Filipino Cardinal Quevedo led the Mass in Sacred Heart Cathedral. Government officials took part in the event sitting in the front row. The authorities allowed the celebration provided it do not occur outside the church. Full of joy, the faithful celebrated with songs and dances the martyrs killed by the Communist Pathet Lao between 1954 and 1970.
Vientiane (AsiaNews) – More than a thousand worshippers took part yesterday morning in the beatification Mass for 17 Laos martyrs in Vientiane’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Originally set for 10 am, the celebration was brought forward by one hour for security reasons.
Card Orlando Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato (Philippines), led the Mass. Those present included government officials wearing traditional garb, seated in the front rows, as well as two cardinals, several bishops and many priests.
Considering that local Catholics represent only 1 per cent of the population (of almost 7 million), the turnout was high with many people following the liturgy from a giant screen set up outside the church. The celebration ended at 12 (local time).
Pope Francis’s remarks in yesterday’s Angelus inspired Card Quevedo who said that the 17 martyrs are heroes of the faith and that their story should be made known to younger generation. The cardinal also called on all Christians to celebrate the liturgical feast of the martyrs on 16 December.
The 17 witnesses of the faith died between 1954 and 1970 at the hands Communist Pathet Lao forces. Six were Laotians, ten were missionaries of the Missions étrangères de Paris and one belonged to the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate (OMI).
The group of 17 included Fr Mario Borzaga Omi and catechist Paul Thoj. Communist guerrillas killed the two in 1960 as they made their way to Hmong villages. Both were very young, 28 and 19 respectively.
Some of the martyrs’ relatives and residents from the area where the missionaries worked (before they were expelled by the government in 1975) were present at the Mass. "Some people greeted Fr Angelo Pelis,” said Fr Pasquale Castrilli, an OMI priest and a writer. He “was one of the missionaries who were expelled. He was moved."
Towards the end of the service, which finished around noon, “there were the two significant interventions,” Fr Castrilli said, “one by a Laotian government official and the other by the Apostolic Nuncio to Bangkok, Mgr Paul Tschang In-Nam, who called on the government to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See.”
The Mass was followed by a festive community lunch accompanied by traditional songs and dances. The authorities allowed the event provided it was held on cathedral grounds. Anything outside was banned.
Today Card Quevedo said goodbye to Laotian authorities before leaving for the Philippines, thanking them for authorising the celebration.
Masses in honour of the martyrs of Laos were celebrated in different parts of the world. Yesterday in Trento (Italy), Fr Borzaga’s home town, the bishop presided over the Eucharist in honour of the martyr in the parish of St Anthony.
In Paris, Lyon and Belleville (Illinois), Hmong celebrated the Italian missionary and his catechist.