(Continues from Bulletin 109)

Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez SJ
(Apostolic Prefect of Battambang, Cambodia)

B. - Priorities for the Mission
"Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see and the crippled walk, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is announced to the poor." (Mt 11, 4-5)

We will make a list of priorities below, but this does not say that one is more important than the other. All must be undertaken at once in an organic and integrated manner. Each builds on and supports the other. Somehow, one would be limp without the others. They must come from within in order to be developed in reality.

1. - Give the people the opportunity to experience the Faith of Jesus.
In Cambodia our priority is to transmit the Faith of Jesus, whose source and origin is in the Heart of Jesus, a faith which he proclaimed through his life unto the point of death, and then to the resurrection. Because of his faith we have a God who asks us to call him "Abba." He is a merciful Father who loves us, welcomes us, pardons us, celebrates this pardon, gives us a gratuitous love and asks that all, absolutely all, should be included in this dynamic. That we have life, joy and the capacity to celebrate this is what God seeks for us. Our God loves without exception. He loves the lost, for him the excluded and marginalised receive a special tender care, and he desires that all experience his freely given love. This is the faith of Christ.
The traditional and official religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism. The country is full of pagodas and temples which help its people to be aware of the Buddhist beliefs and traditions. Intertwined with this official religion, which is celebrated in mass events in the temples by the Cambodian peoples, are the popular ancient beliefs in the spirits of the ancestors, and of special places, such as "Neak Ta."
In such a context we cannot hope that this country, with its own strong religious traditions so deeply rooted in the ordinary life of its people, and which in large part are the means by which the people sustain their identity after so much conflict, will overnight declare Jesus Christ as God. There are some fundamentalist Christian groups that publicly propose this. With an aggressive attitude towards other religious traditions they proclaim that Christ Jesus is God.
The priority in this county, poor and broken, yet rich in possibilities, is that its people can experience the faith that Jesus taught with his life. He prayed for this faith in a new way and he moved the hearts of the multitudes. We do not simply seek that the Cambodian people confess that Jesus of Nazareth is God. This is not simply one theme within a pastoral strategy, nor a stratagem for making a needy people do or say what we want them to. It is nonetheless a priority and integral element of our mission.
We don't have any other means than to show the merciful heart, full of justice towards the poor, which is ready to respond to the deep needs of people. We are not talking here of social work or development activities. It is something much deeper; it is to respond with responsibility, as did Jesus of Nazareth, to the liberating power of the Spirit in our lives.
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These efforts can be realised by joining forces with others who have no reason to be believers. Take a concrete example. In Cambodia, the disabled people have proposed to us 12 priorities for action: means for livelihood; food; access to water; access to education; access to health services; a way to generate income; a total ban on anti-personnel mines; access to the land and capacity to cultivate it; availability of physical, social and labour rehabilitation; the capacity to walk, to see, and to communicate; possibility of the disabled to assist one another with responsibility and concern; education about the danger of mines and about the use of violence to resolve conflicts.
We find this a precious list. In pursuing these objectives we can unite all our efforts to show the faith of Jesus. It is an excellent example of priorities that will unite us to him and show the Heart of Jesus, full of the love of God for his little ones.

2. - Deepen and strengthen the faith of the Catholic communities of Cambodia.
The Catholic communities have been horribly punished by the authoritarian regimes, which took power in Cambodia since the war began in the early 70s, right up to today. These have been very difficult years. The suffering and the memory of the pain that flows from violence are strong. The number of Christians who died by violence, hunger or sickness is great, especially the leaders of the communities. Among them we count six Sisters of Providence, two Cambodian bishops, all of the local clergy and at least two French priests. Along with many parts of Cambodian society, the Church has seen its institutions reduced to ashes.
Today the Church is recovering from these ashes with enormous liveliness. The faith never died, although it could not be manifested freely in public. Today we are in a position to strengthen and deepen the Christian men and women who seek to live in Cambodian society proclaiming the faith of Jesus, with a mission of service to this broken society.
TIn this attempt to strengthen the faith, the formation of the children and youth becomes a priority. The Catholic communities are not isolated within Cambodian society. It is very important to enable the Catholic community to be present and to speak within society. So the task of helping the Catholic communities through education in faith, both in its practice and in its celebration, and to educate the communities in the faith so that they can live normal Christian lives, something which is now possible, these are the essential priorities.

