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The martyrs of Laos

VATICAN (UCAN): “In faith they committed themselves as priests and catechists to serving their brothers and sisters. Through faith, they shared in the sufferings of Christ,” Orlando Cardinal Quevedo said of the 17 people who died in Laos at the hands of Communist guerillas during the revolution of 1953.

Speaking at their beatification ceremony in Vientiane on 11 December 2016, Cardinal Quevedo encouraged all present to honour their bravery and courage by living their own faith with courage and loving the Lord with the passion that the 17 martyrs did.

The names of a diocesan priest, along with six priests from the Paris Foreign Mission Society and five from the Oblates, who were killed along with a group of five lay people, including a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old catechist, will forever be inscribed in the annals of the Church.

In 1953, Communist guerillas, together with freedom fighters from Vietnam invaded what was then known as the French Protectorate of Laos.

At Easter of the same year, the guerrillas stormed the town of Sam Neua, resulting in the death of civilians and the beginning of the persecution of Christians.

A young Father Joseph Thao Tien chose not to flee the coming carnage, but to stay with his people. “I am ready to lay down my life for my Laotian brothers and sisters,” he was quoted as saying.

Father Thao was marched to a prison camp amid a wailing throng of people praying on the roadside. “Do not be sad, I’ll come back,” he assured them, but on 2 June 1954, he was shot for refusing to marry.

In a remote valley in central Vietnam, Father John Baptist Malo, from the Paris Mission, was detained with four companions. He died of exhaustion in 1954 en route to a prison camp.

The 17 died between 1954 and 1970 during what historians describe as a period of anti-religious sentiment under the Pathet Lao.

Cardinal Quevedo described the martyrs as giving up their lives for the sake of Jesus and dying in the service of the Lord and their brothers and sisters.

“We have to tell and retell their individual stories of heroism to every generation,” the archbishop of Cotabato in The Philippines said.

He explained that Father Thao and the catechists were young, but their individual stories are most inspiring and edifying. Young Kmhmu, Luc Sy, a father of three, and his companion, Maisan Pho Inpeng, died in 1970 while tending to sick villagers.

In 1960, a Hmong catechist, Thoj Xyooj, went with Father Mario Borzaga on village visitation. Neither came back.

In April and May 1961, Father Louis Leroy, Father Michael Coquelet and Father Vincent L’Henoret were abducted in the province of Xieng Khouang and killed.

Father Lucien Galan, who began his missionary commitment in China, was visiting an isolated area on the Boloven plateau in 1968 with a student, 16-year-old Khampheuane. They were killed on their way back to the town centre.

“All of them were praiseworthy missionaries, ready for any kind of sacrifice. They lived in utter poverty and their dedication knew no limit,” one of the missionaries’ companions wrote.

“In those troubled times all of us, to some degree, aspired to martyrdom, wishing to surrender our lives totally to Christ,” he added.

Cardinal Quevedo said that even though the Church in Laos is tiny, people should remember that, if the blood of martyrs is the seed of the faith, then we shall surely see the fruit of their spilled blood.

Laos has a Catholic population of around 60,000, about one per cent of the estimated six million population. They live under a highly restrictive regime, with limited freedom and strict limits of assembly.

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