Church in Laos suffering from religious discrimination
While the country's constitution guarantees religious freedom, the communist regime in Laos imposes severe restrictions on Christian believers in everyday life, according to staff of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
A delegation from the organisation which recently returned from a field visit to Laos said the rural people in the country's north suffer most from officially sanctioned religious discrimination.
An Aid to the Church in Need statement claims there have been numerous arrests of priests and pastoral workers, and that local authorities put pressure on people not to convert to the Catholic faith.
The statement said: "It seems that the government is using every means to try to prevent the spread of Catholicism. For example, permits for construction of new churches are granted only in those places where a Catholic church has already formerly existed. And in addition, for gatherings of any size, special permission must first be obtained from the local authorities and a full list of all participants submitted."
90% the country's 5.2 million population is Buddhist. The Christians, most of whom belong to the Hmong people, represent only a small minority.
The delegation also discovered the strain caused by the acute shortage of priests. Currently there are just 15 priests to minister to the 37,000 Catholics in the country's four apostolic vicariates.
Aid to the Church in Need