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1/25/11 Laos (AsiaNews) – The first ordination in forty years in northern Laos will be celebrated on January 29, 2011. It was to have been held December 12, 2010 but was delayed by almost two months. The new priest, Pierre (Peter) Buntha Silaphet, is thirty years-old, was born in Phnom Van (Sayaboury – Northern Laos) and belongs to the K’Hmù ethnic group. A coincidence that the Catholic community in Laos judges providential, Pierre’s Lao name is “Buntha,” as that of the last ethnic K’Hmù priest, ordained in Luang Prabang February 22, 1970: 41 years ago, by Msgr. Alessandro Staccioli, vicar apostolic from February 1968 to 1975. In that year the government decided to expel all foreign missionaries, who were refused the right of return. Since then Fr. Tito Banchong, after the expulsion of foreign priests, has remained alone in the Vicariate, and understandably was overjoyed to give the announcement of this new ordination. The small Catholic community will celebrates with Pierre Buntha when he returns to his native village of Phnom Van (Sayabouri), after his ordination, which will take place in Takhek, 800 km further south The ordaining bishop is Mgr. Marie-Louis Ling, Apostolic Vicar of Pakse, an ethnic K’hmù like Buntha. …

Unofficially, it has been made clear to those involved that the ordination ceremony must not attract too much attention, and instead take the form of a village holiday. Since 1975, the Vicariate of Luang Prabang has been without a cathedral, but only small chapels around the country. The government is closely monitoring the activity of church life and Christian minorities. The Catholic Church is present across the four apostolic vicariates: Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet and Vientiane. There are 39,725 Catholics, representing 0.65% of the Lao population.

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