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Orientation session for Marist Lay and Brothers missionaries in Phnom Penh

29/04/2013: Cambodia

Phnom Penh is the venue for the IX Orientation Session for lay and brother Marist missionaries in Asia. They are expected to join the communities of  AMAG (Asia Marist Ad Gentes) Sector at the end of May this year.

We have four brothers: George from France, Mitsuaki from Bolivia, Andres from Spain and Ador from the Philippines.

We also have three lay Marists: Maristela, a lady from the Province of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil) and a married couple from the Province of Mexico Occidental with their 3 year old son: Estela, Rodrigo and Josue - the toddler.

1. The workshops

The orientation program which has been offered to the participants is a little different of what our predecessors experienced in Davao over 6 months in previous years

The accent has been put on the straight forward preparation for our field work.

The first days were occupied with some pieces of advice touching our new life here - hygiene, food, health, administration levels….

The courses, in fact, are more about information, reflexion and discernment than they are actual teachings.

Information on the Asian reality, at the Church and Institute levels, has been presented as a priority, by Br Luis Sobrado and Bishop Kike of Battambang and his Vicar General, Fr. Totet.

The contacts with the Marist presences in Phnom Penh have been an eye-opener for other Marist presences in the six Asian countries where AMAG is being consolidated. Brothers from Pailin and Saen Mounorom in Cambodia have also been visiting us adding information and insights into these presences.

Two brothers, (Br Max and Br Bernhard) working in Cambodia, have conducted workshops for us on the themes of  Community Life and St. Marcellin; the First Brothers and Marist Mission. These workshops have offered the opportunity for Max and Bernhard to share on the day to day experience of brothers and lay persons in AMAG.

Saturday mornings are spent in visiting with experienced missionaries in and around Phnom Penh. We spend a couple of hours observing the works and activities that they have developed over the years and then we spend an extra hour in dialogue about their way of being missionaries in Cambodia: vision, spirituality, experience of learning a new language and adapting to the local conditions through their first four or five years in Cambodia.

These visits and sharing on the life experience of lay missionaries and brothers have been extremely enriching to all of us.

After 20th April we moved into five different Marist communities in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for an exposure to apostolic and community life.

Br Joe McKee joined this group for a few days. As Delegate of Brother Superior General for the AMAG Sector he advised us about the process of long term appointments to closure: an important aspect of this IX Orientation Session.

2. Experiencing of the local church in Phnom Penh

Due to our short stay in Phnom Penh we are only able to offer a very limited vision of the Church in this capital city of Cambodia. However, we have been able to observe some traits that appear to us particularly significant.

A first perception is that we have found here a Church of minorities. People like us, from Latin-America, Europe or the Philippines are not used to interact with a Church that is a minority Church. In Cambodia, the majority of the people are Buddhist, Catholics being a very small part of the population. However, Catholics here are well accepted and live in peace with everyone else. This is less the case in other Asian Countries like Vietnam and China. There Catholics, including our Marists, often have to go underground and religious activities are severely curtailed.

The Church has taken cultural local customs and integrated them in its liturgy. Some examples are: the Eucharist greeting of peace is done with joined hands on the chest and a reverence with the gentle bending of one's head towards each one of the people near us. Other examples are, moving bare-footed into the church building, sitting on the floor and, of course, the use of Khmer all through the liturgy. On the other hand, the liturgy itself remains Roman and rather traditional. People like the ritual side of the church celebrations.

We have also discovered a church that lives in solidarity with the local people: showing great concern for their social development. Parishes, Religious Communities, Missionary Societies, Dioceses, are all running projects that offer significant services in education, health care and social needs. The Church in Cambodia is clearly involved in a very active way in improving the quality of life of people. It is the preferential way for Christianity to penetrate into this society: it offers a sign of hope for the future. Religious and Missionary Institutes collaborate together in many projects. It shows the importance of sharing the riches of different charisms. Men and women religious, priests and lay missionaries and volunteers share in one mission and celebrate together the gift of faith and life.

