart Parish, in the southern province of Champasak, told ucanews.com.
Pope Francis named five new cardinals on May 21, including Bishop Ling and one each from Mali, Spain, Sweden and El Salvador. The consistory is scheduled for June 28, the vigil of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
Hanh, a cloth trader at a local market, said the parish priest told the congregation about the "great news" during Sunday Mass on the day of the announcement.
"As a cardinal, Bishop Ling will have better prospects for developing the local church and integrating it into the international community," she said.
The 62-year-old woman hopes the cardinal-designate, who has good relations with government authorities, will be able to improve religious freedoms for Catholic communities in the country.
She said the government restricts religious activities in many areas of the country. "Soldiers with guns pretend to guard places of worship. They walk around and even enter Christian churches while people gather for services," she said.
Hanh said religious congregations are also restricted in giving pastoral care to Catholics.
Father Raphael Tran Xuan Nhan of Vinh Diocese in central Vietnam has worked in Laos since 2005. He said the appointment of Bishop Ling as cardinal shows that the Holy See understands the need to support the development of small and impoverished churches in the communist country.
"Bishop Ling is a kind, friendly, wise and open-minded man. He is interested in evangelization work and welcomes all foreign missionaries to his country," Father Nhan told ucanews.com.
"Bishop Ling expertly uses dialogue rather than confrontation when addressing church issues and has helped government officials to understand that the Catholic Church is focused on social development," he said.
Father Nhan explained that the cardinal-elect has worked hard to integrate Christian values into Laotian cultures and traditions so that the church can live in harmony with the Buddhist-majority nation.
The soon-to-be cardinal has also worked to improve the conditions for the restoration of Legion of Mary groups across Laos since 2005.
"Five hundred Legion of Mary members teach catechism to Catholics and converts in the communities, bring Communion to the sick, and do other pastoral work," Father Nhan said.
Cardinal-designate Ling, 73, is an ethnic Khamu, a hill tribe from northern Laos and southern China. He studied at Voluntas Dei Institute in Canada before he was ordained as a priest in 1972. In 2000, he was made apostolic vicar of the 50-year-old Pakse apostolic vicariate.
On Feb. 2, the former head of Cambodian and Laotian bishops was appointed as apostolic administrator of Vientiane.
There are about 45,000 Catholics in Laos in four apostolic vicariates, about 1 percent of the estimated 7 million population.
Foreign missionaries were expelled and Catholics persecuted after Pathet Laos communists took over the country in 1975. In recent years, some missionaries from neighboring Vietnam have quietly worked with local Catholics.