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GSME visit to the Mission in Laos

20 – 22 April

08 May 2024

Last April 20 to 22, Br Francisco Gomez Vargas and Br Dennis Tayo, respectively Secretary and Animator of the General Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization, along with Br John Phuoc, the Minister Provincial of Vietnam, and Br Peter Binh, came to visit the friars in Laos. 

Laos is an independent communist country in Southeast Asia with a total of 7,749,595 predominantly Buddhist inhabitants. Only 46,500 are Catholics, present in the four dioceses in Laos. In December 2012, the Vietnamese Franciscan brothers came to the Diocese of Pakse, withBr Joseph Santisouk being among the first missionaries. Today he is joined by Bro Paul Hiring, who is also a priest,and Br Peter Mau, the guardian in this community along with  Br John Hâu on his Franciscan year of experience.

Br Joseph and the brothers shared some of the threats and opportunities they experienced, after more than 10 years of mission in this country. “Being a communist and poor country that is not so open to Christianity, we started our presence, quiet, slow, and humble.  Despite the lack of personnel and financial resources over time, the local authorities in some places accepted the Franciscans, especially in our participation in educational and social activities. We established strong support and collaborations with the local Church authorities and the Laotian people, which enabled us to train catechists and missionary personnel while helping 65 poor scholars from remote areas, to have primary to high school education, accommodating them respectively in Saint Francis Boarding House in Paksong and St. Anthony Boarding House in Pakse. So we had 4 university graduates; 5 vocational trade graduates; 3 university students; and 4 Laotian seminarians.Moreover, in the summers, we organized courses for rural children to study English, human values, and catechism. We renovated and/ or built our present friaries and churches while taking care of Vietnamese immigrants in Pakse, Paksong, and Attapeu. Since the brothers have introduced the Franciscan spirit, we have some students now who may want to enter our Franciscan vocation. At this time, we hope to finish the ongoing construction of the Church in Muongkhay village, a predominantly Catholic-inhabited rural locality as well as some of the needed boarding house structures to accommodate these students.” 

Br Francisco and Br Dennis have visited these villages, welcomed by the warmth and richness of the local culture. They were amazed by the many works the friars had accomplished. They have experienced too the support of the Bishop of Pakse and some of his diocesan priests upon meeting them at a dinner in his residence.  Bishop Andrew Souksavath Nouane Asa ordained Bro Paul as the first Franciscan priest in his diocese last year.  The bishop shared his eagerness for the ongoing educational assistance and collaboration the friars are providing for the seminarians, not only for his diocese but in his words, “for wherever the candidate is led by the Spirit to serve the Church in Laos, even as Franciscans.”

Finally, the brothers bade us with moving words of thanks, with Br Joseph said: “After more than ten years of serving in the mission, it is the first time for us to be visited by friars in the General Curia. We felt alone and abandoned at times, especially during our hard moments, but your presence has given us renewed strength to move forward despite the many tasks and challenges we face.” The visit was a grace-filled moment for everyone!

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