Laos Celebrates Its First Two Apostles

Source: FSSPX News

Co-cathédrale Sainte-Anne de Nakhon Phanom

Shortly before Christmas, four Thai dioceses as well as the apostolic vicariate of Savannakhet-Khammouane, Laos, commemorated with great pomp the centenary of the death of Bishop Constant Prodhomme and Fr. Xavier Guégo, the first French missionaries in the region.

The centenary of the Apostles of Laos, prepared many months in advance, took place on December 10, 2020 in the Church of St. Anne in Nakhon Panom, Thailand, with the participation of 2,500 faithful. The beginning of the commemorations was marked by a triduum of Masses celebrated in each diocese.

Unfortunately, Laotian worshipers were unable to participate in the festivities as it was impossible to cross the Mekong River, the natural border between their country and neighboring Thailand, due to the preventative health measures taken to contain the Covid-19 epidemic.

A broadcast of the ceremony was made so that Thai and Laotian Catholics who were unable to attend could follow the event. The December 10 commemoration was an opportunity to recall the history of the first missionaries.

Before the arrival of Constant Prodhomme and Xavier Guégo, a first attempt at evangelization in the Kingdom of the Million Elephants had already taken place in the 17th century, when an Italian Jesuit, Fr. de Leria, stayed in Vientiane from 1642 to 1647. The Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) then sent missionaries from Siam, but it was a total failure.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century with the rise of the missions in Cochinchina or Tonkin that the evangelization of Laos was again considered. Thus, in 1881, two MEP religious, Constant Prodhomme (1849-1920) and François Guégo (1855-1918) were sent from Bangkok to establish missions in the north-east of present-day Thailand, Isan, where the population belongs to the Lao ethnic group.

The apostolate of the two priests was fruitful: in 1900, the Lao mission numbered 9,000 Christians.

Rome was then asked to erect a new vicariate separate from that of Bangkok. This is how the vicariate of Nong Seng was born, a village three kilometers north of Nakhon Phanom on the Mekong and easily accessible from both the Siam and Laotian sides. Constant Prodhomme became its second apostolic vicar and acceded to the episcopate in 1913.

Then came the years of the great war, years of terrible trials for the mission in Laos. Sixteen missionaries were recruited. Many positions were going to be deprived of pastors. Bishop Prodhomme and Fr. Guégo had to increase their efforts to meet the needs of the Christians in the vicariate.

They would exhaust themselves in the task. Fr. Guégo was the first to fall, struck down in 1918 by pulmonary plague. His death greatly affected Bishop Prodhomme who—also broken by apostolic journeys—two years later would die and join his brother and friend in the apostolate.

The two founders of the Laos Mission: Bishop Constant Prodhomme and Fr. François-Xavier Guégo, who remained united in their last sleep, now rest in the Nong Seng cemetery.

For nearly forty years these two religious from the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) lived the same apostolic life, shared the same works, experienced the same sufferings, pooled their efforts and their sorrows, their eyes fixed on the same ideal and on the achievement of the same goal: the conquest of Laos for the Gospel.

Despite the vicissitudes of history—and in particular the religious persecution organized by the communists in power since 1975—it is still estimated, in 2020, that there are between 50,000 or 60,000 Catholics in the country, or less than 1% of population.