Mission: Laos

It's amazing to me how sometimes the Pope's monthly intentions concern something that is going on in the news of the day. This is remarkable given the fact that the Pope chooses his monthly intentions at least a year in advance. Right now he is praying over and choosing intentions for 2011 and the list will be given to the Director General of the Apostleship of Prayer on December 31 of this year. But then again, in light of Providence, it isn't so remarkable that his monthly prayer intentions concern situations in the world that are in great need of prayer.

I ran across a story today about the persecution of Christians in Laos, one of the countries that Pope Benedict has asked us to pray for this month in his Mission Intention: "That by trusting the Holy Spirit, Christians in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar may, amid great difficulties, courageously proclaim the Gospel to their brothers and sisters."

Our prayer for Christians in Laos this month takes on greater urgency because of the following news story from a Catholic News Agency for Asia (http://www.asianews.it/):

Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) –Christians in Laos are being subjected to constant persecution, with arrests and threats against the faithful, who are sometimes even banished from their home village.

The group Human Rights Watch for Laos Religious Freedom (Hrwlrf) reports that on 3 September in the village Lainsai, in the south, the police arrested Thao Oun, pastor of the local Christian church in Boukham, accusing him of trying to destroy the nation and the government through adherence to the Christian faith. He was interrogated and threatened for hours, with the pressing demand to report on other believers. On September 5, Thao Aom, a Christian convert of only 10 months, was arrested. He refused to recant and authorities have banned him from returning to his village. The next day, Sunday, September 6th, the police surrounded the local church in Boukham and prevented the faithful from entering to pray.

Local authorities forbid Christians to send their children to school and deny them water, medical care and protection of the law, trying to make them outcasts. In this climate, frequent attacks by ordinary citizens, are also being reported, who know they can use violence against Christians without fear of consequences. The communist authorities accuse the Lao Protestant Christians of adhering to religions “imported from the U.S." which is regarded as a "threat" to the political system.

In the late '90s in the country there was widespread persecution and torture against Christians, to the point that Laos was placed "under observation" in the Annual U.S. Report on Religious Freedom, a step that indicates harsh criticism of the government. Following this Vientiane had shown greater religious tolerance, to avoid losing international financial support, which is essential for this poor country. But Hrwlrf warns that recently Vientiane has established closer relations with neighbouring totalitarian states like China, and the authorities have resumed their persecution of Christians. According to the U.S. Annual Report on Religious Freedom in July 2008 alone more than 500 Christians suffered threats and violence to make them recant, including prison, expulsion from their home villages, seizure of livestock (very important for the family economy), denial of the school to children, denial of identity documents.