ASIA/CAMBODIA - In the “Keo-Seima” nature reserve: Catholic community begins building a church

Saturday, 10 February 2024 mission   evangelization   local churches  

Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - Part of the “Keo Seima” nature reserve, the certified forest conservation project is located in eastern Cambodia, in the provinces of Mondulkiri and Kratié. The region is also the ancestral and present-day home of the indigenous Bunong people, who are inextricably linked through their culture and ancient beliefs to the forest in which they live. The Bunong - called "Montagnards" by the French colonists along with other tribal groups and settled in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos - are traditionally animists: they believe that nature is populated by good and evil spirits and also practice ancestor worship. In this natural paradise, a Catholic chapel will be built for the Bunong people, who practice subsistence farming in small forest villages, so that they can learn the Gospel of Christ and experience his love". Msgr. Pierre Hangly Suon, Apostolic Prefect of Kampong Cham, presided over the Eucharist with the "laying of the foundation stone" ceremony in Keo Seima on 1 February, in front of an assembly of priests and nuns, as well as about 150 Catholic believers from various communities in the Mondulkiri region. The Apostolic Prefect explained that the construction of a church was a response to the growing number of believers in the area (70 Catholics and 15 catechists) and that it could now continue to grow according to God's plan. This church will be "a center for the proclamation of the Gospel, a point of light and evangelization to proclaim the love of God to all the people in the area." "This small church, but above all the church made up of people, should be a light of God's grace to those around us, so that they may know Christ and be saved by him," the bishop said. Father Jean Marie Vianney Borei Phan, the priest in charge of the parishes in Mondulkiri, recounted the beginnings of the Bunong Catholic community in “Keo Seima”. In 2009, some local representatives traveled to Vietnam, where they met a Catholic community and saw how people living the faith help the sick and poor. At the end of December 2009, two Bunong families from “Keo Seima” converted to Catholicism and in 2010 they met the priest in charge of Mondulkiri Province. This is how a small pastoral and missionary work among the indigenous people, with a first "mission station" began. The provincial government has now given permission to build a church. The Apostolic Prefect Suon laid two stones during the construction start ceremony: the first comes from the village of Gati, where the proclamation of faith began in Mondulkiri; the second comes from the parish of Nak Loeung in Banam, in Kampong Cham Prefecture, one of the oldest parishes in the country, founded 160 years ago. The building is expected to take almost a year to complete and locals have agreed to work on it. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 10/2/2024)