The Buddhist Great Patriarch of Phnom Penh honored Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler of Phnom Penh as “a great friend of Buddhists” on Apr 30.
The event took place at Ang Montrey Pagoda, in Tramkok district, Takeo province, southern Cambodia, about 80 kilometers from Phnom Penh city.
It is said the honorific title is equivalent to the Saint Gregory order of the Holy See.
The ceremony was presided over by Seng Somony, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Cults and Religions.
Preah Dhamma Choy Pov, a monk in charge of the district came to proclaim the Royal decreed No. 018, 27 of the Supreme Patriarch of the Maha Nikaya of Cambodia, on January 4, 2022, which was following mandate: Bishop Schmitthaeusler is a “Great Buddhist supporter”.
The decreed declaration is effective from the date of this notification.
Bishop Schmitthaeusler, 51, a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) addressed the gathering including high-ranking government officials, Buddhists, and Catholics.
“I think this morning's gathering is not just to get this special title, but it brings us together in a new way. It would guide us on the path of peace so that we can build a good relationship with each other,” he said.
He added that meditating and praying, help all to be free from suffering in this world overcome quarrels, hatred, and violence, and receive new light.
Bishop Schmitthaeusler, a French man, emphasizes that dialogue is an important factor in building brotherhood.
“Here, we are Cambodians, have the same culture, the same language, the same heart, and go forward together even though we have different religions. We need to care about understanding each other. It leads us to create a new world of dialogue, remembering that we are brothers and sisters from the beginning,” the prelate said.
"Everyone can learn from each other and also needs spiritual life guidance from religion to become a full-fledged person,” he added.
The Bishop of Phnom Penh said religion teaches about the values of virtue, culture, and morality in life.
“If our hearts are dark and our spirits are dry, what can we do to bring justice, hope, and harmony to our real world?” he asked.
“The religious teaching we have received fulfills us to be perfect in spirituality and knowledge,” he said.
At the same time, the bishop drew attention to the fraternity and friendship.
“We have been working hard day by day from the time of my arrival in Cambodia in 2002,” he recalled.
He has been in touch with the first Buddhist chief monk of Ang Montrey Pagoda.
The prelate started to get along with each other. During Pchum Ben or Khmer New Year, he always came to the pagoda to meet with the monks and pagoda committee for wishes.
“During the Christmas season, the monk and pagoda committee came to our church for wishes and bring along with some rice, coconut and cake to us for helping the poor on the occasion of Christmas,” the bishop recalled.
“From day one, we have made real friendships and conducted activities together,” he said.
Amid the pandemic, together with the Buddhist chief monk and the bishop went to the Covid-19 Quarantine Center.
For many years, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians, the religious leaders used to visit the inmates in the provincial prison of Kampot, Sihanoukville, and Takeo, giving gifts, and food and praying together with prisoners for physical and mental strength.
Seng Somony, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Cults and Religions, said he was surprised to see the letter from the Monk and wondered How come, Bishop Schmitthaeusler, a Catholic bishop could unite with Buddhism.
Somony expressed that as Samdech Hun Sen Prime Minister of Cambodia declared, "Religious harmony is very important, do not quarrel, do not quarrel."
Religious harmony is so important to the country. All religions have the same goal: "to bring peace to human beings." So, prejudice and discrimination based on religion or any other factor have no place in society, he said.
Meanwhile, bishop Schmitthaeusler thanked for religious honor, saying, “This is not just for me, but the Catholic Church and for both religions who to work together, to journey together.”
The prelate hopes, “This relationship will continue to move forward for many years, even though we meet difficulties. We can build peace for the world to change towards peace.”
“Peace must exist in a family. When a family is in peace, a village would be in peace, so also a province and country and the world at large,” he said.
The honor for the bishop comes less than two months after he received the National Order of Merit medal for his decades of seminal efforts in social development on March 8. - With inputs by Kagna Keo
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