Laotian Catholics participating in a traditional ceremony.
A priest says the local government prevents Catholics from attending Sunday Mass by forcing them to do community service or learn government policies. - CNS file photo
Christians across the border in Vietnam, said a Vietnamese priest working in Laos.
“We are deeply concerned about the future of the Luang Prabang Apostolic Vicariate where religious activities are limited, local Catholics are closely watched and vocations are few,” Fr Raphael Tran Xuan Nhan told the Asian Church news agency UCA News on June 9.
Fr Nhan, 57, from Vinh diocese in central Vietnam, has worked in Laos for years and established Legion of Mary groups in the communist-led country. He said that since 1975, when the communist Pathet Lao rose to power after the Laotian civil war, the apostolic vicariate has produced just one native priest and no nuns.
The priest said Luang Prabang provincial authorities try to limit local travel of Catholics, who are required to inform village authorities when they want to leave their communities.
The situation is worse for ethnic Hmong Christians, who demanded religious freedom in an early May demonstration in Vietnam’s Dien Bien province, which borders Luang Prabang province.
The local government prevents Catholics from attending Mass on Sundays by forcing them to do community service or learn government policies, Father Nhan said.
Four militiamen with guns stand outside Buon Saya chapel watching Catholics who attend services, he said, adding that occasionally they also sit in the chapel during a service.
Msgr Tito Banchong Thopahong, apostolic vicariate administrator, and Fr Pierre Buntha Silaphet, who was ordained a priest in January, celebrate weekly Mass attended by three nuns and 20 Catholics at the chapel.
A Vietnamese Dominican priest who has worked in Luang Prabang for six years and asked not to be identified told UCA News that the local government plans to move the chapel because it is near an army station.
The priest said he and two other Dominicans were forced to relocate to Vientiane, the Laotian capital, because government authorities do not want them to teach English free of charge in local communities. They are also suspected of being spies, he said. n CNS