Apostolic Vicariates of Luang Prabang
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The diocesan area of 83,700 square kilometers covers Bokeo, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Phongsaly and Sainyabuli provinces.

Population

The total population in the vicariate's territory is around 1.2 million. (The country as a whole has about 7 million people.) Ethnic Lao, Khamu and Tai are major groups.

Language

Lao, Khamu, and many tribal languages and dialects are spoken.

History

Of the four Apostolic Vicariates in Laos, Luang Prabang is institutionally the weakest. The present Apostolic Administrator, Monsignor Tito Banchong Thopayong, was the only priest in the whole vicariate at the time of his appointment in April 1999. The only Catholic church in Luang Prabang was confiscated by the government following the 1975 revolution and has not been returned.

From the middle of the 13th century, the Lao tribes who had migrated from Southern China accepted Buddhism of the Theravada School as their religion. In popular Buddhism the traditional belief in guardian spirits (phi) and the wide-spread rites of of ancestor veneration mingled with Buddhist beliefs. During the 18th and 19th centuris, the Kingdom of Laos was attacked repeatedly and dominated by its neighbour Vietnam, but even more by its western neighbouring country, Siam. In 1893 the French entered Laos and made it a French protectorate and de facto colony . The Laotian kings lost more of their political power, but managed to retain many other privileges.

From 1630 onwards, Catholic missionaries made several attempts to enter Laotian territory and preach the Gospel. Most missionary endeavours, however, remained episodic, because they did not result in the establishment of a local Church. The first missionaries were Jesuits who reached Laos from Tongking (Vitenam).

The evangelization efforts of the missionaries of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP), who came to Laos in 1878, were more successful. They succeeded in building up an indigenous Church in Laos. Dec. 8, 1885, the date on which they founded their first mission station, is traditionally accepted as the date of the birth of the Catholic Church in Laos. That mission station was established on Ban Dorn Don, an island in the Mekong river. The Apostolic Vicariate of Laos was founded soon after, in 1899.

Oblate Fathers (OMI) arrived in 1935 and concentrated their missionary work mostly in mountainous tribal areas in the north of the country.

The Apostolic Prefecture of Thakhek was established as a separate ecclesiastical unit In 1950, and raised to an Apostolic Vicariate in 1958, by which time the number of Catholics in Laos had reached 23,764. Nonetheless, the first indigernous Laotian was ordained to the priesthood only in 1963.

A decade later, in 1974, the first Laotian bishop was ordained. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in Laos had been restructured into four Apostolic Vicariates: Vientiane (1952), Luang Prabang (1963), Savannakhet (1963) and Pakse (1967).

The Laotian Constitution ratified in 1991 states that all Laotian citizens enjoy religious freedom. The Communist party and the Laotian government interpret this provision as applying in the first place to the traditional religions in Laos, that is Buddhism and tribal religions, and only to a lesser degree for religions such as Christianity, locally called the Religion of Jesus and considered to be a foreign import.

Government permission is needed for the building of new churches, for the enrollment of students in major seminaries, for establishing international Church relationships, for receiving donations from abroad, for printing religious or liturgical books, and for many other activities as well.

At the same time, the decree on religious affairs defines the goals that all religions recognised by the Laotian government are to achieve, namely , to ensure that "all religious activities have at their highest goal to advance and to serve the development of the country" (art. 2).

All religious activities have to be conducted strictly and exclusively within religious buildings, such as temples, churches and mosques. Foreign missioners are barred from coming to the country or working as pastoral agents. Even Laotian priests and Religious are not allowed to engage in preaching or pastoral activities in provinces and places where there is no established Christian community.

Only in 1996 was the Catholic Church allowed to open a major seminary, in Thakek, where candidates from the minor seminaries of Paksan and Vientiane could continue their formation.

Looking ahead, the most urgent problem the Catholic Church in Laos will face is the shortage of personnel. The three congregations of Religious sisters working in Laos, which altogether have just 100 sisters, have joined the Conference of Religious Superiors of Thailand. Since the Catholic Church in Laos is not allowed to run schools, hospitals or social institutions, most Religious sisters work in parishes or in government hospitals and leprosaria.

In 1973, the Laotian Buddhist Patriarch of Luang Prabang paid a visit to Pope Paul VI in Rome. However, during the following 23 years, interreligious dialogue and encounters became practically impossible. Only at the end of the 1990s were further attempts made to have dialogue meetings between Christians and Buddhists.

Buddhist monks joined in celebrating the ordination of Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun as Apostolic Vicar of Pakse on April 22, 2001. They recited sutras and sprinkled the Catholics attending the ordination with water as a sign of their respect and religious affinity with the new bishop. In the field of Christian ecumenism, no organised forms of encounter or collaboration between the Catholic Church and other Churches or denominations have yet been organized.

Transportation

The Mekong river that runs along the western side of the territory is an important means of transportation. Roads are mostly in poor condition, with the mountainous terrain slowing travel further. The main road connects Luang Prabang town with Vientiane, the national capital. Luang Prabang town has an airport. Direct flights link with the main towns of Laos and also Bangkok and Hanoi.

Climate

Tropical monsoon with three distinct seasons -- hot (March-May), rainy (June-October) and cool (November-February).

Economy

Subsistence agriculture and timber. Tourism in Laos is concentrated in this part of the country. The tourism industry, centered in Luang Prabang town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is increasingly important in the local economy.

Telecommunication

All newspapers are published by the government including an English-language and a French-language paper.

Topography

Mountainous with deep river valleys.

Five Christian leaders falsely accused of murder

Five Christian leaders falsely accused of murder The NGO HRWLRF reported that the arrest is aimed at "decapitating" the Christian communities of the province in order to prevent the spread of the Christian faith.