Vatican, 24 May 2017 -- Only six months after the beatification of the first Laotian Martyrs (December 2016) Pope Francis has named Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Pakse, as the first ever cardinal in Laos, a country where Catholics make up only a tiny minority.
Three of five new cardinals are heading from countries with a very small Catholic community like Mali, Sweden and Laos - from the Catholic Church "peripheries." The consistory is scheduled for June 28, the vigil of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
Christians make up less than 1 percent of Lao's 7 million people of whom about 45,000 are Catholics.
Bishop Ling, 73, is an ethnic Khamu, a hill tribe from northern Laos and southern China. In 2000, Pope John Paul made him apostolic Vicar of Pakse in southern Laos.Cardinal-elect Ling was born April 5, 1944, in Baan Samkorn in Xieng Khoang province, northern Laos and ordained a priest in 1972.
Before his appointment as bishop he was based in Pakxan, where he was formerly vicar delegate of the Vientiane Apostolic Vicariate.
Catholics in Laos share that Bishop Ling is both diligent and kind to the local community, committed to ecology issues, opposing the rapid deforestation as the main threat to the village life of many ethnic minority people.
The new cardinal is also something of pioneer in the formation of priests.
"The positive thing is that we have married catechists who are true missionaries, who go to live in the villages and become the roots of evangelization. They go, live, they begin to build bonds...
We offer this experience to the seminarians. Seminary students must study three years, then they must stop for at least a year, up to three years, to mature in their decision, but also for pastoral experience as catechists, carrying medicines, aid, prayers for the people of the mountain. They integrate with the villagers, live as the villagers do in everything.
We now have eight major seminarians. They are very dedicated to the people, to the families. Through this sharing we make our most important contribution, that is the faith..."
Pakse Vicariate covers Champasak, Saravan, Xeguang and Attapu province and has a population of 1.3 million, among them only 15,120 are Catholics who live mostly in Champasak and Saravan provinces. Catholics in Pakse are served by six diocesan priests, a religious priest, nine male religious and 16 religious sisters.
Pakse is the second most populous city in Laos, after the capital Vientiane, and is situated in the south, very close to Cambodia and to southern Vietnam.Pakse is one of four vicariates in Laos. The others are Thakhek-Savannakhet in central Laos, Vientiane and Luang Prabang in the north.
Together with the small Salesian Family of Laos (one SDB and two FMA communities joined by the Past Pupils) we congratulate and pray for the first cardinal.