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Cambodia's oldest Church community celebrates 160 years

Celebration of the 160 years of Neak Loeung community

Despite the hardships, the Neak Loeung Catholic Community celebrated its 160 years of existence on May 14 in Cambodia. 

Nearly 2,000 Catholics participated in the celebration, thanking God and their ancestors for preserving the faith and passing it on to the next generation.

Neak Loeung is the oldest church with the most Catholics in the Kampong Cham prefecture.  It was founded in 1863 during the colonial period in the country.

This community has Vietnamese ancestry. People fled persecution by the government to reside in Banam village, now in Neak Loeung, Peam Ro district, Prey Veng province, 66 kilometers from the country's capital, Phnom Penh.

33-year-old Catholic parishioner Phal Muey was pleased that the priest in charge celebrated the event to recall the hardships of his ancestors, whom the early Vietnamese government abused.

“We fled here in Cambodia and built a community here called the Holy Family," he said. "Today's program reminds us of our history."

He added that the community has tried to do some activities to proclaim the gospel, such as helping the poor, educating the faith, and praying for programs and the dead.

Muey is a catechist teacher who teaches children and youth. He believed this role was essential for the community and that the catechist teacher must be a role model for the next generation.

He stated that he teaches the students in the catechumen class that although they are Vietnamese Catholics, they have resided in Cambodia for many years.

"I want them to understand that we must adapt to being Catholics in Cambodia and try to learn the Khmer language well; maybe no one will return to Vietnam, "he said. 

Eucharist celebration of 160 years of Neak Loeung Catholic Community

In his investigation, the community's chaplain, Father Gerald Vogin, discovered that the parish had been destroyed at least twice. Thousands of individuals were baptized as the community grew to include 15 priests, numerous religious figures, and tens of thousands of members.

"Catholics continued to survive, rebuild their communities, and maintain their faith in God," the priest said.

During the Pol Pot regime, this community, the parish, and Cambodia were destroyed.

"After the fall, some communities and thousands of Catholics did not return until now. It is almost zero.  But here they come back and rebuild their community in Neak”, the priest added.

The history of the Neak Loeung community is like that of a small family in the days of the apostle community, with a small but growing population.

"We hope that in a thousand years, we will have more," said Msgr. Pierre Suon Hangly, an apostolic prefect of Kampong Cham, in a sermon on the 160th anniversary on May 14.

Msgr. Suon said, "Today, we thank God for taking care of and protecting the community here, and we also thank him for establishing the community here with Mary as a caring mother.”

He urged the community to have unwavering faith in God because Jesus would pray to God to send the Holy Spirit to be with believers, to take care of them, to protect them, and to give them the fortitude to persevere.

"We know that adversity is eternal, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the power of faith, we can move forward together, and we believe that God will bless us," he said. “May we all be filled with peace and joy.”

According to the plan of Fr. Vogin, for 2023, the Neak Loeung community would organize some programs to commemorate the history of the community.

He said the committee is now researching and compiling an account from the beginning to the present, as well as a census of Catholics in the area.

The priest said that the community has also planned to make pilgrimages to Vietnam, where Catholics from Neak Loeung live, to establish a community there and make local pilgrimages in the historical areas of the church to get a better understanding of the proclamation of life, good care and to transfer the faith to the next generation.

At the same time, the community will organize nine days of prayer for Catholics to reflect on the future by taking the merits and example of their ancestors for the benefit of the present, and at the end of the year, they will celebrate the 160th anniversary again by inviting Catholics from other places.

The Neak Loeung community currently has 1,300 Christians, most of whom are salesmen. The community has also set up student shelters to study in public schools, teaching Khmer literacy, praying groups, choirs, Vincent de Paul, and liturgy committees. - Kagnha Keo


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