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Cambodian Catholics join Buddhists for Season of Creation

Catholics priests and Buddhist monks plant trees together during the month-long global Christian event

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: September 10, 2021 03:43 AM GMT

Updated: September 10, 2021 02:32 PM GMT

Cambodian Catholics join Buddhists for Season of Creation

Monsignor Enrique Figaredo, apostolic prefect of Battambang (Photo supplied)

Catholics in Cambodia have joined hands with Buddhists to strengthen dialogue, fraternity and interfaith relations as they observe the month-long Season of Creation.

As part of the bonding, Catholic priests and Buddhists monks have started to meet up and plant trees together beginning from Sept. 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, reports the Vatican’s Fides news agency.

The Season of Creation is an annual Christian event that runs from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4, when some 2.2 billion Christians unite, pray and act to care for God’s creation and the common home, the earth. This year’s theme is “Restoring Our Common Home.”

"We all have the responsibility to protect the common home in which we live", said Monsignor Enrique Figaredo, apostolic prefect of Battambang.

The Jesuit prelate invited the faithful in Battambang, about 300 kilometers northwest of Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, to celebrate the season with the spirit of Laudato Si', the groundbreaking 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis where he called on people to care for their common home.  

Monsignor Figaredo said that "we live the joyful experience of collaborating with Buddhist monks for the good of the environment, of society, side by side, united for a better future."

Even though we have different faiths, nationalities, ethnic groups and cultures, we are human beings, all called to work together for unity and solidarity

For five years, Catholics and Buddhists have taken this initiative to take care of the territory and to give an example to all citizens, of any religious creed, he said, adding that it is important to pass on a similar commitment to the younger generation.

"It is a question of love for life: if we love our life and that of our neighbor, we must protect and take care of the environment as it is a gift we have received from God, it is the work of his hands," he said.

"Even though we have different faiths, nationalities, ethnic groups and cultures, we are human beings, all called to work together for unity and solidarity."

Gaspar da Cruz, a Portuguese friar of the Dominican Order, brought the Catholic faith to Cambodia in 1555-56, according to church sources, but he didn’t succeed much in converting people to Christianity.

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Despite French colonization in the 19th century, Christianity has had little influence in the Southeast Asian country. According to Vatican statistics, Catholics in the country numbered 120,000 in 1953, of which 50,000 were Vietnamese, making Christianity the second largest religion at the time.

In 1972, there were about 20,000 Christians in Cambodia, mostly Catholics. Before the repatriation of the Vietnamese in 1970 and 1971, possibly as many as 62,000 Catholics lived in Cambodia.

Catholicism almost withered away due to deadly political upheavals, civil war and the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) when an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people, or about 25 percent of the population of Cambodia, were killed by political executions, disease, hunger and forced labor.

Missionaries rebuilt the Church from ashes when they returned in the early 1990s following the Paris Agreement that marked the end of the civil war.

Today Cambodia has some 20,000 Catholics, accounting for just 0.13 percent of some 16 million people. It has no dioceses but three ecclesiastical jurisdictions — one apostolic vicariate and two apostolic prefectures.

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