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CAMBODIA: Nun is 1st local Salesian to take vows

Written By vibykhmer on Monday, August 10, 2009 | 10:52 PM


Sister Mary Tang Sovathanak takes her first vows -- Photo by Ly Sovanna
Sister Sovathanak is the first Cambodian nun of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco -- Photo by Ly Sovanna

August 10, 2009

PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- The Salesian nuns in Cambodia have cause to celebrate. For the first time since the congregation started here 16 years ago, a local member of their congregation made her first vows.

Wearing a white habit and with her head covered, Sister Mary Tang Sovathanak, 29, described the occasion as "a special day" since she is now a "bride of Christ."

"I don't have anything to give him back," she said, "only my life to him."

More than 150 people attended the special Mass, concelebrated by the heads of the three Church jurisdictions in Cambodia, to mark the occasion on Aug. 5.

Monsignor Antonysamy Susairaj, apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, where Sister Sovathanak comes from, presided at the Mass, held at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls at Tek Thla, Phnom Penh.

Sister Sarah Garcia, superior of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco in Cambodia said she is overjoyed at the occasion. "My prayer is that she will be able to live out her journey faithfully," she said.

All the other 20 Salesian nuns in Cambodia are foreigners.

Bishop Susairaj, in his homily, said he is aware that Sister Sovathanak's parents may not be entirely happy with her decision. However, he reminded everyone that being a nun does not mean leaving one's family.

Moreover, the bishop asserted that Sister Sovathanak, in responding to God's call, "will help many young people who need education" through her ministry.

The bishop also pointed out that Sister Sovathanak's mother was one of the first Catholics in Kompong Cham when the Church revived here in the 1990s after decades of civil war and religious persecution.

Sister Sovathanak studied at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls, run by the Salesian congregation, and graduated in 2003 in secretarial and computer studies. It was while studying at the center that she first decided to become a Salesian nun.

"I was attracted to the simple life of the nuns. They are always smiling and putting their lives in God's hands, even though they encounter problems." Moreover, she said, "holiness does not come from just impressive deeds, but also from small acts carried out with love."

Sister Sovathanak is the oldest in her family of four children. Her father, a Buddhist, is director of a primary school, and her mother, a Catholic, is a vendor at the local market.

Speaking after the ceremony, Sister Sovathanak's father, Tang Phirom, 51, admitted he had wanted his daughter to marry and have children, but now accepts his daughter's decision.

The Salesian Sisters in Cambodia run a secretarial and computer program, a food and home management program, and a literacy and sewing program for girls in Phnom Penh and Battambang. They also run two kindergartens, one primary school, and a hostel for 20 high school girls in Phnom Penh.

Out of a total of about 100 nuns in Cambodia, only seven are Cambodians.

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