Apostolic Vicariates of Pakse
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In a land area of 45,000 square kilometers, the vicariate’s territory covers Attapeu, Champasak, Salavan and Sekong provinces.

Population

In Paksé, the major city in the territory, the population is 70,000 in 2009.
(The population of the whole country was estimated 6,320,000 in the same year).
Most residents of Paksé Vicariate are 50% lowland Lao, 50% hilltribes.

Language

Mainly Lao, various minority dialects are in use.

History

Till the middle of the 13th century the Lao tribes who had migrated from Southern China accepted Buddhism of the Theravada School as their religion. During the following centuries, Buddhist monks (the Sangha) exercised a strong influence on Laotian society. 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 century, the Kingdom of Laos repeatedly was attacked and dominated by its neighbour Vietnam, but even more by its other neighbouring country, Siam. In 1893 the French entered Laos and turned Laos into a French Protectorate and de facto colony of France. 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 the country and to preach the gospel in Laos. Most missionary endeavours, however, remained episodes, because they did not result in the founding of a local Church. The first missionaries were Jesuits who reached Laos from Tongking.

The evangelization efforts of the missionaries of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (M.E.P.), who came to Laos in 1878, were more successful. They succeeded in building up an indigenous Church in Laos. Traditionally, Dec. 8, 1885 is accepted to have been the date of the birth of the Catholic Church in Laos, because on this day the first mission station in the then Kingdom of Laos was founded on the island Ban Dorn Don in the river Mekong.

Since 1935, also Oblate Fathers (OMI) came to Laos and concentrated their missionary work mostly in the tribal areas in the mountains, in the north of the country.

Before, in 1899, the Apostolic Vicariate of Laos was founded, from which in 1950 the Apostolic Prefecture Thakhek was separated which later, in 1958, was raised to an Apostolic Vicariate. At that time, the number of Catholics in Laos had reached 23,764 Catholics. It took a long time, before in 1963 the first indigernous Laotian was ordained to the priesthood.

Thakhek signifies in the Laotian language "landing place of foreigners" and thus keeps the memory alive that the foreign Catholic missioners built there their first mission station, from which further missionary activities were started.

A decade later, in 1974, the first Laotian priest was consecrated as a bishop. Between 1952-1967, an ecclesiastical restructuring took place and the Catholic Church in Laos was divided into four Apostolic Vicariates: Vientiane (1952), Luang Prabang (1963), Savannakhet (1963) and Pakse (1967).

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

Government permission is needed for the building of new churches, for the enrolement of students in major seminaries, for entertaining relationship with foreign churches, for receiving donations from abroad, for printing religious and liturgical books and for many other activities as well.

At the same time, the decree defined the goals which all religions, recognised by the Laotian government, were tyo 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 and are not allowed to work there 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, a major seminary could be opened in Thakek in which the candidates from the minor seminaries of Paksan and Vientiane continued their formation.

In thye future, the most urgent problem of the Catholic Church in Laos will be the shortage of personnel. The three congregations of religious sisters working in Laos, which all together have just 100 sisters, have joined the Conferences of Religious Superiors of Thailand. Since the Catholic Church in Laos is not allowed to run schools, hospitals or social institutions, most religious sisters are working in parishes or in government hospitals and leprosaria.

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

At the consecration of Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun as Apostolic Vicar of Paksé on April 22, 2001, Buddhist monks took part in the celkebration, recited sutras and sprinkled the faithful with water as sign of their respect and religious affinity with the new bishop. In the field of inner-Christian ecumenism no organised forms of encounter or collaboration have yet been developed.

Transportation

Mainly roads. Road system quite good. Also Mekong river. Paksé has an airport, connecting the area with Vientiane and Bangkok, Thailand, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Since the construction of a bridge over the Mekong, allowing road traffic with Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, Pakse has become the commercial centre of southern Laos.

Climate

Tropical Monsoon with a marked rainy season (May-October) and dry season (November-April).

Economy

Mainly agriculture can be found in the vicariate’s territory: subsistance activity rice cultivation,
rubber, coffee, tea. In the area of manufacturing, there are small plywood-processing and
coffee-processing factories.

Topography

The Vicariate is located in the South of Laos. It mainly consists of lowlands and plateaus.
Mekong river runs along western part of the territory.

Culture

The Champasak Cultural Landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes Vat Phou, a Khmer temple at least
1,000 years old, near the Mekong river.