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First local priest becomes Apostolic Prefect of Kampong Cham in Cambodia

Msgr. Pierre Hangly SUON receives a bouquet of flowers from Catholics (Photo by Sovanna LY)

The Apostolic Prefecture of Kampong Cham welcomed its first Cambodian priest, Pierre Hangly SUON, who became the Apostolic Prefect.

More than one thousand Catholics came from different places in the country to attend the installation of Msgr. SUON. 

The Apostolic Nuncio to Cambodia, Archbishop Paul Tschang In-nam, ordained SOUN as a prelate in the presence of Cardinal Louis Marie Ling, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Laos and Cambodia (CELAC), bishops, and about 100 priests. 

The ceremony took place on October 1, at the Catholic Church in Kompong Cham, about 130 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh. 

During the procession of the ceremony, Archbishop Tschang In-nam questioned Msgr. Suon about the faith, love, sincerity, and obedience of the Holy See and Pope Francis. 

He emphasized that the role of the pastor is to promote unity and cooperation with all clergy on the path of salvation and to pray for the common good for the people of God and those whom you have met. 

Then Archbishop Paul blessed the ecclesiastical ring, the mitre and the pectoral cross and gave them to the new Apostolic prefect of Kampong Cham.

The Dicastery for Evangelization of the Holy See nominated Father SUON as Apostolic Prefect of Kompong Cham, Cambodia on July 15, 2022. His successor will be Msgr. Antonysami Susairaj, MEP. 

Before Msgr. SUON, the Holy See appointed Fr. Bruno Cosme, MEP as Apostolic Administrator of Kompong Cham from 2019–2022. 

"I was excited when they announced the letter from the Holy See in which Pope Francis nominated me as Apostolic Prefect of Kompong Cham," Father SUON expressed on the installation celebration day. 

He adds that it was providential of God for his priesthood life, even though he was a simple and weak person. 

"I believe that God will give me strength, hope, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will give me strong faith and courage to serve the apostolic prefecture of Kompong Cham," he said.

In 1969, the Holy See divided the Catholic Church in Cambodia into three church jurisdictions: Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang; and Apostolic Prefecture of Kompong Cham, which covers eight provinces in the Northeast and Eastern. 

Msgr. Suon was born into a Catholic family on April 15, 1971, in the village of Ta-skor, in Kandal Province along the Mekong River, about 20 kilometers east of Phnom Penh city, in the parish of Matkrasas, the birthplace of Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas, former bishop of Phnom Penh, who died in 1977 during the Khmer Rouge regime. 

He grew up during the Khmer Rouge regime and was exiled to a refugee camp along the Cambodia-Thailand border. 

He found a vocation in the refugee camp in 1991, and he joined the seminary in 1992 after returning home from the refugee camp. He was ordained as a diocesan priest of the Phnom Penh vicariate in 2001. 

After receiving ordination, the Bishop sent him to serve the church in the Kompot-Takoe area with Father Olivier SCHMITTHAEUSLER, MEP and now Bishop of Phnom Penh.

Bishop Olivier told RVA News that Fr. LY has served in the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh as a diocesan priest, priest in charge of the pastoral district, Apostolic Vicar General, and rector of Major Seminary St. Jean Marie Vianney in Phnom Penh. 

"We can say that Phnom Penh Vicariate is a school for Hangly, which led him into a new life as the apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham today," said Bishop Olivier. 

Bishop Olivier added, "We can see today that God gave us a special gift for the Catholic Church in Cambodia, which is a local priest (Khmer priest) taking responsibility in the Apostolic Prefecture of Kompong Cham. It is time to walk together in the Cambodian Church and Laos to proclaim the Good News."

Mrs. Touch Kim, the 78-year-old auntie of Hangly, said, "I am so happy that he was installed as Kompong Cham perfect." 

She does not have any gifts for Msgr. Suon, but she hopes that her presence is great enough to encourage him to serve the Apostolic Prefecture of Kompong Cham and its people with love and joy. 

The Superior General of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP), Father Vincent Senechal, told RVA News that he was so proud, and MEP strongly supports the Catholic Church in Cambodia and Kompong Cham Prefecture by sending MEP priests to work in Cambodia, providing financial support, and formation support for clergy and laity. 

Father Senechal recalled that MEP arrived in Cambodia in 1658. 

The mission of MEP is to work with the local church to build and help local churches grow. He continued that it is the first to have a Khmer prefect for the Apostolic Prefecture of Kampong Cham. Before the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia had Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas and Msgr. Paul Tep Im Sotha. 

"Today the third Khmer priest, Father Suon, was nominated as apostolic prefect of Kampong Cham. I am very excited," he added. 

Msgr. Suon was a third-generation Khmer priest and the first prefect of Kampong Cham. 

In 1969, Msgr. Paul Tep Im So was nominated as the apostolic prefect of Battambang. He was killed by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas, bishop of Phnom Penh, died of exhaustion and hunger during the Khmer Rouge regime in 1977. 

"I’m so excited that Fr. Suon has become our new prefect of Kampong Cham," said Msgr. Enrique Figaredo, Apostolic prefect of Battambang.

He added three important points about Father Suon: first, he is Khmer, second, he has the knowledge and ways to lead the community to grow; and lastly, through the gift he has received from God, he will lead the Church in Cambodia full of hope and joy, which is the strength of all. 

Ms. Ratha EM, from the Bosnor Catholic community in Kampong Cham prefecture, told RVA News, "I hope he is our good bishop because he is Cambodian and easy to communicate with as he speaks Khmer, our language. He will understand more about us who live in rural areas." 

Ratha committed to praying for a new apostolic prefect with the strength to help his followers grow in faith, be a good witness about Jesus to all, and let more people know and come join in God’s love. 

Msgr. SUON said, "Truly, there are fewer Catholics in the Kampong Cham prefecture than in any other diocese, but I believe my mission and presence as an apostolic prefect is important." 

The new apostolic prefect told RVA News, the first important thing he would do was to understand the parish in each area: prefecture staff, pastoral committee, and good collaboration with priests and the former bishop to look for shortcomings that should be improved in the mission to proclaim the gospel of the Lord. 

Msgr. SUON added, "Another important factor is that we must have love in the Catholic community between the bishop and the faithful, the bishop and the community, prefecture staff, pastoral committee, and all the clergy to witness the faith in Jesus to all our Cambodian society." 

"Whenever we live together as a group with peace and love, the proclamation of the gospel will be effective, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit," he added. 

The Catholic Church in Cambodia has about 20,000 faithful among 16 million people, 95% of whom are Buddhists. - Kagnha Keo 


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