Takeo (Agenzia Fides) - The Vicar Apostolic of Phnom Penh, Bishop Olivier Michel Marie Schmitthaeusler (MEP) has been recognized by the Cambodian Government as representative of the Catholic Church for his contribution to society. The prelate received the "Grand Order of National Merit" from Environment Minister Sam Al Say at an event at the Saint Paul Institute in Takeo Province in southern Cambodia, on the border with Vietnam, as part of a graduation ceremony for 114 students. The government wanted to reward the Church's special commitment to development in many areas of Takeo Province, particularly its work in the fields of education, art and culture, social work and health care at the service of the community.
Established in 1995 by King Norodom Sihanouk, the "Grand Order of National Merit" is awarded to Cambodian or foreign citizens who have rendered outstanding services to the nation. In this case, the justification for the award mentions "all the work carried out by the Catholic Church in Takeo Province from 2010 to 2022". "The Church is there to help people without hope to have hope", said French-born Bishop Schmitthaeusler of the Society for Foreign Missions in Paris (MEP). "The merit of the recognition is due to the collective pastoral and social work of priests, nuns and lay people: they are works of the Catholic community in the province of Takeo", noted Bishop Schmitthaeusler, thanking all the missionaries, religious and lay people who live and are at the service of the Cambodian people, "particularly in the fields of education, social development, art and culture". The government also granted Cambodian citizenship to Bishop Schmitthaeusler, who had previously received awards, in recognition of his special connection to Cambodia and his contribution to the development of the country's society. The Bishop came to Cambodia as a young priest in 1998 and was transferred to Takeo Province in 2002. There he founded the "Saint Francois Professional High School" and devoted himself with great love and solidarity to building up the church community, founded the Saint Paul Institute, the Peace Center, the Peace Village and other social works such as the 'John Paul II' - Center for life, which primarily takes care of families with AIDS patients. From the very beginning, he pursued the goal of inclusion, vocational training and the development of poor or disadvantaged families in the rural areas of Takeo Province. (SD/PA) Agenzia Fides, 15/3/2022)