The history of evangelisation in Laos is quite recent. Priests from the Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris were the first to travel to the small South-East Asian nation to announce the Gospel in the late 19th century. They were followed in the 1930s by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. But all this came to an abrupt end when the country was caught up in a civil war, which ended in the instauration of a Communist dictatorship.
“The guerrillas wanted to eliminate everything that was foreign and Christian,” said Fr Serge Leray, chancellor of the Diocese of Nantes. However, the missionaries chose to “stay in the country”, as the Holy See requested, despite “the terrible threats” they faced. In the end, these servants of the Church “gave their lives, murdered or executed,” Fr Leray said. Some died in concentration camps like Fr Jean-Baptiste Malo, a MEP priest.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Laos responded positively to OMI missionaries who in 2004 asked them to take on the cause of beatification for the 15 martyrs.
The process began at the Diocese of Nantes, Fr Malo’s birthplace. Many French dioceses have contributed to the collection of evidence and material.
Fr Roland Jacques is the postulator in the cause. An Oblate, he is vice-rector of Saint Paul University in Ottawa (Canada).
He has collected so far 748 documents, including many letters, and spoken to 85 witnesses in Nantes and Laos. In his meeting with people from the Asian country, he has been very discreet to protect local Christians who are closely watched by the state.
On 27 February, Mgr Jean-Paul James, bishop of Nantes, closed the preliminary diocesan investigation and sealed the 12 boxes containing more than 5,000 documents, which are now set to go to Rome, to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in the final stage of the official process of beatification.
In addition to the 15 Laos martyrs, there is Fr Mario Borzaga, an OMI missionary, and his catechumen Paul Thoj Xyooj, an ethnic Hmong, whose cause is currently underway in Italy. However, the Bishops’ Conference of Laos has asked that their cause be combined with the other 15 to form a single process that would see all 17 beatified.