Church in Laos and Cambodia Focuses on Formation and Vocations

Conclusion of Annual Meeting of Episcopal Conference

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SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia, NOV. 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The annual meeting of the episcopal conference of Laos and Cambodia (CELAC) focused on new forms of cooperation between the bishops of the two countries and the formation of priests and religious.



The meeting, held Nov. 10-14 in Sihanoukville (formerly Kompong Saom), 285 kilometers (175 miles) south of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, studied "joint projects that must be carried out in the vocational sector," said CELAC president, Bishop Jean Khamsé Vithavong, apostolic vicar of Vientiane, Vatican Radio reported.

Among its priorities, CELAC analyzed "the building of new communities, catechesis and seminaries," the apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, Bishop Emile Destombes, told the Vatican agency Fides.

Although the bishops of both countries form one conference, "today the local situations require different pastoral approaches," he said.

The Churches in Cambodia and Laos "live in diverse social political contexts," but "they share challenges and hopes for missionary activity," Bishop Destombes explained. "To spread the light of the Gospel is a difficult challenge for a country such as Laos and it calls for specific strategies and options also in Cambodia."

Participants at the meeting, including a number of priests, discussed ways to increase collaboration in providing formation for catechists, religious and seminarians, and in the use of the media. The bishops agreed to unite and increase efforts to build or restore churches in remote areas.

After suffering years of persecution, the bishops' conference, established in 1963, was able to resume its regular annual meetings in 1995. In February 1999 the bishops of Laos and Cambodia made their first "ad limina" visit to Rome.

On that occasion John Paul II congratulated them and their faithful for their "heroic loyalty" to the faith during a period when both nations "were subject to terrible suffering and countless numbers were the innocent victims of blind violence and negation of the dignity of the human person."

Cambodia's population of 12 million includes about 20,000 Catholics, gathered in the Apostolic Prefectures of Battambang and Kompong Cham, and the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh.

Laos' population of 6 million includes about 35,000 Catholics, gathered in four apostolic vicariates: Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet and Vientiane. Buddhism is the most widespread religion in both countries.