There’s good news for the Church in Cambodia: it now has its first priest from the Phnong ethnic group!
Fr. Jean-Baptiste Bun Prak Hong was ordained on June 29 at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Busra, in the district of Pech Reada in northeastern Cambodia, more than 300 miles from the country’s capital. The new priest is the tenth Cambodian priest to be called to serve in Cambodia’s three Catholic jurisdictions (one vicariate apostolic and two prefectures apostolic). During the celebration, Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler (MEP), Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, also announced the upcoming ordination of three new deacons to the priesthood in September.
“The proclamation of the Gospel in a remote area is taking shape,” said Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler at the ordination Mass, adding, “A priest does not receive a mission or responsibility as a simple job; his whole life is consecrated by Jesus Christ himself. He participates in the life of Jesus, and he is a priest for his entire life.” Fr. Bun Prak Hong said, “God has called and elected me into his group of priests to serve him and the community. He has blessed me through the bishop to give me the strength to serve the Church in the future.”
The St. John the Baptist community in Busra was born from 15 Phnong families who converted to Christianity when they fled to Vietnam during the civil war in Cambodia. They were converted and baptized by Fr. Jean Moriceau, a French missionary priest.
Later, they returned to Cambodia, 10 families settling in Busra and five families in nearby Dak Dam. Today, the parish of Busra has over 300 Catholics, most of whom are farmers. In this parish, a young woman has also become a nun in the congregation of the Lovers of the Cross, a diocesan institute of religious women in Kampong Cham Prefecture.
The Catholic Church in Cambodia was founded in 1555 by Portuguese missionary clergy. “This community grew little by little, but unfortunately, because of the civil war, especially during the genocidal regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979, the community was practically destroyed, both in terms of people and infrastructure,” reports the Paris Foreign Missions (MEP). “All the bishops, priests and clergy, as well as many lay Catholics, were killed, and foreign missionaries were driven out of the country.”
The Catholic community reformed after the war, with the return of missionaries in the 1990s. In 2001, four young Cambodians were ordained as priests for the first time in Cambodia. “According to the local Church, vocations are slowly but progressively increasing, with groups being created to accompany the discernment of young Catholics with regular meetings, times of reflection and sharing,” the MEP explains. The Cambodian Church now has nearly 20,000 faithful, 10 Cambodian priests and 10 Khmer nuns.