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Cambodian Catholics laud French missionary’s service

Fr. Damien Fahner presides his last Mass at Child Jesus Church at Boeng Tumpun with Deacon Samnang Vy on Oct 2, 2022. (Photo by RVA News)

Cambodian Catholics appreciate the service of a French missionary who served the country for last 11 years. 

Father Damien Farhner was recently elected to the Paris Foreign Missionaries Society (MEP) as a counselor and was required to return to France.

Living in Cambodia for more than 11 years has left many memories for him, first learning the Khmer language and then learning about the lives of the communities and the Cambodian people, both in culture and tradition.

Sitting in front of the Mary Cave at the Child Jesus Church at Boeung Tumpun in Phnom Penh city, Father Farhner, a priest in charge of the South of Phnom Penh pastoral district in the Phnom Penh Vicariate, said, "I have tried hard to fulfill my mission since I came to Cambodia."

He added, "My first mission was to learn the Khmer language for three years and to get to know people by paying attention, opening my eyes and heart, and getting to know Khmer culture. I tried to adapt to the situation in Cambodia and the local church."

With a smile, Farhner compared that when he dedicated himself to God, he considered knowing the church more.  

Three months after his priestly ordination, his MEP superior assigned him to Cambodia in September 2011. 

The Catholic community in Cambodia was founded in 1555, but due to the war, especially under the genocidal Pol Pot regime, things had to start again.

The priest said that the Catholic Church in Cambodia is old but still young because of its history of hardship.

He said the Cambodian church now has young men and women, many families, many Cambodian national priests, and also another new Cambodian Monsignor. 

Sr. Sany gives the flower to Fr. Farhner thanking him for his missionary service in Cambodia. (Photo by RVA News)

At present, the Catholic Church in Cambodia has 10 Khmer priests and fewer than 20 Khmer nuns. And it has only 20,000 Catholic people among its 16 million people.

Because of its unique circumstances–the majority of Cambodia's 20 000 Catholics are of Vietnamese origin–the Cambodian Church is also a place of the first announcement (to Khmers) and new evangelization (of the Vietnamese).

The challenges are numerous, beginning with the challenge of bringing together Christians of Khmer and Vietnamese origin that are divided by the depth of the historical wounds between these two neighboring countries. Not to be overlooked are the difficulties associated with the massive task of translating the Bible, liturgy, and tradition.

This journey of history made Father Farhner feel that his mission in Cambodia was an honor to him.

"The Church and God sent me here to sow his words and to reap the fruits of God,” he said.

For the last eight years, he has been assigned to serve in the Phnom Penh Vicariate, such as Sihanuvile and Phnom Penh city. He is also in charge of the Catholic Church's Students Center base in Phnom Penh and the Liturgy Committee of the Phnom Penh Vicariate.

To serve the liturgy, "The priest is the servant." The liturgy is the source of our spiritual life as human beings, said Farhner.

During the farewell day on October 2, Ms. Kanha KHUN, a representative of the Child Jesus Church at Boeung Tumpun, said that while he was in charge of the parish, he allowed parishioners to critique and share ideas to improve each other and some activities. 

She continued, "Father Farhner also took his time to visit Catholic families and be close to all of us. He is like a close friend. He helps our church grow in liturgical life smoothly." 

"Thank you for all that you have done, including marriage sacrament, blessing children, educating our children to be altar servants, guiding them to be good children, which is what every family wants," said Mrs. Many PHOK, a catechist teacher at the parish.

The priest thanked all Catholics who always supported his mission to serve God.

He said, "No one is perfect, but as ministers in the church, we must become wise to follow Christ together, humbly, enduring together, as salt for the whole world."

On October 3, Father Farhner returned to France. 

He said although he had been away from Cambodia for six years, adding, "my heart as a priest is here."

Bishop François Pallu founded MEP, a Paris-based missionary congregation in 1662. It is known for its 362 years of adventure, faith, and service. It contributed to the evangelization of many Asian countries: Thailand, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, India, Laos, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Myanmar.  

MEP continues to participate in proclaiming the Good News by sending missionary priests for life to Asia and the Indian Ocean. Fifteen seminarians are currently preparing for missionary life.

MEP priests are involved in a variety of pastoral challenges, supporting the growth of this very young church. The mission's goal and priority are those of a young mission: the formation of diocesan clergy and the promotion of lay people so that the Church of Cambodia can mature and take control of its destiny.

A priest from the MEP was recently sent to Vietnam as a missionary. - RVA Khmer Team 


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