Catholic educators test themselves in Cambodia


Gathering of regional higher education figures reflect on post-war Cambodian identity, culture and reconciliation

Participants attend a lecture during the 28th Annual Conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities of Southeast and East Asia (ASEACCU) in Takeo Province, Cambodia. (Photo: Catholic Cambodia)

Posted: Aug 26, 2022 07:30 GMT

Updated: Aug 26, 2022 07:38 GMT

Cambodian identity, culture and reconciliation were topics of discussion when a group of Catholic educators from Southeast and East Asian countries gathered for their annual conference.

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Southeast and East Asia (ASEACCU) conference was organized by St. Paul’s Institute in Takeo Province, southern Cambodia, from 23 to August 27.

“Even though we cross each other’s cultures, we must remember our own identities,” French missionary Bishop Oliver Schmitthaeusler, Vicar Apostolic of Phnom Penh, said at the opening of the conference Aug. 23.

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The four-day program was themed “Memory and Identity”.

The theme “is very important as Cambodian society tries to rebuild itself after the Khmer Rouge regime,” Bishop Schmitthaeusler, a missionary MEP, said Aug. 24.

The conference “inspires us to go deeper into our culture and the world, where so many people interact online that we can be cross-cultural.”

“We have to live in today’s world, preserving our memories, our history…to build our identity and shape our future,” he added.

Participants attended discussions on the political and historical memory of Cambodia and on social development, identities and social issues in the context of Cambodia.

They also visited local communities, talked to people and prepared presentations based on the trip.

The participants joined an inter-religious prayer rally in a village and also visited a Khmer Rouge killing ground – Choeung Ek Killing Field.

ASEACCU, based in the Philippines, is the regional forum of the Vatican-endorsed International Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

The Asia-Pacific Forum was established to promote Catholic higher education and contribute to educational dialogue internationally beyond the Southeast and East Asian region.

The association has 86 members and the Saint Paul Institute is the only Catholic institute in Cambodia affiliated with it.

Sophal Phon, the rector of the institute, said the conference opened the doors for Catholic institutes of higher learning to form a team to do further research on “memory and identity” in regional contexts and global.

Cambodia’s Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Naron Hangchuon, said the context of today’s global demands necessitates adapting to new ways of providing quality education to students as “The 4th Industrial Revolution continues to shape the global economy and workforce”.

The minister called on young people to prepare for the new global scenario and called on schools to change education programs to achieve desired future goals.

Christians in Cambodia make up about 1% of the country’s estimated 17 million people, according to government data.

Around 20,000 Catholics are spread over three Church jurisdictions – the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh and the Apostolic Prefectures of Battambang and Kampong-Cham.

In Cambodia, the Catholic Church operates about 100 educational institutions, from kindergarten to upper secondary and vocational training centers, which offer short-term vocational training programs and literacy programs.

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