Catholic martyrs of various nationalities have been beatified in Laos, in the first such gesture toward communist regime victims in south-east Asia.
“The Catholic Church in Laos is very small, humble, almost hidden;
its story is not well-known,” Oblate Father Roland Jacques, vice
postulator of the martyrs’ cause, said in a commentary for the
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, to which six martyrs belonged.
“Planted with the sweat and blood of three generations of
missionaries, it can rely today only on its own forces, supported by a
handful of priests from Vietnam or Thailand. That goes to show how much
this event was unique, unheard of for this small country and very young
The French priest was describing the beatification Mass in
Vientiane’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, attended on the Pope’s behalf by
Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo as well as 15 bishops and 150
priests, mostly from neighbouring countries, and 6,000 laypeople.
A website statement by the French-based order said all 17 martyrs had
died at communist hands from 1954 to 1970 before Laos came under full
control of the Maoist Pathet Lao regime in 1975.
Fr Joseph Thao Tien of Houaphanh province, who became one of Laos’
first native-born priests at his 1949 ordination, was taken prisoner
when Pathet Lao guerrillas stormed the town of Sam Neua at Easter 1953.
He was sentenced to death and shot outside a prison camp in 1954 after refusing to renounce his priesthood and vows of celibacy.
Fr Jean-Baptiste Malo, a French member of the Paris Foreign Mission
Society from La Grigonnais, France, had been imprisoned by communist
partisans in 1951 while working in Guizhou, China.
Expelled from China, he was detained and interrogated with the
apostolic prefect and three religious companions by North Vietnamese
army fighters at Pakse, Laos, and died of hunger and exhaustion during a
700-mile forced march to Vietnam.
Six other French missionaries were also beatified as martyrs.
Italian Oblate Father Mario Borzaga joined the order’s first mission
to Laos in 1958, teaching the catechism and helping the sick in villages
on the Mekong River and later in the apostolic vicariate of Luang
Fr Borzaga, whose seven books of letters and poems were later
published, was believed shot and buried by the Pathet Lao at Kiu Kacham,
Laos, near the Chinese border with an ethnic Hmong lay catechist, Paul
Thoj Xyooj, who was also beatified.
Thoj Xyooj’s nephew, Mgr Tito Banchong Thopanhong, apostolic
administrator of Luang Prabang, was one of several descendants attending
Catholics, estimated at 60,000, make up just 1 percent of the traditionally Buddhist population of Laos.