The 2016 beatification of the 17 Martyrs of Laos was an important moment for the whole Church, especially Laotian Catholics. While there are only approximately 60,000 Catholic Christians in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (representing .9% of the total population), the faith and courage of Laotian Catholics is a powerful witness of the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel in every time and place.
For Vue Yang, a Hmong Catholic who is a member of Sheboygan’s St. Peter Claver Parish, the martyrs are a point of connection with the Universal Church.
“The Martyrs of Laos represent the true faith of Laotian Catholic communities in the United States,” said Vue. “The fact that they were killed for their faith makes us feel that we belong to the Catholic faith, and are not just second
or third class. The martyrs open our eyes and ears, our love and sacrifice, and now we see them hanging on the cross, instead of just seeing somebody else there.”
Vue currently serves as the President/CEO of the TP Nyiaj Pov Foundation, an organization dedicated to keeping alive the legacy of Fr. Yves Bertrais, a French missionary credited with helping create the Hmong Roman Popular Alphabet. Vue’s family connection with the Martyrs of Laos is also a personal one, as his wife was a student of the catechist Bl. Paul Thoj Xyooj, the first Hmong martyr.
To help celebrate the life and witness of the Martyrs of Laos — and to give thanks for the beatification — Vue has helped organize a special celebration at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill. The event, including a special banquet on the evening of June 17 and Mass at the shrine on the following day, will bring together Lao, Hmong and Kmhmu Catholics from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and throughout the United States.
The solemn ceremony of beatification took place at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Laotian capital of Vientiane on December 11, 2016, and was presided over by Pope Francis’ representative, Filipino Cardinal Orland Quevedo. By declaring the martyrs to be “Blessed,” Pope Francis brought the group one step closer to sainthood. The liturgical commemoration of the group, officially known as “Bl. Joseph Tien and His 16 Companions,” is celebrated on Dec.16.
The group of martyrs includes the Laotian priest, Bl. Joseph Tien, 10 European missionaries (from the Paris Foreign Mission Society and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate) and five Laotian lay-catechists. The martyrs lost their lives between 1954 and 1970 under the Pathet Lao, the communist political movement that began to take control of Laos after the French colonials withdrew in 1954. The Laotian catechists chose to stay with the priests, knowing that to do so would mean certain death for them. Among those killed was Bl. Joseph Outhay whose last recorded words were, “For us, as well as for the priests, mission means to follow Christ all the way to the end.”
Acknowledging that the Martyrs of Laos are a gift to the entire Church, Vue reflected they are especially important for Laotian community.
“Almost every Laotian Catholic, whether Lao, Hmong, Kmhmu, believes and belongs to the Universal Church, but we have nothing materially to hang onto,” Vue said. “The martyrs will help us to be related, help us to understand and to strengthen our faith, and to try to follow their steps. When we pray, we can ask them to help us, and they understand our way of life and our suffering.”
To learn more about the celebration of the Martyrs of Laos, visit: http://17martyrsoflaos.weebly.com.