Br. John Wong, Definitor General of the Conferences of Asia and Oceania, is visiting the fraternities of South-East Asia.
We receive and publish his story from Laos.
Lao People's Democratic Republic is a socialist state that embraces communist values.
This land has the oldest recorded human settlement in South East Asia, and it has been inhabited since at least 46000 BC. It was once part of an ancient Hindu Empire.
Today, it has a firmly established Buddhist local culture, with a majority Buddhist population.
The Catholic Church in Laos originally was part of Apostolic Vicariate of Eastern Siam. Today there are 4 Apostolic Vicariates in Laos, with a total of around 60,000 Catholics in the entire country. Since 1979 it’s officially recognised by the Lao Front for National Development, and the relationship between the Church and the government has been gradually improving.
The Order of Friars Minor have been present in the southernmost Apostolic Vicariate of Pakse since 2012. There are around 22,000 Catholics spread over 57 parishes across 60,000 square kilometers. There are 8 diocesan priests, with 2 candidates for ordination, and the Franciscans are among the very few male religious in the Vicariate.
The Franciscan fraternity in Laos currently comprises 4 missionary friars from the Province of St Francis in Vietnam, 2 of whom are ordained priests, with 1 deacon and 1 lay brother.
The main community house is outside of city of Pakse, in a mostly Catholic village that was originally founded by a French missionary priest as a leper colony, around 40km from the border with Thailand. The work of the friars is very much one of restoring and building the local Church, including construction of physical church structures, building up the people of God, developing the future of Church on Laos. The friars directly care for 5 mission villages and are responsible for the pastoral support of 4 missions in indigenous villages around 180km away towards the border with Vietnam. They also provide pastoral assistance for 10 other parishes.
Over the past 10 years, the friars have completed the construction of 5 concrete and brick churches and an additional 4 wooden chapels, as well as the main Retreat and Training Centre, all for the Vicariate. They are currently constructing another 2 new churches and 1 wooden chapel. In addition, they have completed a number of electricity and clean water projects for poor rural communities and are assisting the local Bishop to develop a plantation property for the Apostolic Vicariate.
The friars presently run 2 student hostels to provide education and mentorship for 15 boys from poor villages, as well as around 50 scholarships of students in need from primary school level to university. They also assist at the local diocesan seminary and in 2 migrant ministries. The friars in Pakse enjoy an excellent relationship with clergy and religious in local church, and Bishop Andrew Souksavath has expressed the high regard that he and the local people have towards this small community of friars, for their poor and simple lifestyle, and for their humble and hardworking nature at the service of the people of God.
My visit from 11-14 February 2023, together with the Secretary for Missions and Provincial Definitor of the Vietnam Province, Br. Gioan B. (John Baptist) Đậu Quang Luật, was the first visit of a member of the General Curia to the Franciscan presence in Laos since its inception.
Br. John Wong, General Definitor (Asia-Oceania)