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Laotian Catholics prepare for Asian Youth Day

Participant says they will give testimony on how faith is lived in a communist country reporter, Bangkok reporter, Bangkok

Updated: June 20, 2017 09:03 AM GMT
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Laotian Catholics prepare for Asian Youth Day

Parishioners line up to receive Holy Communion during Mass for the Corpus Christi holy day on June 18. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart celebrate Sunday Masses in Vietnamese, Laotian and English. ( photo)

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Laotian participants of the forthcoming Asian Youth Day participated in a formation camp that was led by three visiting Thai formators.

Twenty young Laotians from all three ethnic groups — Hmong, Khamu and Lao Loum — gathered at a youth development center run by the Sisters of Charity in the Lao capital Vientiane June 17-18.

A Filipina, who has volunteered at the development center for a year, also joined the camp.

The young Catholics, who come from three out of four ecclesiastical jurisdictions in Laos, focused on team-building exercises that also strengthened their English skills.

A volunteer youth leader Joseph said he is thrilled to have the chance to meet other young Catholics at the Asian Youth Day to be held in Semarang Diocese of Indonesia Aug. 2-6.

"It won't just be about our new Laotian cardinal or the 17 martyrs beautified last December that will make the Laotian faith community known to the universal Catholic Church," Joseph told

"The young people and I are ready to be bring testimony of how faith is lived in a communist country in which most citizens are Buddhists," he said.

The new cardinal that Joseph mentioned was Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun. Cardinal-designate Ling, 73, was one of five new cardinals announced by Pope Francis on May 21. The consistory is scheduled for June 28, the vigil of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Cardinal-designate Ling is an ethnic Khamu, a hill tribe from northern Laos and southern China.

The 17 martyrs referred to were priests, catechists and laypeople who were declared martyrs by the Catholic Church. They were killed between 1954 and 1970 during a period of anti-religious violence under Pathet Lao communists.


Laotian youth write down their reflections after praying during the formation camp on June 17-18. ( photo)


A religious minority

Being a third generation Catholic, Joseph, 27, said when he was at school he was the only one putting up his hand when his class teacher asked who is not a Buddhist.

Christians make up about 1 percent of Lao's 7 million people of whom about 45,000 are Catholics.

Since a young age, Joseph has noted great misunderstandings among local people about Christianity. "People spread rumors that mothers who want to baptize their babies need to sleep with a priest," he cited as an example.

BK, an ethnic Khamu working in the government, said that the country's ruling communists had limited their freedom of faith. "But the harder the situation is, the stronger our faith is," said BK.

Silae, a 25-year-old layman from Vientiane, agreed with BK. He said that "when we are not allowed to build more churches in the capital, we can do more and better in the existing church compound."


Getting help from outside

Explaining the presence of the Thai formators, Joseph said that local youth leaders connect with the other young people by making friends with them and "since they trust and share their personal issues with us as friends, we cannot take up the role as formators."

Joseph added that he received no formal training to become a young leader in the church but "adopts the approach of learning by doing."

When guest speakers come from a foreign country, the youth tend to pay more attention, Joseph said. Spoken Thai and Lao are mutually understandable.

The Youth Desk of the FABC-Office of Laity and Family stages Asian Youth Day in cooperation with the Youth Commissions of the respective national bishop’s conferences.  The event is held in every three years

"Joyful Asian Youth! Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia," is the theme for the upcoming 7th Asian Youth Day to be held in Yogyakarta in Semarang Diocese.

The 6th Asian Youth Day with the theme "Asian Youth! Wake Up!" was held in Korea in 2014.

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