The small Catholic community in predominantly Buddhist Cambodia welcomed with pleasure and enthusiasm the very first deacon of the Bunong ethnic minority.
John Baptist Prak Hong was ordained a deacon at Saint Joseph’s Church in Kdol Leu, territory of the apostolic prefecture of Kampong Cham, on November 30, reports the Vatican press agency Fides.
French Bishop Olivier Marie Schmitthaeusler said the ordination was “a great joy and a great gift for the whole Cambodian Church”.
The Bunong community marked the occasion with a passionate and colorful procession in traditional dress accompanied by traditional music and beating of drums.
The Bunong live mainly in the province of Mondulkiri, in the highlands of central Cambodia, on the border with Vietnam.
About 50,000 Bunong in Cambodia mostly adhere to the religious animist tradition, with small factions following Theravada Buddhism and Catholicism. They make up about 54 percent of the population of Mondulkiri province, according to Mondulkiri project.
God chose Hong from a small village in Busra to come and announce the Good News to the Kampong Cham and the Catholic community of Cambodia
Bishop Schmitthaeusler said Hong’s religious vocation despite many challenges is a reason to express gratitude to God.
“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 mankind. God chose Hong from a small village in Busra to come and announce the Good News to the Kampong Cham and the Catholic community of Cambodia ”, declared the prelate, member of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP).
“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 Saint Andrew, the first missionary called by Jesus.
The bishop also paid homage to his predecessor, the missionary MEP André Lesouëf, who was the first bishop of the apostolic prefecture of Kampong Cham when it was created in 1968.
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“Today, with Hong, the first representative of the Catholic clergy of the Bunong 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. Thank you to Busra Parish, which has been the fruitful environment in which the call of God has grown in Hong’s heart, ”he said.
The prelate reminded Hong and the local Catholics that they are called to become “fishers of men” as Jesus invited his apostles to be.
Saint-Joseph Church, located near the Mekong River, is part of the Kampong Cham territory where 4 million Cambodians live.
“Hong has a lot of work to do; nets must be cast everywhere, ”said Bishop Schmitthaeusler, adding that he must be“ like a bridge ”and that his life can help people“ connect with God ”by establishing“ a special bond between God and man by the service of the altar, especially by prayer, by the evangelical witness given with attention to the poor and the oppressed.
The Bunong share their life with elephants, treating them like family
The Bunong are traditionally known as ‘forest keepers’ and ‘elephant keepers’ thanks to their distinct culture strongly linked to forests. Traditionally, they depend on the forest and their modest farms for everything they need to survive, the Mondulkiri project noted. The Bunong share their life with the elephants, treating them like family.
Christians are a tiny minority in Cambodia. An estimated 20,000 Catholics are spread over three ecclesiastical jurisdictions – one apostolic vicariate and two apostolic prefectures.
However, the history of Catholicism in the country dates back to the 16th century. Until the near decimation of the Church and the deportation of all foreign missionaries during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79), up to 62,000 Catholics lived in Cambodia.
Missionaries returned to Cambodia in the 1990s after the end of the civil war and rebuilt the Catholic Church from its ashes.
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