Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - The Catholic Church in Cambodia celebrates the priestly ordination of the first young man of the Phnong ethnic group. As Fides learned, with a procession enriched by traditional Phnong music, songs and dances, the population accompanied the young man to the church, for the "gift of a young Phnong to God". "As a priest one is called to serve, to give his life and to distribute the sacraments of God for Catholics," said Bun Hong Prak, the new priest. At the Holy Mass of the ordination rite, Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, said with joy: "The proclamation of the Gospel in a remote area is taking shape". The ordination ceremony took place on June 29 at the Church of St. John the Baptist in the Busra community, in Mondulkiri province, located in northeastern Cambodia, more than 500 km from the capital, Phnom Penh. This area is mainly inhabited by the Phnong ethnic minority. The new priest Bun Hong Prak, born in this community, declares: "God called me and chose me in his group of priests to serve Him and the community. Now he has blessed me, through the Bishop, to give me the strength to serve the Church in the future".
In his homily, Bishop Schmitthaeusler said: "As St. Peter and St. Paul are models for us, let the Spirit lead us to preach the Gospel: to follow God's will, to announce Jesus Christ, the Son of God, running with faith toward our goal: eternal life. In addition, the Bishop said that "the priest does not receive a mission or a responsibility as a simple job, but his whole life is consecrated by Jesus Christ himself. He participates in the life of Jesus, and is a priest throughout his life".
The celebration was attended by 52 priests from 3 dioceses and, on that occasion, the Bishop asked all priests to "encourage, welcome and be a model for the new priest, to live in fraternity as a family in Jesus Christ and to be united in God".
Msgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler recalled the characteristics of priestly life: being alter Christus; be part of the family of priests; listen and announce the Good News; have a life of prayer; dispense the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation; and, finally, to sacrifice all life as Jesus Christ. The Bishop wanted to thank Fr. Bun Hong Prak for his journey made with love, and also thanked the great Catholic family of Cambodia, announcing that in September 2022, the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh will welcome three new deacons from the Saint John Mary Vianney Major Seminary. Fr Bun Hong Prak, the tenth Cambodian priest who provides pastoral service in the three ecclesiastical districts of Cambodia, declared: "I want to share the Good News with the people around me, to make Jesus and God's love for every creature better known" . The St. John the Baptist community in Busra began with 15 Phnong families who chose the Catholic faith when they fled to Vietnam during Cambodia's civil war. There they converted from animism to Catholicism and received baptism at the hands of Father Jean Moriceau, MEP. Later, they returned to Cambodia with 10 families who settled in Busra and another 5 in Dak Dam. In 1996, a young French volunteer, Vincent Sénéchal, came to Busra and found the Catholics. At that time, the community needed priests to visit and celebrate mass. Today, the Busra parish has more than 300 Catholics, most of whom are farmers. In this parish, a young woman also became a nun in the congregation of the Loving Sisters of the Cross, a diocesan institute in Kampong Cham prefecture. The first Catholic community in Cambodia was founded in 1555 by Portuguese missionaries. During the Pol Pot regime, in 1975-1979, the community was completely destroyed, both in terms of infrastructure and human resources. All bishops, priests, clerics, laity and a large number of Catholics were killed and all foreign missionaries expelled from the country. After the war, Catholics experienced a new beginning. In 2001, four young Cambodian men were ordained as priests for the first time in Cambodia. Currently, the Cambodian Church has about 20,000 Catholics, 10 Cambodian priests and about 10 Khmer nuns. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 11/7/2022)