Bangkok (AsiaNews) – “The energy and the strength of the Church is within the small churches who are persecuted, oppressed, and tortured. They are the energy of the Church, the painful heart and backbone of the Church,” said Mgr Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, citing Pope Francis when he spoke at ad limina visit of the bishops of Laos on 26 January in the Vatican.
The apostolic administrator of Vientiane is one of five cardinals Pope Francis will create in the consistory of 28 June, eve of the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, which the pontiff announced on 21 May, at the end of the Regina Caeli. Mgr Mangkhanekhoun will be the first Laotian cardinal in history.
Mgr Mangkhanekhoun spoke for the first time as cardinal designate with the Thailand’s Udomsan Weekly, in which he describes his vision and experience in the Universal Church.
The Catholic community in Laos consists of about 50,000 people in four apostolic vicariates: Luang Prabang, Paksé, Savannakhet, and Vientiane.
In an interview with AsiaNews in 2015, the prelate, who was then the apostolic vicar of Paksé in the country’s extreme south, defined the Church as a “baby Church” that experiences the first proclamation and is turned towards Tribals and animists. It is a Church that experiences persecution and bears witness to its faith amid adversities.
“Some of the most serious problems are the shortage of personnel and the quality of education,” he told Udomsan Weekly. At present, “there are no diocesan priest in Vientiane and it will take at least ten years to train some.” Thus, “I would like to stress the importance of training priests and lay people. Since we need qualified personnel, my focus is on improving the major seminary.”
The Catholic Church plays a key role in Laos in terms of society’s welfare and development. It is involved in activities like school construction, health facilities in villages as well as support for the disabled, which it undertakes in cooperation with the government to improve living standards of the population.
“Some people think that being a cardinal is an honour,” Mgr Mangkhanekhoun said. “I am an ordinary person. I think this position is one of advisor to the pope to solve problems together.”
“I was born in the mountains. My father died when I was 10 months old. I lived with my mother, and we were poor. I had to walk six kilometres to go to school, an hour walk. My vocation was just like that of any other person.”
“After finishing school in Paksan and Vientiane with a certificate, I visited the bishop, who asked me what I wanted to do. ‘Why not become a priest?’ he told me. That had never crossed my mins. It was too big for me. The bishop then gave me the opportunity to try and sent me to Canada to continue my studies.”
Born on 8 April 1944, Mgr Mangkhanekhoun entered the seminary in Paksan before attending a major seminary in the North American nation.
He was ordained priest by the apostolic vicariate of Vientiane on 5 November 1972, in Sacred Heart of Jesus cathedral, and in 1975, he was appointed pastor and pro-vicar of Vientiane.
On 30 October 2000, he was appointed apostolic vicar of Paksé. This was followed on 22 April 2001 by his consecration as bishop. On 2 February 2017, he was appointed apostolic administrator of Vientiane.
“The motto I chose is ‘[E]verything of mine is yours (Jn 17: 10) because I realise that for the rest of my life I have been instructed to do God’s will.”