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Laos gets its first ever cardinal

BANGKOK (UCAN): The repressed Church in Laos is to have its first ever cardinal. Speaking at the Vatican on May 21, Pope Francis announced that Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, the apostolic vicar of Pakse, would be elevated to the rank of cardinal at a consistory scheduled for June 28.
The tiny, minority Church is regarded as the most repressed in the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations, with the possible exception of Brunei, probably because most Catholics are of Vietnamese heritage or from hill-tribes—not Lao Llum—the lowland Lao who rule the country.
Christians make up only about one per cent the country’s six million population. Around 45,000 are Catholic.
Seventy-three-year-old Bishop Ling is an ethnic Khamu, a hill tribe in northern Laos and southern China. In 2000, Pope John Paul II made him an apostolic vicar.
“I never dreamed that this appointment was possible,” Bishop Ling said when he received the appointment 17 years ago.
He had formerly been the vicar delegate of the Vientiane apostolic vicariate.
Bishop Ling is described as being both diligent and kind to the local community. He has taken a keen interest in environmental issues, opposing the rapid deforestation by well-connected companies that has pushed villagers from their land and created a spiral of social problems.
“Now we are starting to destroy ourselves,” Bishop Ling said. “It is not from climate change itself, but coming from human beings and humans doing something very wrong to destroy the earth.”
The cardinal-designate is seen as something of a pioneer in the formation of priests, but he says the most positive thing the Church has going for it are the married catechists, whom he described as true missionaries, as they live and build bonds in the remotest places.
“We offer this experience to the seminarians. Seminary students must study for three years, then they must stop for at least a year, up to three years, to mature in their decision, but also for pastoral experience as catechists, carrying medicine, aid, praying for the people of the mountain. They integrate with the villagers, live as the villagers do in everything.”
Pakse is the second most populous city in Laos, with a population of about seven million and is situated in the south of the country close to Cambodia and to southern Vietnam.
Bishop Ling was born on 5 April 1944, in Baan Samkorn in Xieng Khoang province, in  northern Laos and ordained a priest in 1972.
When the Catholic Khamu were looking at persecution in 1975, they disbanded their communities and stopped public services. But the anti-religious policies were not as harsh as anticipated.
Since 1983, when the government initiated a policy of cautious toleration, the Khamu re-opened some churches.
While many full-time Church workers among Catholic Lao lowlanders fled overseas, enough remained to sustain the Church in the decade following the Communist takeover.
When the Communists won in Laos, a substantial number of Hmong left Laos as refugees.

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