Cambodian Catholics bearing witness despite hurdles

Lay Catholics, Church workers and leaders of Battambang prefecture in Cambodia have met to share experiences and encourage each other in their mission of bearing witness to the Good News, despite receiving insults from other Christians.

"Whenever we serve others, we do it in faith," Fr Enrique Figaredo, who heads the prefecture, told the gathering last week in Battambang, 250 kilometres northwest of Phnom Penh, UCA News reports. More than half the 130 participants were young people.

The meeting, on the theme "Communion and Service," is the second of what the prefecture intends as biannual meetings. The first was held in 2005.

Fr Figaredo asked the participants to serve others in compassion for the love of God. The Spanish Jesuit apostolic prefect also asked them to read and learn from the Gospel.

Besides tending to the spiritual needs of Catholics scattered among the 95 per cent of Cambodians who are Buddhists, the small Catholic Church in Cambodia engages in social work, assisting poor, sick and disabled people as well as students.

It faces many challenges, as pointed out by Khem Pong, a lay leader from Pursat province. When the local Catholic community offers assistance to poor people, he said, some villagers accuse the Catholics of trying to convert the beneficiaries. Some other Christians insult Catholics, added Pong, 67.

Chhoun Sokhorn, 49, is the only Catholic in her community in an area prone to flooding near Siem Reap. She said many villagers insult her and discriminate against her. "Sometimes I feel hopeless and ask myself whether I should continue (being Catholic) or not," she shared.

Gathering with other Catholics, however, countered those feelings. "I really thank God for this meeting. It has helped me to be strong in living my faith," she said.

The meeting delegates jointly resolved to focus on 10 values for personal development: love, modesty, patience, joyfulness, honesty, generosity, humility, zealousness, solidarity and prayerfulness.

In a statement elaborating on these values, they promised to "love without expecting to be loved back."

They resolved not to despair when facing challenges, and to be patient in serving marginalised people with generosity, joy and compassion, and without looking to be "honoured and praised" in society.

Photo: Layleaders in Battambang prefecture discuss ways to fulfil the Church's mission in Cambodia

Catholic Communities Share Experiences, Challenges, Encouragement (UCA News, 18/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in Cambodia

Cambodian Catholics rediscover identity at special synod (CathNews, 1/8/06)

19 Jul 2007