UCAN - Phnom Penh Published: 06 July 2009 Hits: 500
In Cambodia, where religious freedom revived only during the 1990s, most Catholic priests are still foreigners and feeling the strain resulting from many responsibilities.
"In Cambodia right now, we only have five local priests. So missioners like me must work in the parishes too," said Father Paul Roeung Chatchai of the Thai Missionary Society. There are a total of 62 priests in the country.
He admitted it is a challenge to juggle his many responsibilities. The Thai priest is pastor of three parishes. "Every Sunday I have to go around Phnom Penh to celebrate Mass and meet Catholics," he said.
Apart from his parish work, he is also the deputy director of the Phnom Penh vicariate's catechetical committee and a member of its health committee. Moreover, he is also working to produce a liturgy book in the Khmer language. Only a few months ago, he was made a coordinator of the Church's mass media office and the Cambodia Catholic Cultural Center.
One layperson who appreciates the work of priests is Hom Toeur, a member of the youth committee of Phnom Penh apostolic vicariate.
"They help the poor and sick, support poor children with their education, and conduct many activities. I know a priest who has responsibilities in three or four parishes. We are really in need of more local priests," the 28-year-old told UCA News.
The shortage of priests, especially local ones, has prompted at least one person, Moung Ros to enter the major seminary. "Although we have many missioners, we need more local priests to serve the Church. We must make the Cambodian Church our own," he told UCA News.
To help seminarians appreciate the mission of the priesthood more, Father Bruno Cosme, rector of St. John Mary Vianney Major Seminary, said he is planning monthly sharing sessions on the lives of priests at the seminary starting from September. He is also planning to promote vocations to the priesthood in parishes.
Father Cosme said the Year for Priests is an occasion for all priests to reflect deeply on their mission and responsibilities. "There are many things we have to learn such as loyalty, faithfulness, love, living a simple life, and serving the poor."
Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a special Year for Priests starting on June 19, the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney, patron of parish priests.
Sister Gertrude Ditching, in charge of the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls, said the special year is a call for the renewal of all priests, "who are very important for the Church." The nun also sees the Year for Priests as an occasion for promoting local vocations.
The local Church celebrated the Year for Priests at St. John Mary Vianney Major Seminary on June 19.
Bishop Emile Destombes, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, celebrated Mass with eight other priests. He said that "Jesus Christ is a great priest" and the "Church today needs truly loyal priests to continue the mission of Christ."