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Laotian bishop: Church gives new impetus to society

There are interreligious activities and mutual trust between villagers, says the vicar apostolic of Paksé
Andrew Souksavath Nouane Asa, vicar apostolic of Paksé of Laos, meets the Laotian diaspora during a recent stopover in Paris.

Andrew Souksavath Nouane Asa, vicar apostolic of Paksé of Laos, meets the Laotian diaspora during a recent stopover in Paris. (Photo: MEP)

Published: September 27, 2023 11:14 AM GMT
Updated: September 28, 2023 03:45 AM GMT

The tiny yet thriving church in Laos rebuilds lives and gives new impetus to the Buddhist-majority society where Christians face both harmony and persecution from their neighbors, says a church leader.

Souksavath Nouane Asa, the vicar apostolic of Paksé, made the remarks in an interview with French-language Eglises d’Asie (Asian Churches), a publication of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP).

Asa, 51, was ordained as the vicar apostolic for the territory that covers 22,000 Catholics in 46 parishes and approximately 1.37 million inhabitants in the provinces of Champassak, Saravan, Xeguang, and Attapu in southern Laos.

He is the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Laos and Cambodia (CELAC). Asa made a stopover in Paris to visit the Laotian diaspora.

“In Pakse, Catholics and Buddhists live in harmony. There are also inter-religious activities in some villages and mutual trust between communities,” he said, referring to the life of the church in his area.

“There not many Catholic villages, so we live with other communities, with our Buddhist neighbors. This gives new impetus to the church and the society.”

Interreligious events take place during religious festivities like priestly ordinations and Buddhist feasts when people celebrate together, he said.

Besides missionaries, Pakse has 10 diocesan priests and a number of students in seminaries, he said.

Catholicism in Laos is more than 140 years old, but the church in Pakse is relatively young as the vicariate was created some sixty years ago, he pointed out.

French MEP missionaries evangelized in Laos in the 19th century and established the first mission station in 1885, church records say.

Oblate missionaries arrived in 1935 and concentrated their activities in the mountainous areas in the north.

There are approximately 45,000 Catholics, many of whom are ethnic Vietnamese, spread in four apostolic vicariates – Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, and Sovannakhet.

Religious tensions and persecution of Christians in the tiny Communist-ruled Southeast Asian nation of some 7.5 million have been rife in recent times.

Though the constitution of Laos officially recognizes Christianity as a religion, there have been cases of abuses and attacks on Christians by Buddhist villagers in rural provinces, according to media reports and rights groups.

Asa admitted that “there are some villages we cannot go” but said the situation has improved in recent years.

“In the south, in any case, the situation is good. We try to focus on the fight against poverty,” he said.

Since becoming the second native bishop of Pakse, Asa has focused on continuing the activities the missionaries including those from MEP started years ago.

“We continue our services to catechists and formation of faithful. We offer education to school drop-out children, so they can read and write,” he said.

The number of local priests and religious vocations are increasing, unlike the past, which gives hope to the local church, he said.

Laotian Church has gone through both difficulties and beautiful things in its history. 

“We have experienced hard times in the past, but today we are moving forward, a page is really being turned,” Asa said.

For years, churches in Cambodia and Laos have been working together to support and develop one another. 

“We meet regularly, once or twice a year, to share our difficulties, our successes, and what we are experiencing,” he said. 

“In Cambodia, they revived the [Catholic] community after the return of the missionaries, and the Church has got a new life. We are trying to take the same path,” he added. 

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