Lao Catholic Community Celebrates ‘Ancestors of the Faith’

Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows

By Peter Tran, Originally Published by The National Catholic Reporter 

Celebrants paraded photos of the 17 martyr photos before the beginning of Mass celebration. (Peter Tran)

Belleville, IL:  Some 350 Hmong, Kmhmu, Lao and Karen Catholics gathered here to relive and celebrate the lives of the 17 martyrs of their native country Laos with gratitude and in thanksgiving for their exemplary lives of faith.

Retired Archbishop Roger Schwietz of Anchorage, Cardinal-elect Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse and administrator of Vientiane, and Msgr. Tito Banchong Thopanhong, administrator of Luang Prabang, also attended the June 17-18 thanksgiving celebration of the 17 martyrs of Laos at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, in Belleville, Illinois. A number of living witnesses — friends and family members of the martyrs — also attended.The 17 martyrs, also known as “Joseph Thao Tien and his 16 companions,” were beatified on Dec. 11, 2016, in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Vientiane, Laos’ capital, by Filipino Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato. On the same day, Pope Francis, addressing the crowds at the Angelus at St. Peter’s Square, said, the “heroic fidelity to Christ” of the 17 martyrs in Laos is “an encouragement and an example for missionaries, and especially for catechists, who in missionary lands carry out a valuable and irreplaceable apostolic work, for which the whole church is thankful.”At the celebration at the Our Lady of the Snows Shrine, Oblate Fr. Roland Jaques said it took him 14 years and more than 1,000 pages of documents to bring these French and Italian missionaries, Lao and Kmhmu catechists, and lay leaders to become blessed in the Roman Catholic Church. Jacques, the postulator for the cause for beatification of the martyrs of Laos to Rome, said he went all across Laos to collect testimony of the living witnesses. He also searched through archives in France to research these almost-forgotten people.Ling, who knew many of these martyrs, said these 17 men were the “ancestors of our faith.” Ones cannot be martyrs without first being the people of the faith, he said. The celebration is about gratitude for the faith of the ancestors.

Recalling the work of collecting the living testimony of the martyrs, Jacques summarized that the story of the life and death of the 17 men took place during the turmoil of world history which, after World War II, saw nations of East and Southeast Asia fall into the hands of communism. These men heroically remained faithful to their pastoral assignments, faithful to the end to Jesus Christ, to church directives and to the ordinary people of God entrusted to their care. Between 1954 and 1970, they were killed “out of hatred for the faith.”

After completing his research, he submitted the documents to the Vatican. In return, he received 230 pages of questions to verify the martyrdom.

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