Visit of the General Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization in Cambodia

The mission supported by the friars of Vietnam

06 May 2024

Br. Francisco Gomez Vargas and Br. Dennis Tayo, respectively Secretary and Animator of the General Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization, visited the mission in Cambodia fraternally, accompanied by the Provincial Minister of Vietnam and Br. Michael Nguyen Xuan Duc, Guardian of the Cambodian community of Tuolkrasang.

The Franciscan presence in Laos and Cambodia is the response to the invitation from the Minister General, in 2009, to open an international presence in these countries. At the 2010 East Asian Conference (EAC) meeting in Hong Kong, the Ministers and some Secretaries for Formation and Missions and Evangelization accepted this invitation, inviting the Vietnamese brothers to initiate this presence for reasons of geographical proximity.

Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country where 95% of its 16 million inhabitants are Buddhist. In the 3 dioceses there are approximately 20 thousand Catholics, who are Cambodian, Khmer or Vietnamese. Given the ethnic tensions caused by the war between these two nations in the 16th and 17th centuries, Brother Michael said that “discrimination and hatred between these two peoples is still felt today. This caused a divide between the Vietnamese and Khmer faithful. Furthermore, most Catholics in Cambodia are Vietnamese immigrants, but do not have legal documents to live in Cambodia. Therefore, the general pastoral orientation of the Diocese is towards evangelization, especially of the local Cambodians”.

This reality represents a great challenge, especially for the Vietnamese friars who work for the pastoral care of 3 parishes that mainly (99%) serve Vietnamese faithful. According to Br. G.B Dau Tien Dung, parish priest, “due to this tension, the local ordinary people tend not to be very welcoming towards us Vietnamese priests, for fear that we can only take care of the Vietnamese people, but in reality we take care of everyone. Another challenge is learning the Khmer dialect. From the experience of other non-Vietnamese congregations in Cambodia, this does not appear to be a problem. We would greatly appreciate non-Vietnamese brother priests from other entities joining us here in Cambodia.”

Together with Anthony Tran Van Bien, Joseph Paul Roda Tuan and Joseph Nguyen Xuan The (who are living their Franciscan year), the friars worked mainly for the pastoral care of two groups: first, that of Vietnamese immigrants who were not have been granted Cambodian citizenship and are therefore not allowed to work in offices or factories, and who have children born in Cambodia but who are not allowed to go to school. Second, Cambodian Khmer informal settlers, mainly hired day laborers, who live by fishing in ditches, ponds and lakes, pressing bottles and selling small groceries at home.

These poor populations are catered for by 2 pastoral nursery schools with a total of 50 children (35 Khmer and 15 Vietnamese) and 70 primary students (grades 1 and 2), the majority of whom are poor Khmer children transported to school every day by our Franciscan brothers. Other ongoing ministries for Khmer families include scholarships, home construction, and regular financial assistance to the elderly and sick.

For the Vietnamese friars in Cambodia, we hope for greater collaboration with other Entities, financial support in ongoing pastoral activities and projects. The Friars continue to work silently with evangelization activities among Cambodians, at the same time helping Vietnamese immigrants to integrate into Cambodian nationality and society, creating a bridge of reconciliation between these two peoples, wounded by the past.

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