Kampong Cham (Agenzia Fides) - He chose the name of John the Baptist, to be like him, herald and prophet. John Baptist Prak Hong is the first deacon from the bunong (also called phnong) ethnicity. As reported to Fides by the Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, Msgr. Olivier Marie Schmitthaeusler "it is a great joy and a great gift for the whole Cambodian Church". The man, who comes from the province of Mondulkiri, a highland territory on the border with Vietnam, was ordained a deacon on November 30 in the church of St. Joseph in Kdol Leu, in the territory of the Apostolic Prefecture of Kampong Cham, with the passionate and colorful participation of members of the Bunong people, with traditional dress and drums. Bishop Schmitthaeusler said: "Today we are filled with joy and gratitude to God for Hong's ordination. If we look at Brother Hong's path, we see how God loves humanity. God chose Hong from a small village in Busra to come to announce the Good News to the Kampong Cham and Catholic community of Cambodia. It is not easy to travel from Busra to Phnom Penh. Hong traveled to attend the theological seminary. We thank God who called him, as he did with St. Andrew, the first missionary called by Jesus". "When we think of Andrea - he continued - we also remember André Lesouëf, of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP), first Ordinary of the Apostolic Prefecture of Kampong Cham, erected in 1968. Today with Hong, the first exponent of the Catholic clergy of the Phnong people, we see in depth the history of salvation. We thank God and his parents: it is a special fruit that parents offer to our community. Thanks to the parish of Busra which was the fruitful environment in which God's call grew in Hong's heart" . The Bishop recalled Jesus' invitation to the apostles, "I will make you fishers of men" and, noting that the community of St. Joseph is located along the Mekong River, he remarked that God calls Hong and he too is a "fisher of men", teaching 4 million people in the Kampong Cham Territory to recognize God. "Hong has a lot of work to do; nets must be thrown everywhere", he said.
The deacon, he added, will be like a bridge, and his life will be able to help people "connect with God": he will be able to establish "a special bond between God and man through the service of the altar, especially through prayer, through the evangelical witness given in a careful way to the poor and the oppressed".
And he observed: "Hong plays the role of servant, to educate to faith and prayer. He will be a special servant, a special sign in our community: we are servants, we are full of joy, full of happiness, we are full of hope. We are servants willing to sacrifice himself to serve others. Now is the time to give his whole life to God".
Above all - concluded Msgr. Schmitthaeusler, addressing the new deacon - one word must be kept in mind: "Accept the Word of the Gospel of Christ and fulfill your mission by proclaiming it; believe in the Word you will read and thus you will teach what you believe and you will live what you teach".
The bunongs, today about 50,000 in all, are indigenous people dedicated to agriculture and mainly animists. They are called "forest keepers" and "elephant keepers" because in the past each village had its own elephants and the number of specimens determined the wealth of that village. Across the province of Mondulkiri, Christian communities have seen an increase in members in recent years. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 4/12/2021)