Helping the minority church in Laos

The people of Vangkama, Muanghom and Ban Namyan villages (Ban means village) are in need of USD55,000/ to purchase the materials to complete the construction and furnish their three chapels.

May 20, 2016

VIENTIANE, Laos: The people of Vangkama, Muanghom and Ban Namyan villages (Ban means village) are in need of USD55,000/ to purchase the materials to complete the construction and furnish their three chapels.

Mainly from minority ethnic groups — the Khmu and H’mong, they have been displaced and regrouped a number of times in different places. The people live simply from household farming and fishing.

Since 2000, some Daughters of Charity sisters have been working with these communities, visiting and assisting them. The sisters help the villagers go to the hospital in the city, for their treatment. They also conduct some values formation, including on the responsibility of family members, and awareness of the risks of migration and human trafficking, in these ethnic areas. (International non-government organisations working in the region report that children as young as 14 years of age migrating for work risk being trafficked.)

In spite of their difficulties, the communities have grown. In Vangkama, the number of Catholic families has grown from 70 to 147 families with 630 individuals, and in Muanghom, they are 50 families with 230 individuals. Ban Namyan has grown from five to 20 families. Altogether, they are growing in number with more than 250 Catholic families and more are attending catechism. The villagers in Namyan and Vangkama have even started saving small amounts since 2014 to help build their community chapel. With the growing numbers and needs, there is a need for a place to gather and worship and continue their activities. The two communities have only an old dilapidated building that serves as a classroom, meeting room, and church. The village of Ban Namyan has no building at all. They gather at the house of the catechist.

Three years ago, the local Bishop encouraged the people to clear the land to construct a church. They mobilized their communities to provide labour to clear the land. They obtained permits for two of the three chapel projects and even managed to save some money and put up the concrete structure posts in two villages, Ban Vangkama and Ban Samkhon. But now, the structures lie idle. With the bishop’s poor health, he is unable to look into all these matters and the project came to a halt as there is only one priest officially in the entire vicariate of Vientiane.

The bishops of Laos have called for a programme for disadvantaged college students and school drop-outs who migrate to the city, to provide them with English, computer skills, together with values and ethics for life direction, and some livelihood skills.

Likewise, there is a need to upgrade the Catechists to play a more effective role in their village communities, be it in faith formation or practical matters like health and hygiene practices.

The sisters, Fondacio and alumni, local priests are all collaborating in the call of the Church.

There are approximately 45,000 Catholics, many of whom are ethnic Vietnamese, concentrated in major urban centres and surrounding areas along the Mekong River in the central and southern regions of the country. The Catholic Church has an established presence in five of the most populous central and southern provinces, and Catholics are able to worship openly. The Catholic Church's activities are more circumscribed in the north. Laos’ communist government permits the practice of Christianity, but sees it as a threat because of the religion’s traditional opposition to communism. As a result, authorities have harassed, arrested and evicted Christians — especially evangelical Christians — from their homes.

The Prime Minister’s Decree on Religious Practice, known as Decree 92, which was issued in 2002, is the main legal document that defines rules for religious practice and institutionalizes the government’s role as the final decision maker regarding permissible religious activities.

Archbishop Julian Leow is aware of the needs of the people in Laos and has expressed his support by endorsing this request to benefactors.

Contributions can be made to: Fondacio Asia Maybank Account: 5140-1206-5151.

All cheques are to be issued under “Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Fondacio Asia”. Official receipts can be issued.

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