Cambodians in Madrid: the WYD is our consecration in the faith

» 08/12/2011 16:20

by Giulia Mazza
Thirty-one people are coming from Phnom Penh, 28 youths and 3 guides. The trip is “God’s precious gift” to live in simplicity. Meeting others will give them new strength to face hardships and help the still “green” Cambodian Church to grow.

Rome (AsiaNews) – “For us, this trip, represents a consecration, the consecration of our life in the name of the Christian faith,” said Sophal, who will accompany the Cambodian delegation to the World Youth Day (WYD) meeting in Madrid (16-21 August).

Ten thousands kilometres set Phnom Penh and Madrid apart, a long trip that first brought the group of young Cambodians— 31 people, 28 youths and 3 guides—to Rome for a few days. Mgr Olivier Michel Marie Schmitthaeusler, the apostolic vicar to Phnom Penh, is one of them.

For most of these young people, it will be their first WYD as well as their first trip outside the country, a unique opportunity as well as a privilege and a responsibility because in Cambodia, the Church is still young and green, yet ready to grow.

Sophal, 28, is in charge of youth pastoral case in Phnom Penh Diocese. Over the past few months, he is prepared the group, taking care of all technical aspects of the trip, from choosing participants to raising funds. As part of this, he set up three meetings to help youths get to know each other.

Madrid will be his second WYD after Cologne, in 2005. “It is hard to evaluate such an experience. In Germany, where the theme was “We have come to worship him” (Mt, 2:2), I learnt that I had to base my life in Jesus Christ. There I set the rules for my life and I hope that in Madrid I can confirm this lifelong choice.”

For him, three “practical” aspects make this a unique experience: raising funds, bringing together (on behalf of the Cambodian Church) youths from faraway dioceses and having the Church take care of them.

Saroeun is also 28. He is from the diocese of Phnom Penh, and this will be his first WYD. “When I found out that I had been picked I was happy but very scared. I was going to meet young people in Madrid who come from a long Christian tradition, whilst in Cambodia, the young generation is just rebuilding the journey of faith, which is still very weak.”

The young man said that in the past months he read and studied a lot. “I want to meet people of my age, see how they live, how they present the faith and face daily life,” he said. “In my country, we must face so many daily hardships and interact with the surrounding society and deal more generally with life. Often, I am criticised for the faith I live because in a certain way I do not respect my country’s (Buddhist) culture. . . . There are in fact discouraging moments because I want to live this experience in order to find new strength.”

In 1975, when Pol Pot set up his regime and imposed state atheism, Christians (and all religious believers) fell victims to an unprecedented wave of persecution. In a few years, the Cambodian Church was disbanded, its places of worship destroyed and its priests killed outright, dead from deprivations or worked to death in forced labour camps. Every missionary was expelled. Only in 1990 did Cambodian authorities allow the Church to return.

In Rome, the young Cambodians got an important lesson from their visit to the basilicas of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and the catacomb of Saint Callisto. “Seeing these places and hearing the story of the persecution and the first martyrs, I realised how much suffering Christianity went through,” Saroeun said. “When I go back to Cambodia, I hope I can bear witness to what I learnt and help the Church to grow.”

For Sokhoeun, 22, this is going to be “a precious gift of the Lord, something fantastic”. Of all the participants, she is probably the most thrilled.

She is one of only four people chosen from the diocese of Kompong Chan, and only one from her province.

As preparation for the trip, she viewed many pictures and slides from past WYDs. Initially, “seeing so many people was scary. But I was also struck by how they were all together,” she said.

“I want to live this experience with simplicity, a smile on my face, and try to enjoy everything that I will be given,” she added. “Meeting other young people in a few days has sparked something new in me, a deeper knowledge of my faith with a desire to return on this path in my country.”