Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - "How many times this year, in our Vicariate, I saw God in the faces of children and in your faces! Once again, these days, I have seen God in our midst many times: I saw him in the few faithful of St. Paul's Church, Thmey that welcomed 100 poor people and elderly, offering them friendship and smiles; I saw him in hundreds of poor Buddhists and Muslims who come to share a moment of fraternity with the sisters of Mother Teresa; I saw him in 3,000 children in Takeo who joyfully celebrated Christmas; I saw him in Takeo prison, when Buddhists, Muslims and Christians united to encourage prisoners; I saw him in the theater in Chomkacheang, where young people represented the Nativity": this is the "memorial" delivered by Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler in the message released at the beginning of 2017 to the baptized of the Vicariate of Phnom Penh.
In the text of the pastoral letter for the new year, sent to Agenzia Fides, the Apostolic Vicar remarked: "God is here, in our country, and is present in the youngest, the poorest, the severely disabled, the landless, in migrants, in our families, sometimes separated due to infidelity, gambling, violence, drugs; God is in our workplaces marked by bitterness and destructive power. He invites us to become builders of a culture of mercy", to promote "the mercy of the revolution", he remarked.
Mgr. Schmitthaeusler recalls that the Catholic community in the Vicariate experienced "three years of charity", which ended in the celebration of the Jubilee of Mercy: "We are called to promote a culture of mercy based on rediscovering the encounter with others, a culture where no one looks at others with indifference or walks away from the suffering of his brothers", and adds that the works of mercy are a kind of "handicraft products", meaning they are made by the hands of men, and "none are made in the same way". "God inspires them all, and they are all the same style and material, but each takes a different form", he points out.
The text continues: "This is the time of mercy. Every day of our journey is marked by the presence of God who guides our steps with the power of the Spirit and pours it into our hearts to make them capable of loving. This is the time of mercy for each and for all, it is the time of mercy for those who are weak and vulnerable and alone" as "for the poor and sinners".
Looking in particular at the national context, Mgr. Schmitthaeusler recalled that after the Khmer Rouge regime, "education, culture, religion and economy were largely destroyed. Today, 60% of the population is under 22 years of age. These younger generations are born to parents who have experienced the difficulties of survival" and at a time when "there was a break in the transmission of traditional values".
The new generations, explains the letter, grew up looking at models of families in the Korean series on TV or those on social media, based on consumerism, selfishness, individualism. This is why it is important today "to offer young people a good model of the family", he notes.
Another focal point is "the scourge of poverty which is the root of violence, drugs, alcohol and addiction to gambling". "Through Catholic NGOs and charitable groups in each parish, we try to give dignity to the poorest families to help them build their lives, to find work, to send their children to school, and to be able to take care of them", he says.
We must not underestimate the phenomenon of emigration: "About 10% of the Cambodian population is outside of Cambodia and works in Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore. Many adults leave the children at home with grandparents and parents see their children once a year. How can these 'children without parents' become good parents in the future?"
Finally the Vicar notes the challenges of interfaith marriages, "90% of Catholic Cambodians were baptized recently and many Catholics marry a Buddhist. This means that they come from a Buddhist family and go back to a Buddhist family. The preparation for marriage provides an opportunity to teach the vision and the values of a Catholic family and to ask them to educate their children in the Christian faith. It is a major challenge for the Church to accompany these new couples and give them appropriate training".
"I wish our Church in Cambodia becames increasingly a Church that follows and guides teenagers and young people at the beginning of their love life; a church that bears witness of God’s mercy and tenderness; a Church that is truly 'mother and father'; a Church that listens and sees the needs of families, that lives compassion and empathy to illuminate their lives and consciousness, especially in a Buddhist context; a Church that calls on all Catholic families to show mercy, dialogue, solidarity and peace". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 13/01/2017)