Phnom Penh (Fides Service) - The first missionary to set foot in Cambodia in 1555 and start evangelising was Dominican missionary Fr. Gaspar De Cruz. To celebrate 450 years of Catholic presence in this small nation in Indo-China Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, papal nuncio in Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore and Apostolic Delegate for Malaysia, Brunei, Myanmar and Laos, paid a three day pastoral visit 2 - 4 December to the Church in Cambodia.
On 2 December on his way to the prefecture of Kompong-Cham Archbishop Pennacchio accompanied by the Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh Bishop Emile Destombes stopped at the village of Thank Kok, prefecture of Battambang to pay tribute at a monument to Cambodian Catholics martyred under the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). The import ant visitors were welcomed by the apostolic prefect of Battambang Fr. Enrique Figaredo SJ and the local Catholic community. Prayers were said in front of a large memorial cross erected in the middle of a rice field, to symbolise the rebirth of the local Church.
On their arrival in Kompong-Cham the visitors were warmly welcomed by apostolic prefect Fr. Antonysamy Susairaj MEP and excited local Catholics. The nuncio visited a number of communities and institutes. He thanked them for their warm welcome and assured them of the Pope’s closeness and prayers. In the evening the nuncio presided a celebration of Mass
On 3 December Archbishop Pennacchio blessed a new chapel at Ko Andak, about 120 km fromKompong-Cham. During mass 24 catechumens made the ‘first step’ in a three year preparation course for baptism. The nuncio then went to visit the parish of Neak Leoung, where the local Catholics gave the Pope’s representative a warm welcome.
On Sunday 4 December at least 400 people took part in a Mass presided by the Nuncio and concelebrated by three Cambodian bishops at St Joseph’s church in Phnom Penh. In his homily Archbishop Pennacchio recalled the arrival of the first missionaries 450 years ago and the dedication and example of Fr Gaspar De Cruz: “We will always remember the courage, selflessness and generosity of the first missionaries to Cambodia, those who came after them and the local clergy who handed on the heritage of the faith to our day”.
In Cambodia there are about 30,000 Catholics in a population of 12 million. (Agenzia Fides 6/12/2005 Righe: 29 Parole: 308)