The new faith journey of a Cambodian woman to the Catholic Church was not "incidental" or "circumstantial," rather it was an act of God and grace.
Ms. Kagnha Keo has worked at the National Catholic Social Communication Office in Cambodia since 2004 and at Radio Veritas Asia Khmer Language Service since 2011.
As a converted Catholic, it was not an easy journey to be a Catholic media person.
The 36-year-old Keo was born into a Buddhist family with two younger siblings—a brother and a sister. Her parents are retired government officials.
Her father is a pharmacist and her mother is a general doctor. The parents are living with their youngest sister in Kampong Spue Province (48 km from the capital of Phnom Penh).
In 2002, Keo finished high school and her close friend introduced her to apply to the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls in Phnom Penh. It is run by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco.
"During two years of vocational training, I attended Mass in the morning and evening with my sisters, although I knew nothing about its meaning. Sitting, singing songs, and listening to the Bible was like a flame in my heart to search for the answers. So, I wished to attend the catechism class in the school every Wednesday after class," Keo told RVA News.
After finishing the vocational training course for two years, she had a chance to do an internship with Catholic Social Communications (CSC) for two months. And every Sunday, she joined the catechism class at Saint Joseph’s Church, about 10 km from my home.
She recalled her first wish from God when her internship finished. She sat down and prayed in a chapel at her workplace alone. "God, please give me a chance to work at CSC because I do not want to lose you on the way. I know that if I am far away from your Catholic community, my faith will turn withering because I am alone," she recalled.
God responded to her prayer through the CSC director. He accepted her to be a staff member and work for a radio program as well as as a receptionist. She said, "yes," thanking God for granting her prayers.
With the help and motivation of her co-workers from different backgrounds, except for the media, she struggled a lot with unfamiliar work, such as writing news reports and other demands of the work she was entrusted with.
Despite her reluctance to conduct interviews with people for the purpose of writing news reports, she accepted the challenge because the church required it.
She shared her experience at work: "We help and support each other like family at the office. We are always referred to as the 'CSC family.' We try to build up our skills in church communication."
Then, an apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, the former Bishop Emile Detombe, supported the CSC spiritually and financially.
The workplace and other Catholic places make her feel at home.
She felt, "This is a home with warmth and support and helps each other grow into different people."
Although her mother was reluctant to agree to her baptism at the Catholic Church, her father agreed. Her mother’s eldest sister (maternal aunt) also supported Keo’s being a Catholic.
Bishop Detombe baptized Koe at Saint Joseph’s Church in the Capital, Phnom Penh, on April 16, 2006.
As the only Catholic in her family, she reminded herself of the words of a nun.
"You are alone in the family as a Catholic. The Holy Mass is the thing that can help you grow in your spiritual life as a Catholic. So, don’t forget to go to Sunday Mass and stick to your faith in God, whenever you have troubles in life," a nun said to Keo.
Keo tried to be a regular churchgoer on Sunday and practice her Catholic faith fervently and faithfully.
A year of her difficult life passed, and her life changed to be easier than before. She realized that her parents understood and accepted her new religion.
"Thanks be to God for a desert year with me," she recalled.
As a motivation for her media work, she holds the last words of the first Khmer bishop, Joseph Chmar Salas (Vicar Apostolic of Phnom-Penh), "Tell the world about us (Cambodian people)," which he said before he came to Cambodia for ordination as a bishop during the civil war in Cambodia. He died in 1977, during the period of the Pol Pot regime.
Through her ministry as a church social communication staff, she wants to tell the world English news stories about the Church in Cambodia.
As Bishop Olivier Michel Marie Schmitthaeusler, M.E.P., the current Vicar Apostolic of Phnom-Penh, always says, "We are small but we are lively and active."
"To be a communicator of the Church, do it with love, with our unique gift and mission, and persevere in it with prayer. When we fail, kneel and pray again. God will give us the strength to move forward," Keo said.
The Catholics are the minority, with 20,000 Catholics out of the 16.7 million population of Cambodia. Over 100 priests are serving in one Apostolic Vicariate and two Apostolic Prefectures with 104 parishes.
Although Catholicism arrived in Cambodia in the 16th century, the civil war broke all things. But God never gives up on building a new generation of His people in the old land of Cambodia.
Keo believes, "As a communicator of the church, God called me to join this mission." And she encourages herself, "Go forward, God is with me and supports me in His mission."
"My journey to the Catholic faith was not incidental or circumstantial, but it is God’s desire and grace," she said.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.