06/14/2006, 00.00
LAOS

First Oblate to be ordained in Laos in 30 years

The ceremony should have taken place back in December but at the last minute the authorities cancelled it without giving any explanation. For the Oblates, this means the renewal of old ties.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) – The first Oblate ordination in Laos in 30 years will take place on 18 June. A Laotian man and missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Fr Somphoone Vilavongsy, 32 years, will become a priest.

The ordination should have taken place on 8 December but, as local sources of AsiaNews said, "at the last minute and without any explanation, the local authorities denied permission, postponing the historic ceremony indefinitely." On 18 June, "there will no great feasting, but at last Fr Somphone will be the first Oblate priest after 30 years! Another four ordinations to the priesthood have been announced for the year 2006-2007."

In December, the government authorities had given the go-ahead for the ordination, albeit with limitations: it could not be held publicly in the native village of the ordinand and no excessive participation was allowed. People even came from Australia – where Somphone studied, became a deacon and took his perpetual vows – for the ordination that never was.

Since 1975, it is impossible for international, religious institutions to enter and function with foreign members. There are houses of formation for the Lovers of the Cross Sisters (Vietnamese) and the Sisters of Charity of St Jean Antide (French): all are young Laotians. There is a major seminary in Paksé, approved but strictly controlled, with Laotian educators and lecturers. One religious goes to Laos once a year as a tourist and holds a very intense eight-day course in theology.

The Oblates have special ties with Laos. More than 100 of them, especially French and Italians, were missionaries there between 1935 and 1975, the year when the Communists of Pathet Lao came to power. A small but lively community developed and some villages were almost entirely Catholic. During the war, seven Oblates were killed and all the rest were expelled after the Communist victory.

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