The Foreign Missions Society, the Cambodian Historians Association, and the Department of History held a conference entitled 500 Years of Friendship: The Church and the Kingdom of Cambodia on September 14.
Nearly 80 students, academics, and pastors attended the conference to study the link between Cambodia and the Catholic Church and produce historical materials for the Cambodian Catholic community.
The conference was held at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in the capital city to write the history and bring together interested academics to study the Cambodian people and the church's common history and how their perspectives can improve their histories over the last few centuries.
H.E. San Vathana, Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Education for Youth and Sports and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Royal Phnom Penh University talked about the Church's contribution to the country.
"The Catholic Church has contributed a lot to Cambodian society today, especially in the field of education, from kindergarten to higher education, boarding for young people, health care shelters, scholarship programs for students, and charity works," Vathana said in the opening message.
He added that today we have clergy from different religions, including professors and students, local and international, participating in the culture of sharing and the culture of dialogue between different religions and from different perspectives. This shows that our Cambodian society is a society that can accept, understand, and be free in its religious beliefs, which is the basis for working together to develop our nation.
"We continue to strengthen the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Cambodian people with compassion, tolerance, understanding, love, and harmony for the whole world, which is most needed today," he added.
H.E. Ieng Mouly, Senior Advisor of the Cambodian Historians Association called the event to recall the memories between Cambodia and the Catholic Church.
"The 500-year-old pedagogical conference between the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Cambodia now has great meaning to recall the friendly memories between France and Cambodia during the past 5 centuries. He recalled that in the middle of the 17th century, a missionary of the Catholic Church of France arrived in Cambodia, Bishop Jean-Claude Miche, M.E.P., who founded the church in Longvek, the capital of Cambodia."
Through a book entitled The Cathedral of Rice Paddy, Mr. Ieng reminded the participants that the arrival of France in Cambodia was not only to maintain the stability of the throne but also to help the development of Buddhism and Khmer culture. Also, the French built a Buddhist institute in Pali and a Buddhist library in 1930.
In this gathering, there were many historical documents and research files to compile some new and old history related to the Catholic community in Cambodia. According to all these documents, the Catholic Church came to this land in the early 16th century AD, during the time of Cambodia's trading with the Portuguese.
Yon Seng Yeath, a Buddhist monk and Vice Chancellor of Sihanoukreach Buddhist University, said at the ceremony that for the past 500 years, the relationship between the church and Buddhists has not been very close, but for a few years recently, we have been very close.
He added that the interfaith meeting that the High Priest Tevong had invited in 2017 with the Saint Egidio Association in Rome had turned into a very close relationship.
"We have continued our relationship for 500 years, and we will continue for the next 500 years by adhering to the principles of inter-religious observance that will enable people of different faiths to come together and be close to each other," he added.
H.E. Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler-MEP, bishop of the 24th Phnom Penh Vicariate, said that the vision of the church is to promote the dignity of all human beings by believing that they are God’s presence and especially the church to take good care of the common good, to be active, capable, and fraternal, and to take care of and protect the environment as a gift from God to serve peace.
The bishop stated that in 1980, when Cambodia finished the civil war and there were refugee camps in Thailand, Caritas NGOs, an institution of the Catholic Church, joined closely with the Cambodian authorities by providing needs to people during their suffering.
He added that the Catholic community also joined interreligious dialogue, especially with Buddhism, in order to promote a harmonious society through humanitarian activities and participation in all sectors of society.
He added that today's program is an opportunity for young people to learn and can help them prepare for the future of the country.
He hopes that in the future we may have other opportunities for students who are researching history and religions to delve deeper into their own culture and to work together to build a society that understands each other and journeys within harmony and peacebuilding.
Pich Srey Neath, 21, a fourth-year history student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh who participated in the program, said: "I never thought that the relationship between Catholics and Cambodia has been close for 500 years, and this is a new story for me too. And I am happy that religious relations have made my society prosperous, and it is good that there is so much interfaith in the country that we learn to understand each other and that religion contributes to society and helps people in need."
Neak Oknha Mengly J. Quach said that today is a history between the Church and the Kingdom of Cambodia in a 500-year relationship. Reminiscing about this history, we learn from each other, both positively and negatively, to correct it so that we do not live together. There is emotional trauma, and there is conflict with religion and discrimination.
Mr. Quach continued that in Cambodia, we have learned to be flexible and open. In Cambodia, there is freedom of religion and people living together in harmony.
According to the Rev. Fr. Francois Ponchaud-MEP's compilation of the Catholic Church's archives in Cambodia, Gaspar da Cruz, a Dominican priest from Portugal, brought the Catholics to Cambodia in 1555 AD.
Currently, the Catholic communities in Cambodia have a total of 104 places of worship and churches and more than 20,000 Catholics among a population of nearly 16 million.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.