ASIA/CAMBODIA – Buddhist leaders honor the bishop for his contribution to society
Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) – Msgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler, French Bishop of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, was honored by the Buddhist leaders of Cambodia for his valuable contribution to society. The Vicar Apostolic of Phnom Penh received the “Great Friend of Buddhists” award at an event held in recent weeks at Ang Monrei Pagoda in Tram Kak district of Takeo province, southern Cambodia. The reasons for this award, which confirms the excellent relations between the Catholic community in Cambodia and the Buddhist community, include the recognition of the support offered by the bishop to the local Buddhists and the monastic community of a specific pagoda.
Seng Somony, secretary and spokesperson for the Ministry of Cults and Religions, presented Bishop Schmitthaeusler with a certificate of honor issued by the Mahanikaya Council of Cambodia, the country’s supreme Buddhist council. Speaking on the occasion, Venerable Nget Chamroeun, Abbot of Ang Monrei Pagoda, said that “as a priest and bishop, the French missionary invited Buddhists and Christians to build bridges of peace and reconciliation.
“I am honored by this appreciation. I thank the Buddhist leaders for working together for society in understanding and solidarity,” said Bishop Schmitthaeusler, 51, specifying that this recognition does not belong to him but “to the ‘Church as a whole’. “We are happy to work together as Catholics and Buddhists for the common good. This event shows how different religions should work in solidarity and brotherhood and serve society. The Catholic Church is rooted in Cambodian culture,” said the prelate.
When Bishop Schmitthaeusler arrived in Chamkar Teang village, Takeo province, in 2002, there was only one Christian. One of his priorities was to participate in the construction of a 1,200 meter road to connect the village to the Ang Monrei pagoda. Over the years, the Church has established educational institutions in the region, and has also set up training and vocational training projects in the field of handicrafts, which has enabled people to find a employment and preserve Khmer traditions.
In the meantime, the Church has also grown and prospered: “It is good to see that we are working together for the good of society. In the midst of Covid-19, it was an honor to see everyone working together and strengthen friendship. Such efforts help to promote peace,” the Bishop added.
Seng Somony, a government official, said he was surprised and delighted that a Catholic bishop had become a symbol of unity between two religions through his works.
This recognition for the French bishop comes less than two months after he received, on March 8, the medal of the Order of National Merit for his ten-year commitment to social development. Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Somony commended the efforts made by Christian and Buddhist leaders to work together and promote harmony and peace in Cambodian society.
In the 1950s, the Holy See estimated that there were around 120,000 Catholics in Cambodia, of whom around 50,000 were of Vietnamese origin. During the long civil war and the Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed the lives of at least 2 million people, Catholicism virtually disappeared from Cambodia. Missionaries returned after the civil war ended in the 1990s and the Church was able to revive. Today, Christians make up less than one percent of Cambodia’s approximately 17 million people. The approximately 20,000 Catholics live in three ecclesiastical districts: the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh and the Apostolic Prefectures of Battambang and Kampong-Cham.
(SD-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 28/5/2022)