ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome
Cambodia Marks 450 Years of Church's Presence
3,000 People Gather for Closing Mass
KOMPONG CHAM, Cambodia, DEC. 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- At least 3,000 Cambodian Catholics gathered to celebrate the closing of the jubilee celebrations to mark the 450 years of the Church's presence in their country, reported Fides.
The Vatican agency said that a solemn Eucharistic concelebration marking the milestone was presided over Dec. 3 by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio.
For the occasion, Benedict XVI relayed his apostolic blessing. And Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, recalled in a message that the history of the Church in Cambodia "after the period of harsh trials, can be compared to that of the early Church in Jerusalem and Rome."
The place chosen for the anniversary celebration is symbolic: Here the first Cambodian bishop died of hardship under the Khmer Rouge regime in 1976. Amid the rice fields, off the tourist track, thousands of Christians praised the Lord on the First Sunday of Advent.
"Although the Good News reached Cambodia late," said Cardinal Dias, "this delay must not be considered discrimination with regard to the people of Cambodia, but rather a motive for gratitude for the infinite goodness of God, who takes on workers for his vineyard at all hours of the day and treats the first and the last with the same benevolence."
Cambodia's 25,000 Catholics are a small flock amid the country's 14 million inhabitants. Not long ago a Catholic community of 200 Cambodians was found in the north of the country, in an area only accessible by boat. During more than 30 years of isolation due to war, these Catholics persevered in prayer, without even the possibility of seeing a priest.
Predating the French
Christianity is regarded by many Cambodians, and also by the public administration, as a foreign religion imported by the French during their Protectorate (1863-1953) or by the United Nations during APRONUC's mandate for the re-establishment of peace (1992-1995).
However, the Catholic Church had been present in Cambodia long before the French colonization.
Last Sept. 19 a group of 28 Christians, some pastors, a priest, a nun and the faithful of the city of Kompong Cham began to visit key places connected with the birth of the Catholic Church in Cambodia.
They visited Longvek, the kingdom's capital from 1515 to 1594, where Father Gaspard De Cruz, a Portuguese Dominican, presented himself to King Preah Ang Chan's court in 1555.
In 1590, King Preah Borom Ricrea granted full religious liberty to the Christian religion. Converted Mandarins did not lose their privileges and owners did not have the right to hinder their slaves from practicing their faith.
The pilgrims then went to Oudong, the capital from 1610 to 1866, to commemorate the arrival of a group of Japanese Christians who were fleeing from persecution and were granted political asylum around 1610.
This asylum was again repeated in 1660 for a group of Indonesian Christians. In the mid-17th century, Vietnamese Catholics sought refuge in great numbers in Cambodia, fleeing from the kings' persecutions.
Tests of fidelity
One of the pilgrims continued to relate historical background: "In Prambei Chaom, around the tomb of Monsignor Piguel, the first apostolic vicar of Cambodia, we were able to discuss the different ways of evangelizing, the need to give life to religious congregations or catechists' schools, and to a local clergy.
"Monsignor Piguel was dedicated to this mission when the war destroyed everything. Further away, in Ponhea Lu, the foundations of the old church reminded us of the negotiations of King Ang Duong, 1846-1860, assisted by Monsignor Migas, to induce the French to re-establish the kingdom.
"We ended our pilgrimage in Phnom Penh's Carmel. Here we recalled the horrors of the 20th century, given that in this parish 515 Vietnamese were massacred by Lon Nol's troops in April 1970. Through sorrows and tests of fidelity, we have been able to admire the work of our predecessors and the bold spread of the Good News on Khmer soil."
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