Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - "Our heart is turned and entrusted to Our Lady of Smiles, in the middle of the rice fields of Cambodia, while the suspension of any form of activity for the spread of coronavirus is underway", says Mgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, highlighting how the Church in Cambodia has responded to the emergency. Since March 17, religious gatherings and public activities are banned by the Ministry of Health and schools have been closed until further notice.
"The Catholic Church in this context has tried to organize itself creatively and proactively. All the gatherings in our communities: masses, common prayers, meetings, seminars are suspended and all our schools are closed, but the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh has been very active in trying to continue pastoral service", he reports.
The Bishop established a special "Covid-19 task force" on March 19 with representatives from the pastoral sectors and diocesan offices. "As of Sunday 22 March, we began celebrating Mass and a daily rosary live on Facebook and YouTube. Our social communications service is always on the warpath 24 hours a day to allow those who can take advantage of internet services to remain in communion in our community since only three or four people can physically gather for the Eucharist", he says.
Furthermore, the Vicar continues, "I asked every priest to settle down in a community of the Vicariate to celebrate in these places, certainly without the faithful, but this presence is precious and is a sign of concrete closeness to the little ones in the villages". The same Bishop does not reside in the episcopate, but temporarily moved to the parish of Our Lady of Smiles, 90 kilometers from Phnom Penh: "I was a parish priest for 10 years in this parish, which is home to the largest Cambodian community in the Vicariate, as well as a large part of the education and development programs. I celebrated the Paschal Triduum which was broadcast with whatever facilities were available in the middle of the rice fields. Nevertheless, they were telecast live in a professional way by our communication service in Phnom Penh".
Meanwhile, adds the Vicar, "our Catholic schools have set up online courses for our students from primary to high school. The St. Paul Institute will also start a complete distance education program for our students. Online training was also set up for kindergarten teachers".
The charity sector is very active: "Our Alliance for Charity and Development - which brings together Catholic non-governmental agencies, religious congregations that work in different areas of society, offices and bodies committed in particular to health, education Catholic social service - is very active and preparing for the post-covid 19 era. We are distributing food, soap and face masks for the needy. The after-effects of Covid-19 will leave lasting effects on the most vulnerable: people who have lost jobs, soaring debts, closed economic activities: through our social services and our NGOs, we will be able to serve others, in the name of the risen Jesus Christ".
The Bishop addressed a special thought to "70 catechumens, who should have received the Baptism on Easter night. May they remain strong in faith in this time of trial. I pray that on the Sunday of Pentecost, May 31, we may gather again and baptize them in the joy of the Spirit". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 20/4/2020)