New native priests bring hope to tiny Cambodian Church

Four new priests have been ordained in the Buddhist-majority nation in just over a month

UCA News reporter

Updated: September 26, 2023 09:40 AM GMT

Father Damo Martin Chour is the first Jesuit priest from Cambodia. He is among the four new priests ordained in the country since August. (Photo: Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific)

Catholics in Cambodia welcomed four new native priests in little over a month, which Church leaders say are signs of hope and growth of the tiny Church in the Buddhist-majority nation.

Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, the Vicar Apostolic of Phnom Penh, ordained three diocesan priests — John the Baptist Vy Samnang, Anthony Thai Ratanak Bunly and Poul Vin Kann on Sept. 23 at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in the national capital, Fides news agency reported.

Hundreds of Catholics from across the country attended the ceremony marked by traditional culture, including music and costumes.

This came after Cambodia witnessed the ordination of its first native Jesuit priest, Father Damo Martin Chour, on Aug. 19 in Battambang by Bishop Schmitthaeusler, a French missionary from Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP).

Bishop Schmitthaeusler said the gift of the new priests represent the Cambodian Catholic community, saying the new crop of priests is a sign of growth and hope for the Cambodian Church.

It is our strength to continue proclaiming the Gospel, to give our lives to God and the community, he said.

The prelate recalled that the three priests are fruits of local Church institutes — Don Bosco school where they studied and the Saint Jean Marie Vianney Seminary in Phnom Penh, the formation center.

The newly ordained priests vowed to serve the community with dedication.

I have experienced joys and difficulties, but all I can do is pray to God and stay with him, trusting him and offering my life to him. My life today is to serve Christ and to serve him in the community, among the poor and the suffering, said Bunly, 30.

When I think about God's call, I am amazed at how wonderful my life is and I thank Him , said Paul Kan Ven, 31.

Anthony Samnang Vy, the only son from a Catholic family, said he was inspired to embrace priestly life by praying and looking at the cross of Christ.

The Catholic Church in Cambodia has about 20,000 members, 14 native priests and about 100 missionary priests and religious based in 80 parishes.

Christians make up less than one percent of the nation's more than 16 million people, according to the Pew Research Center.

Catholicism came to Cambodia in the mid-16th century thanks to Gaspar da Cruz, a Portuguese Dominican friar.

By the 1950s, Cambodia had about 120,000 Catholics, the majority of them ethnic Vietnamese, according to Church statistics.

The Cambodian Church was almost wiped out during the ultra-Maoist, genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot from 1975-1979.

The communist forces tortured and massacred Catholic priests, religious and laypeople, expelled all European missionaries and destroyed churches.

The missionaries returned in the 1990s and rebuilt the Church from the ashes.

French Bishop Yves Georges Rene Ramousse is hailed for the recantation of the Cambodian Church.

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