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Church workers reflect on emulating Saint Paul in Cambodia

Written By vibykhmer on Monday, July 13, 2009 | 10:54 AM

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PHNOM PENH : Missioners and lay Catholics said the recently concluded Year of Saint Paul has helped them to see how their work of evangelization in the country parallels that of the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Father Bob Piche, from the Paris Foreign Missions Society, said that just as Saint Paul proclaimed the Good News to communities of different cultures, "so during my 11 years in Cambodia as a missioner, I have spent a lot of time learning the culture, traditions and way of life of the local people."

Father Piche, who is a parish priest in Phnom Penh, added that "the Good News will be easy to proclaim if we appreciate the culture and traditions of local people."

The priest was among more than 1,000 Catholics from across the country who attended a Mass on June 27 to close the Pauline Year. The special year ran from June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009.

Father Paul Roeung Chatchai from the Thai Missionary Society, speaking to UCA News, said Saint Paul is his role model in his missionary work among Cambodians.

"He went to many places where the people did not know Jesus. I came to Cambodia where most people do not know Jesus," said the priest who is the coordinator for the Catholic Social Communications office in Phnom Penh.

Duong Savong, a catechist, noted that "Saint Paul was a clever missioner who used the cultures of nations to proclaim the Good News of Jesus."

"In Cambodia we are using his style (of evangelization) to catechize people," he added.

He noted that among Cambodians attending catechism classes, some belong to marginalized communities that Church organizations support, while others want to learn more about Christ. Whatever their reasons, "we always give them love and show them how Jesus calls people to love one another," he said.

During the June 27 Mass, Bishop Emile Destombes, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, praised all missioners, community leaders and Church workers in Cambodia for their work in making the Gospel flourish in the country over the last 20 years. "We have come a long way since 1989," he said.

Since that year, when Bishop Destombes became the first missioner to return to Cambodia after two decades of civil war and religious persecution, the Catholic Church has revived, as has religion in general in the predominantly Buddhist country.

In Phnom Penh apostolic vicariate, one of three Church jurisdictions in the country, there are now 38 Catholic communities, including those that speak English, French and Korean, and 40 Religious congregations and societies.

All these communities are a good resource for proclaiming the Good News, Bishop Destombes noted.

Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, the Bangkok-based apostolic nuncio to Cambodia, also attended the Mass. He encouraged the whole Catholic community in Phnom Penh to continue proclaiming the Good News.

About 95 percent of the more than 14 million Cambodians are Buddhists. Christians form approximately 2 percent of the population.

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