The 17 witnesses of the faith were killed between 1954 and 1970 by Pathet Lao Communist guerrillas. A vigil of prayer and adoration preceded a thanksgiving Mass in Vientiane’s Church of the Sacred Heart. Laos has about 45,000 Catholics or 0.7 per cent of the population.
On Saturday, the faithful gathered in the capital for a thanksgiving Mass one year after the canonisation of the witnesses of faith and the elevation of Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun to the cardinalate, making him the country’s first cardinal.
In preparation for the event, Catholics took part in a prayer vigil and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament the day before.
On the day of the anniversary, Card Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun celebrated the thanksgiving Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart.
The country’s apostolic vicars were present, as were Mgr Olivier Schmitthaeusler, apostolic vicar to Phnom Penh (Cambodia), and Fr Roland Jacques, of the Oblate Missionaries of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate (OMI), and vice-postulator of the cause of the martyrs.
The celebration was followed by the traditional ceremony of Baci su kwan in honour of the country’s new cardinal.
This latter is held on special occasions and involves tying strings around a person’s wrist and has allowed representatives of the local Buddhist and Muslim communities to express their greetings to the cardinal.
Catholics are a small minority in Laos. They number around 45,000 or 0.7 per cent of the country's seven million people.
The situation of the Church in Laos remains delicate since the government exerts tight control over religions and does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
The relations between Church and State are further strained at the local level. "Each region or city defines religious freedom in a different way," Card Mangkhanekhoun said in June.
The 17 martyrs were killed between 1954 and 1970 by the Pathet Lao. Of these, six were Laotian, whilst 10 were missionaries with the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris, MEP) and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI).
The list includes Fr Mario Borzaga OMI and catechist Paul Thoj. The two were killed by Communist guerrillas when they were very young – 28 and 19 respectively – in 1960 as they visited Hmong villages.