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Cambodian Punong Ethnic Man Ordained Priest

Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler places his hands on Deacon Bun Hong Prak (Photo supplied)

A Cambodian Punong ethnic man, Bun Hong Prak, was ordained by Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, the apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, on June 29. 

The ordination ceremony started with a procession, with music and songs of the Khmer minority Punong, which rang out for about a kilometer, accompanied by a peacock dance in front of the cross, the priests, and the bishops to bring a young Punong man to God.

The ceremony took place at St. John the Baptist Church in Busra Community, Pech Reada District, Mondulkiri Province, which is in the northeast of Cambodia, more than 500 km from the capital, Phnom Penh.

This area is inhabited by a Khmer ethnic minority called the Punong. 

Bishop Schmitthaeusler said that the priest has three primary duties: (1) to live and walk together in the presence of Jesus Christ; (2) to preach the gospel, which means to share the word of God with all brothers and sisters and let them know Christ; and (3) to administer the sacraments of God to make Catholics holy people of God and to bring God's life into their lives.

The Bishop congratulated Father Prak for his dedication and service to God and the great Catholic family in Cambodia for being a vibrant community.

Father Bun Hong Prak, born in a Khmer ethnic minority community, said, "God  called me and separated me from them into his group of priests to serve him and the community."

He is the tenth Cambodian priest to serve in Cambodia's three dioceses, preaching the Word of God to the Cambodian people.

The newly ordained priest added that God had blessed him, through Bishop Olivier, with the strength to serve the church in the future. "As a priest, I am to serve, to sacrifice my own life, and to administer sacraments of God for Catholics," said Father Prak.

He expressed the future goal of sharing the Good News with people around him, both Catholics and non-Catholics, to get to know Jesus better and about God's love for them. 

"I want to guide them and encourage them when they get depressed," he added.

Deacon Bun Hong Prak
Deacon Bun Hong Prak at the priestly ordination ceremony (Photo supplied)

52 priests from three dioceses participated in the ceremony. The bishop urged all priests to encourage, welcome, and be role models for the new priest; to live in brotherhood in a particular family in Jesus Christ; and to be united as one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

St. John the Baptist Church of Busra was founded by 15 Punong families who received faith when they fled to Vietnam during the civil war in Cambodia. Later, they went back to Cambodia. Ten families moved to Busra, and five families moved to Dak Dam.

The 75-year-old man, who started the church with nine other families, expressed his reasons for conversion to Catholicism. 

"We were the ethnic group. At the time, we had nothing to offer our spirit, but then we found that the lives of Catholics are good, friendly, respected, and (this belief), we can follow them." We started to attend catechism classes and become Catholics. 

In 1996, young French volunteers arrived in Busra and found Catholics there. By then, the community had the visiting priests and offered Mass, but no priests were staying. 

Today, the Busra parish has more than 100 Catholics, most of whom are farmers and planters of the Punong Khmer minority. A young woman became a nun in the congregation of the Lovers of the Cross, a Khmer nun group in Kampong Cham Prefecture.

The Catholic Church in Cambodia was founded in 1555 by the Portuguese missionaries. And this community grew gradually, but unfortunately, due to the civil war, especially during the genocidal regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979, the community was destroyed, both in terms of infrastructure and human resources. 

All Khmer bishops, priests, clergy, laity, and many Catholics were killed, and all foreign missionaries were thrown out of the country.

After the war, Catholics were reunited. In 2001, four young Cambodians were ordained priests for the first time in Cambodia. And the church strives to create groups for young people to understand God's calling as pastors, with monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings, reflection, and faith sharing.

Currently, the Cambodian church has about 20,000 Catholics, 10 Cambodian priests, and nearly 10 Khmer nuns.

(By Kagnha Keo) 


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