Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, apostolic nuncio to Thailand and Cambodia and apostolic delegate to Laos. (Photo: Catholic Cambodia)
Catholics in Cambodia need to study Bible to become good apostles of Jesus Christ and prioritize education to contribute to social development, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells said during his first visit to the country.
“Go forth and form a band of apostles,” Wells said during his sermon at a Mass in St. Joseph Church in the capital Phnom Penh on May 21 afternoon, Catholic Cambodia reported.
He reminded members of Cambodia’s tiny Catholic Church that they are called to be good disciples by inculcating three virtues – respect, sincerity, and trust.
Wells said Christians must study Bible to nourish their faith in God.
For Christians, it is important to study the Bible, to know the Word of God, and to pass it on to others, he said, because the Word can “feed and nourish the soul.”
He also urged that it is essential to get an education to become a good disciple.
“Therefore, what we need to do is get an education to connect with Jesus, to be an apostle of Jesus, to establish a genuine relationship to guide and let others be apostles in the way we live,” he added.
He said Christians are called to evangelize but not encouraged for forced conversion to Christianity, he said.
"As Christians, especially parents, we must encourage young people to go to church and must continue to share gifts, which is a special asset, faith," he added.
Wells has a packed schedule for his first trip to the Southeast Asian nation from May 21 to May 25 since his new appointment.
Pope Francis appointed 60-year-old Wells as the apostolic nuncio to Thailand and Cambodia and apostolic delegate to Laos on Feb. 8. He has been the apostolic nuncio to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia since 2016.
After arriving in Phnom Penh on May 21, Wells offered the Mass at St. Joseph’s Church. He met with government officials on May 22 and presented his credentials.
On May 23, he visited the Our Lady of Smile shrine and the St. Paul Institute, where he spoke on “Evangelization in the Khmer context.” He also paid a visit to St. Francis School, a facility for disabled children.
On May 24, he will meet with a Cambodian delegation, a group of religious leaders, who met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in January. He is also scheduled to visit the offices of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh on the day.
On the final day, he will offer a Mass with the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) established by St. Teresa of Kolkata. Then he will attend a gathering of priests of the apostolic vicariate and make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Mekong shrine before heading to the airport.
A native of Tulsa Diocese in Oklahoma of the United States, Wells was ordained a priest in 1991 and entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1999. He studied theology and canon law in Rome.
He has previously served in the Apostolic Nunciature of Nigeria as well as in the Section for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State.
Besides English, Wells can speak Italian, French, German, and Spanish.
Chuon Savann, 55, a member of St. Joseph's Church, said that the visit of the Vatican envoy was a boost for her faith in God and calling to understand the role of the Christian more clearly.
“He reminded us that we must have strong faith first to show an example to others. I am glad that he visited our church,” she said.
Catholicism in Cambodia dates to the 16th century thanks to European Catholic missionaries.
Until the civil war, there were about 62,000 Catholics in Cambodia. The church nearly died out due to the persecution and expulsion of all foreign missionaries and the destruction of churches during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). All local bishops, clergy, and most lay Catholics were tortured and killed.
The church was reborn following the return of missionaries in the 1990s. Today, the Cambodian Church has 20,000 Catholics served mostly by foreign missionaries. Over the years, the local church has provided 10 native priests and 10 nuns.
Cambodia and the Vatican re-established formal diplomatic relations in 1994.