During the Easter Vigil celebrations we witnessed the baptism of twenty young adult men and women in the Parish of the Child Jesus where we participate in the Sunday Eucharist. This experience is common to most of the parishes in the three dioceses of Cambodia. It is a sign of the interest of young adults in the experience and life of the Church. This does not seem to happen to this extent in our Countries of origin. It strikes us to see the churches filled with young adults that actively participate in the liturgy with their joyful singing and reverential prayer.

The most striking experience to most of us is the witnessing to the internationality and universality of the Church. Some of us have been present in the Raramuri liturgy in the hills of the Tarahumara or the Totzil or Tepehuan in Mexico. For some reason, now that we share in this Khmer Eucharists in Phnom Penh, both with a mixture of Khmer and English language, we have become more aware of a mysterious but real union of heart with the whole world. We all participate in one and the same liturgy. Particularly striking to us is the fact of having come into contact with people of over twenty different nationalities who work for the establishing of the Kingdom of God in the name of Jesus. It is an experience that strengthens our hope in a Church that is truly a sign of the presence of God in our World.

3. Life in Cambodia

It is now a month since we arrived in Phnom Penh. Every day we discover with a mixture of reverence and surprise new aspects of the life of people in Phnom Penh. We do so in a simple way, through stories, persons and small events that reveal the marvel of this good people in Cambodia. One has the feeling that, little by little, we are beginning to fall in love with their simple life style - transparent - that invites one to enjoy the little things of life.

The people in Cambodia are very hospitable. When you meet them on the streets, in the market, or anywhere else, they always have a ready smile for you and are always ready to assist you if they can.  Everyone, particularly the children, offer a beautiful smile that touches one's heart.  For people coming from the West, this human warmth is particularly appealing: it moves us and delights us.

The traffic and the traffic rules here in Phnom Pehn will surely rival those of Manila, Bangkok, and Rome.   Trucks, Cars, Tuk-Tuks, Motorbikes, and bicycles litter the roads shooting from one direction to another especially when the traffic lights  (there are few that you can find) have just turned green on one side. It is much worse in the areas where  are no traffic lights. But it seems that drivers here have a way of communicating or understanding that they do not bump on each other and accidents rarely happen. 

The weather at this time is the hottest of the year and some people in the street say that this is the hottest in many years.  It is between thirty four to forty degrees Celsius but once in a while a blessing of rain comes and cools down the area significantly.

I believe that the majority of us arrive here with clear ideas. Asia is the Continent of meditation, silence, calmness to the extent of becoming almost unbearable...

The quick growth of massive migration of young people to cities like Phnom Penh is fast changing this stereotype. Oftentimes, while walking on the street you will hear a loud music blaring from somewhere.  If you happen to find the street where it is coming from, you will see beautiful ladies wearing gorgeous dresses and handsome gentlemen dancing to the beat of the music and surrounded by plenty of food. This is the way they celebrate weddings in Cambodia. 

4. Our daily life

We occupy three small apartments within the same compound in one of the popular areas of Phnom Penh. The point of references for public transport is Wat Sam Kusal (The Temple of Sam Kusal).

The thirteen of us - seven participants, three members of the orientation team (Brothers Juan Castro and Luis Sobrado and our Lay Missionary Neiva Hoffelder) and the two permanent members of the Phnom Penh community (Brother Diego Zawadzky and our volunteer Evelyn Kow) - are functioning in two communities.

We take turns to do the daily shopping and prepare meals according to a roster in each one of the two communities. We also take turns to conduct prayers every morning and evening.

Our workshops are taking place daily from Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. The afternoons are left mostly free for each one to do some reading and personal activities. On Wednesdays we take turns to attend mass and meet with the people at the Maryknoll Centre and at the Catholic Students Hostel. At the end of the mass we share dinner with our hosts. On Saturdays we go to an English language Mass organized for the English Language Catholic Community in Phnom Penh. On Sundays we join with the Parish of the Child Jesus community for mass in Khmer language.

Community life unfolds in an atmosphere of simplicity, modesty, discretion, family spirit and work.

Photo:

Br Andres, Br Juan, Br Mitsuaki, Rodrigo & Josue, Maristela, Br Joachim (Provincial visting from Nigeria), Br Ador, Br Luis, Estela, Neiva

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