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Cambodian Catholics honor martyrs killed by Khmer Rouge

Clergy, religious, and laypeople were murdered during the Pol Pot regime in 1970-77
Cambodian clergy, religious, and laypeople attend a program to honor Catholic martyrs killed during the Khmer Rouge regime on June 17

Cambodian clergy, religious, and laypeople attend a program to honor Catholic martyrs killed during the Khmer Rouge regime on June 17. (Photo: Catholic Cambodia)

Published: June 23, 2023 11:41 AM GMT
Updated: June 23, 2023 12:02 PM GMT

More than 3,000 Catholics including bishops, priests, and laypeople in Cambodia participated in a Mass to commemorate clergy, religious, and laypeople who were martyred by the Pol Pot regime in the seventies.

The event was held in Tang Kork District, Kampong Thom Province, about 100 kilometers from the capital Phnom Penh on June 17, Catholic Cambodia reported.

During the program, church officials called the martyrs the “fathers” of today’s Catholic community in Cambodia.

“The testimony of the martyrs guides us along the way” Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, the Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh and an MEP missionary, said during the program.

Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzález, the apostolic prefect of Battambang, Pierre Suon Hangly the apostolic prefect of Kompong-Cham, priests, nuns, and laity attended the Mass in remembrance of the “Cambodian Martyrs.”

In 2015, the Cambodian Church opened the diocesan phase of the beatification process for Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas and 34 other martyrs who were killed during the Khmer Rouge, Catholic Cambodia reported.

Bishop Salas and the other martyrs were killed between 1970-77 during the persecution of the Catholic Church by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.

Father Paul Roeung Chatsirey, the postulator of the cause of beatification and MEP Mission director in Laos and Cambodia, pointed out that several collaborators helped to “collect testimonies, evidence, and compile the documents to be presented to the Holy See.”

Religious practices were suspended under the repressive regime of Pol Pot that is blamed for murdering about two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979 as it wanted to annihilate all whom they considered traitors and counter-revolutionaries.

The Khmer Rouge murdered lay people, catechists, and missionaries, including members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) from Cambodia, Vietnam, and France.

In his address to the gathering, Bishop Schmitthaeusler pointed out that the situation has improved a lot since the ending of the Khmer Rogue atrocities.

"Today the situation is very different, the church is new, there are about 23,000 believers and several very young congregations, mostly founded by people who have only recently accepted the Christian faith,” Schmitthaeusler said.

“The Lord accompanies us, and we always look hopefully into the future," the prelate added.

The event also saw artifacts from Bishop Salas’ time which were kept safe by Cambodian Catholics.

The pectoral cross worn by Bishop Salas and the cot that he used were displayed during the event held at the site where Bishop Salas spent his last days.

The golden pectoral cross was given to Bishop Salas on April 14, 1975, just three days before Pol Pot unleashed Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia. It has been handed down to Bishop Schmitthaeusler.

Prich Chun, 52, said that he was happy to attend the commemorative event for the first time.

"This is my first time attending a memorial service here, and I thank God for this precious time," Chun said.

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