06/25/2007, 00.00
VIETNAM – LAOS
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In Vientiane social action on behalf of women and children leads to the faith

by JB. VU
With a similar path of economic development Vietnam, where Catholics number some six million, and Laos, where they are about 50,000, are brought closer together by the growth of the faith.

Hi Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – With a similar path of economic development Vietnam and Laos are brought closer by together the growth of the faith. Known for their simplicity and gentleness, Laotians are now welcoming the peace and charity of the Catholic faith which is coming with the pastoral and social work of missionaries.

Laos became a Communist state on December 28h, 1975, when the Pathet Lao, which had won the civil war, forced the king to abdicate and proclaimed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, closely modeled on other Communist states.

More than 30 years later the country’s population has reached almost six million people and is growing fast at a rate of 2.45 per cent a year. With more than 45 per cent of the population under 17, Laotians will top the 10 million mark by 2025 if the current trend continues.

More than a hundred indigenous ethnic groups and subgroups call Laos home, many spilling across its borders into neighbouring countries. Small communities of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indians also live in Laos, mostly in urban areas.

Buddhism is the main religion. And it is around religion that most people organise their daily life. Once, Buddhist temples were also centres of cultural and intellectual life.

Catholics only number around 50,000 and in Vientiane there are two churches.

Since 1975 religious life has been heavily restricted. Foreign missionaries were expelled and no foreign institute or congregation can come and work in the country with foreign members.

There are however some training houses run by Sisters from the Vietnamese-based Lovers of the Holy Cross and by the French-based Sisters of Charity of Ste-Jeanne Antide, but all of them are Laotian.

There is a major seminary approved but also controlled by the government with Laotian teaching staff in Paksé.

A clergyman visits Laos as a tourist once a year for eight days and leads a highly intense theology course.

“Most Laotians are Buddhists,” said a Vietnamese catholic woman who is a social worker for an NGO employed on a development project. Speaking to AsiaNews she noted that “in Vietnam Buddhism has somewhat blended with Confucianism and Taoism. Christianity is an important minority religion though, with approximately 6 million Catholics and 260,000 Protestants.”

“Because of persisting poverty in Vietnam  and Laos and growing wealth in neighbouring countries, the drug trade and trafficking in women and children from Laos and Vietnam to the sex industry in Cambodia and Thailand have become widespread,” she added.

“Through social activities in favour teenagers, young people and women we try to lessen some of the social ills that affect their lives. Most now attend school and eventually get to university. After graduation they have jobs. This is the good side of our social action.”

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