VIENTIANE, Laos, APRIL 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The beatification process for 17 martyrs who died in Laos between 1954 and 1970 is moving forward.
The diocesan phase for 15 of the martyrs concluded in France; two others are already in the Roman phase.
The martyrs were religious and lay missionaries: five French women religious and an Italian member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate; five members of the Paris Society for Foreign Missions and five Laotians (a priest and four laymen, including a catechist of the Hmong ethnic group).
Last Feb. 27, Bishop Jean-Paul James of Nantes, France, closed the diocesan phase for the 10 Frenchmen and five Laotians.
Among them is Father Jean-Baptiste Malo, who died from exhaustion and weakness while being led in a forced march to a Marxist “re-education camp” in nearby Vietnam.
“The guerrilla wanted to eliminate everything that was foreign and Christian,” explained the chancellor of the Diocese of Nantes, Father Serge Leray. But the missionaries chose to stay in the country despite the “terrible threats.”
Father Joseph Tien and his companions are the first native Christians of Laos to have a cause of beatification under way.
During a Mass to close the diocesan phase, Bishop James said the process has brought an opportunity to relive the heroic missionary period lived by the missionaries in Southeast Asia.
“This canonical process has enabled many of us to learn more about the history of the Church in Laos and to continue praying for our brothers in the faith who live in that country,” he said.
The priests of the Foreign Missions of Paris arrived in Laos at the end of the 19th century. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate arrived in the 1930s.
The Laos mission was persecuted at the time of the internal struggles for power and with the advent of the Communist dictatorship.
With the coming to power of the Pathet Lao Communists in 1975, the persecution of missionaries and catechists increased even more; that year the new Communist regime expelled all foreign missionaries from Laos.
Since then, no international religious institute with foreign members can carry out their work in the country.
There are houses of formation for the women’s congregation Lovers of the Cross (Vietnamese) and the Sisters of Charity of St. Jean Antida (French), but all the members are Laotian women.
For the whole national territory, there is one major seminary in Pakse, approved but controlled by the government, with Laotian educators.
A religious, as a tourist, goes to Laos once a year for eight days to give an intense course in theology.
In 2007, the number of Catholics in Laos was about 42,000 out of a mainly Buddhist population of 5.4 million.
That same year, the country’s Catholic community celebrated the first priestly ordination in 50 years, of a Laotian, in the Apostolic Vicariate of Pakse.
The investigations to prove the heroic virtues of the 15 martyrs was done with careful discretion, given that at present Christians in Laos live in guarded liberty.
The postulator of the cause, Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Roland Jacques, vice rector of St. Paul’s University of Ottawa, questioned at least 85 witnesses. This information now goes to the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes.
The two causes already in the Roman phase regard Italian Oblate Mario Borzaga, and Laotian catechist Paul Thoj Xyooj.
Borzaga was born in Trent in 1932 and was murdered in a forest in 1960 by a group of Communist guerrillas when he and Xyooj were returning from an apostolic tour.