"How many times this year, in our Vicariate, I saw God in the faces of children and in your faces! Once again, these days, I have seen God in our midst many times: I saw him in the few faithful of St. Paul's Church, Thmey that welcomed 100 poor people and elderly, offering them friendship and smiles; I saw him in hundreds of poor Buddhists and Muslims who come to share a moment of fraternity with the sisters of Mother Teresa; I saw him in 3,000 children in Takeo who joyfully celebrated Christmas; I saw him in Takeo prison, when Buddhists, Muslims and Christians united to encourage prisoners; I saw him in the theater in Chomkacheang, where young people represented the Nativity": this is the "memorial" delivered by Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler in the message released at the beginning of 2017 to the baptized of the Vicariate of Phnom Penh.
In the text of the pastoral letter for the new year, sent to Agenzia
Fides, the Apostolic Vicar remarked: "God is here, in our country, and
is present in the youngest, the poorest, the severely disabled, the
landless, in migrants, in our families, sometimes separated due to
infidelity, gambling, violence, drugs; God is in our workplaces marked
by bitterness and destructive power. He invites us to become builders of
a culture of mercy", to promote "the mercy of the revolution", he
Mgr. Schmitthaeusler recalls that the Catholic community in the
Vicariate experienced "three years of charity", which ended in the
celebration of the Jubilee of Mercy: "We are called to promote a culture
of mercy based on rediscovering the encounter with others, a culture
where no one looks at others with indifference or walks away from the
suffering of his brothers", and adds that the works of mercy are a kind
of "handicraft products", meaning they are made by the hands of men, and
"none are made in the same way". "God inspires them all, and they are
all the same style and material, but each takes a different form", he
The text continues: "This is the time of mercy. Every day of our journey
is marked by the presence of God who guides our steps with the power
of the Spirit and pours it into our hearts to make them capable of
loving. This is the time of mercy for each and for all, it is the time
of mercy for those who are weak and vulnerable and alone" as "for the
poor and sinners".
Looking in particular at the national context, Mgr. Schmitthaeusler
recalled that after the Khmer Rouge regime, "education, culture,
religion and economy were largely destroyed. Today, 60% of the
population is under 22 years of age. These younger generations are born
to parents who have experienced the difficulties of survival" and at a
time when "there was a break in the transmission of traditional values".
The new generations, explains the letter, grew up looking at models of
families in the Korean series on TV or those on social media, based on
consumerism, selfishness, individualism. This is why it is important
today "to offer young people a good model of the family", he notes.
Another focal point is "the scourge of poverty which is the root of
violence, drugs, alcohol and addiction to gambling". "Through Catholic
NGOs and charitable groups in each parish, we try to give dignity to the
poorest families to help them build their lives, to find work, to send
their children to school, and to be able to take care of them", he says.
We must not underestimate the phenomenon of emigration: "About 10% of
the Cambodian population is outside of Cambodia and works in Thailand,
Korea, Malaysia, Singapore. Many adults leave the children at home with
grandparents and parents see their children once a year. How can these
'children without parents' become good parents in the future?"
Finally the Vicar notes the challenges of interfaith marriages, "90% of
Catholic Cambodians were baptized recently and many Catholics marry a
Buddhist. This means that they come from a Buddhist family and go back
to a Buddhist family. The preparation for marriage provides an
opportunity to teach the vision and the values of a Catholic family and
to ask them to educate their children in the Christian faith. It is a
major challenge for the Church to accompany these new couples and give
them appropriate training".
"I wish our Church in Cambodia becames increasingly a Church that
follows and guides teenagers and young people at the beginning of their
love life; a church that bears witness of God’s mercy and tenderness; a
Church that is truly 'mother and father'; a Church that listens and sees
the needs of families, that lives compassion and empathy to illuminate
their lives and consciousness, especially in a Buddhist context; a
Church that calls on all Catholic families to show mercy, dialogue,
solidarity and peace".