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Cambodian bishop tells Catechumens to pray, be compassionate and serve

Bishop Olivier annoint the oil on the palm of each candidate on Calling Day_Ngeth Sothirith-CSC (2)

As many as 185 catechumens in Cambodia prepared for Easter baptism this year.

Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler of Phnom Penh spoke to catechumens at the Phnom Penh Thmey Centre in Phnom Penh, emphasizing the importance of prayer, compassion, and service during their program preparation.

He instructed them to emulate Jesus' prayer in all circumstances—suffering, triumph, or sorrow—and to consistently engage in prayer with God. Continuously pray and give thanks to God with all your heart, just as Mary did. Pray in worship as the Magi did when they were on high but go to honor the feeble infant Jesus.

The bishop also urged all candidates ready for baptism to come to church and have a relationship with God.

"We, the new sprouts, must decide to come to church every Sunday. "We need to have a relationship with the community and help each other,” he said.

"We need to be active Catholics, not just churchgoers.  There are many service groups in the community, such as liturgy, catechism class, scouts, flower arranging, cooking, and cleaning the church," said the bishop.  "It is important to know that we serve by heart."

This year, the candidates who will be baptized on Easter are from 10 pastoral districts, including those north of Phnom Penh, south of Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh Thmey, Takhmao, Kampot, Takeo, Sihanoukville, Holy Way, Mekong, and Bassac.

The February 17 program spanned the entire day, beginning with a morning of instruction from Bishop Schmitthaeusler on the role of Catholics in daily life. In the afternoon, the prelate made a solemn call after a rehearsal.

The bishop also explained the great symbol of baptism, in which the recipient receives a new breath from the Holy Spirit.

"You are lucky to have the experience of being a new person, which is like loving God," he said.

The bishop urged the priests in all pastoral districts to hold ceremonies for the candidates and ask them to fast every Friday during the Lent season.

He said that fasting is like going into the desert with Jesus, where there was no water, no people, only sand, hot weather, and animals—a difficult place, but Jesus remained to connect with the Father in silence.

He reminded them that, even if nothing matters, one should struggle with hunger and purify the mind with God.

The apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh conducts a calling ceremony for candidates to be baptized during the first week of the Lent season every year. This is the last step of the catechism class.

In Cambodia, if an adult wants to be a Catholic, they have to join a catechism class for at least 1–2 years. 

The bishop delighted the participants of the ten pastoral districts by saying that, with catechist teachers and priests, the ongoing preparation of baptism is a sign that the church is alive and growing.

"We are a special group, a living stone, because of our church's day-to-day showing and acting mercy, prayer, and service," he said.

Michael Loeun Lak, 20, a third-year university student from Takeo pastoral district, said he got to know the church through a group of child scouts in his village, Kirivong, Takeo province.

He expressed his intention to fast for forty days, prepare to become a Catholic, and utilize his assets to serve the community. Loeun is now a choir member at the Church of Jesus Child in Phnom Penh's Beung Tompun.

Lina Loeung, 23, from the province of Banteay Meanchey, stated that the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center in Phnom Penh introduced her to the community in 2019.

Lina, raised in a Buddhist household, disclosed that her parents opposed her conversion to Catholicism. However, she endeavored to elucidate her intentions by drawing upon the knowledge she had gained over the previous three to four years. This realization brought her joy and inspired her to pursue a life as a devout Catholic.

The young girl stated that her existence is no longer lonely since she came to know God.  "Before, when I was unhappy, no one was with me, but now, even when I am unhappy, God is always with me and encourages me, " said Lina.

Lina declares that she will make an effort to share her newfound faith with others, focusing on the Catholic way of life.

During the rehearsal program, in front of the altar, the bishop called out each candidate's name, but foster parents must go along with them. After anointing the candidates with oil, the candidates were instructed to wear purple handkerchiefs upon entering the church until their baptism day.

The Catholic Church in Cambodia baptized 397 adults and children in 2023, with 167 baptisms taking place in Battambang (60 adults and 107 children) and 126 in Kampong Cham (104 adults and 22 children).  The bishop of Phnom Penh baptized 104 adults on February 20, 2023.

The Catholic Church in Cambodia has approximately 20,000 Catholics out of a total population of 16 million. - Kangha Keo


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