BANGKOK (UCAN) -- Laotian seminarians face formidable challenges, but their enthusiasm and perseverance in their priestly studies helps them overcome obstacles, says their formator.
One major challenge is seminarians' "low level of education compared with those from other countries," said Thai Redemptorist Father Anthony Wiboon Limphanawooth. He is in charge of nine young men, aged 19-23, at St. Teresa Middle Seminary in Thakhek, central Laos.
Most of the students in their first year "can't read the Lao language fluently," he said.
Furthermore, all the seminarians come from farming families and are not used to following an academic routine. "They have to train themselves to follow the seminary timetable," said the priest.
Despite the challenges they face, the seminarians "are very enthusiastic about studying," said Father Wiboon. "They are slow but they give you 100 percent."
St. Teresa Middle Seminary is one of two intermediate seminaries in the country. The other is in Pakse, southern Laos.
Father Wiboon, 41, said that as there are no minor seminaries in the country, local nuns and catechists recommend high-school students who are active in church to be personally taught catechism and prayers by priests.
When these boys finish high school, they enter an intermediate seminary where they study the Bible, spirituality, catechism and English. They then proceed to St. John Vianney Major Seminary, the only major seminary in the country, also in Thakhek, for philosophy and theology studies.
Apart from teaching at St. Teresa's, Father Wiboon also instructs 18 other young men, the oldest of whom are in their late 20s, at the major seminary.
The seminarians' perseverance is manifested in the low drop-out rate. At St Teresa's, only two dropped out last year, and in the major seminary no one has left in the past year.
Father Wiboon says vocations are promoted "quietly" in Laos and the numbers are slowly increasing. Last year, he received three new seminarians at St. Teresa's. Of the nine in his care, five are with the Redemptorist congregation.
According to Father Wiboon, the country has fewer than 20 priests. Several are studying overseas.
The next priestly ordination is expected only in about two years' time, he said. "In Laos everything is done slowly."