Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - The "Catholic Church Student Center" in Phnom Penh, a college of the Cambodian Church, welcomed 18 new students, presented yesterday, January 30, at the opening ceremony of the new academic year. The college is under the aegis of the Cambodian Church's three ecclesiastical circumscriptions (the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh; the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang; and the Apostolic Prefecture of Kompong Cham) and caters to the needs of male and female students, Christians and Buddhists - from poor families but willing to study - who could not continue their university studies without support. Students accepted into the institution - established in 1999 under the direction of Jesuit Father John Ashley Evans SJ - come from parishes across the country, which orient and introduce young Cambodians willing to embark on the pursuit of higher education.
Yesterday's opening ceremony took place in the presence of Bishop Oliver Schmitthauesler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh and representative of the Council of Bishops, responsible for overseeing and guaranteeing the development and management of the project. The bishop pointed out to the students “some essential pillars”: "Faith in the One who created you. Lift up your eyes and your heart. You are created in the image and likeness of God," he said speaking to each student. "Love yourself, not your retouched selfie. Look at yourself in the mirror of your heart and learn to become the best version of yourself. Love your neighbour: a selfish and narrow life will gradually reduce you to nothingness. Be a person for others and especially for the little ones," he continued. The Vicar urged young people to be "creators of peace and justice in your daily life, by being honest and forgiving yourself and others. Seek happiness within yourselves," he said, inviting them to practice in their years of study "inner joy in looking at life, determination, good will, discipline."
The College project is not only aimed at providing accommodation and paying tuition fees for students, but also at offering many other "integral formation" programs that help them grow and improve as people, as committed citizens and as faithful Catholics, if that is their faith. Among the initiatives included in this time of formation are: a bimonthly debate on non-political issues; workshops on relevant topical issues; group discussions on biblical topics; sports tournaments; in-depth spiritual seminars during “high” liturgical times; the Taizé prayer; a weekly Eucharistic celebration and a daily evening prayer time; English, French, Korean and Chinese lessons; and volunteer work in social or pastoral services during weekends.
To date, 24 generations of students (some 470 young people in the institute's 24 years of existence) have benefited from this project and have successfully completed their university studies. Most of them today make a contribution to the animation of the local Church, in the field of catechism, liturgy or charity. Many of them provide professional services to NGOs, public and private institutions in the country and abroad. The Catholic Church in Cambodia considers the College to be an important project, as it serves as a place of Christian formation, especially for young lay Catholics. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 31/1/2023)
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