Monday, 17 November 2003

Phnom Penh (Fides Service) – “The meeting was a positive event lived in an atmosphere of brotherhood and sharing. We discussed priorities for the Church today, including the building of new communities, catechesis and seminaries” Bishop Emile Destombes Vicar Apostolic Pnom Penh told Fides after the annual Plenary Assembly of the Conference of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Cambodia and Laos, held from 10 to 14 November at Sihanoukville (formerly known as Kompong Som), some 285 km south of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
The Bishops form one Conference because the two countries are closely linked in history and culture aspects. However today the local situations require different pastoral approaches. “Although today the Churches in Cambodia and Laos live in diverse social political contexts, – Bishop Destombes told Fides – they share challenges and hopes for missionary activity. 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”.
The participants at the Meeting, 8 bishops and a number of priests, discussed ways to increase collaboration in providing formation for catechists, religious and seminarians and in the use of the media although solutions must envisage attention for the different languages spoken, Khmer in Cambodia and Lao in Laos. The local Churches agreed to unite and increase efforts to build churches or restore churches in more remote areas of their respective countries.
After suffering during 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 to Rome. On that occasion Pope 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”. “Numerous priests, religious and lay Catholics – the Pope told the Bishops on that occasion– gave their lives to follow the Lord mingling their blood with that of their brothers and sisters, facing trials with dignity and courage. Let no one ever forget this admirable testimony!”.
Cambodia today has a population of 12 million, about 20,000 are Catholics gathered in the Apostolic Prefectures of Battambang and Kompong Cham, and the Vicariate Apostolic of Phnom Penh. Laos has a population of 6 million of whom about 35,000 are Catholics gathered in four Apostolic Vicariates Luang Prabang, Paksè, Savannakhet and Vientiane. Buddhism is the most widespread religion in both countries. (PA) (Fides Service 17/11/2003 lines 43 words 478)