Over 1,000 attend first Oblate ordination in 30 years

On 18 June, in Vientiane, Fr Somphone Vilavongsy became the first Oblate priest to be ordained in the country since 1975. The ceremony was attended by the Apostolic Vicar, the civil authorities and around 1,000 believers.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) – Fr Somphone Vilavongsy, 32 years, has become a priest in a "truly beautiful ceremony" attended by around 1,500 people, in what was the first ordination of an Oblate missionary in Laos in 30 years. Eye witnesses told AsiaNews about the historic event, which took place on 18 June in the Pro-Cathedral of Vientiane. Many believers took part in the ceremony, which was presided over by the Apostolic Vicar Jean Khamsé Vithavong, and concelebrated by three Ordinary Bishops of Laos (the Apostolic Vicars of Pakse, Thakek and Luang Prabang), by the provincial of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and by some other priests. The civil authorities were also present.

The sources said: "People could follow the Mass on screens in tents set up in the areas near the church."

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." Fr Somphone's ordination to the priesthood should be followed by another four, announced for the year 2006-2007.

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.