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3. - Work for reconciliation and justice.
Today, in Cambodia, one of the burning issues is the international tribunal to judge the crimes against humanity which occurred in the time of Pol Pot. We believe that this will help to reconcile Cambodian people with their own history. Yet the fundamental justice that we need today, that will enable the people of Cambodia to be reconciled with themselves and with God, is the capacity to give food, education, medical care and work to the poor and excluded; and for them to have this together with a responsible freedom. Here and from this point we must orient ourselves in order to be able to take clear steps guided by the Spirit of the Lord.
For the growth of the Christian faith in Cambodia, our participation together with other groups and leaders in the country: the government, the non-government organizations, other faiths and other religions, is an essential element. Serving the poor and the excluded in their needs, together with others, in a spirit of mercy and forgiveness, this is the contribution that the Christian faith is able offer to the task of building reconciliation and justice in this land.
In itself, the Catholic community is a tiny group within Cambodian society. Nonetheless it is also young and dynamic. It is a community with a great potential to make an important contribution to Cambodian society. Its community spirit, its faith and deep social concern can lead to significant projects, contributions and high values when united with the efforts of others.
For the growth of the Christian faith in Cambodia, our participation together with other groups and leaders in the country: the government, the non-government organizations, other faiths and other religions, is an essential element. Serving the poor and the excluded in their needs, together with others, in a spirit of mercy and forgiveness, this is the contribution that the Christian faith is able offer to the task of building reconciliation and justice in this land.
In itself, the Catholic community is a tiny group within Cambodian society. Nonetheless it is also young and dynamic. It is a community with a great potential to make an important contribution to Cambodian society. Its community spirit, its faith and deep social concern can lead to significant projects, contributions and high values when united with the efforts of others.
On the other hand, the Catholic community shares in one of the crucial, conflictive and urgent questions of Cambodia, namely the presence of a large population of people of Vietnamese origin.
No one dares to give a precise statistic, among other reasons, because to identify who is Vietnamese or of Vietnamese extraction is not easy. To draw the line would be to make a choice. Some are in fact recently arrived, whereas other families have been in Cambodian territory for generations.
The Catholic communities of Vietnamese ethnicity, who in most cases have lived in Cambodia for generations, although as itinerants because of the wars, are hardly integrated in the social fabric of Cambodia. They are neither 100% Vietnamese, nor are they accorded 100% the rights of citizenship in Cambodia. Their situation still needs to be clarified. They are generally poor, hard working, struggling to survive, and in general their children don't have access to education. In many cases they live isolated in floating villages on the great lake of the Tonle Sap, or on the banks of the Mekong River.
Within the Cambodian church there must still be a lot of discussion before we find the best way forward for the relationships between the Catholics of Vietnamese ethnic origin and the rest. Historically, in the Cambodian Catholic church, the Vietnamese group was a majority and more privileged. This caused resentment with the Catholics whose origin was more Cambodian. We are only now emerging from a time of war, and the memory of many strong and bad experiences between Cambodia and Vietnam is very much alive. As a result the situation is not easy. Nor do we have a magic formula for a Christian solution to this conflict. We can only try to walk together, seeking spaces of understanding with compassion and forgiveness, together with a prayer to open our hearts to conversion.
To work for justice and reconciliation in Cambodia is not just a task for society in general. As for any Christian mission, it is also at the heart of the Cambodian Catholic community, but here this genuine evangelical need is moreover demanded by the country's particular history.
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4. - Promotion of the art and culture of Cambodia.
Cambodia is very rich in art, traditions and culture. Its dance, music, architecture and poetry are part of the heritage and historic identity of all Cambodians. Now we are making a big effort so that the liturgy and other expressions of the faith are performed in a Cambodian way. This is not only a question of using vernacular language, but of searching for all ways in which the life of faith can be inculturated in the life of the Cambodian people.
The work of inculturation of the faith is not a simply to give the liturgy a Cambodian disguise, but must be something much deeper and creative. It must be the people of Cambodia's expression, in their way and manner, of their experience of a God who loves and who desires that we all participate in the joy, affection and tenderness of God.

We are now deeply engaged in this effort. It is a dialogue both with the Cambodian manner of holding festivals and with the major problems of Cambodian society. All this orients us and helps us to find the path which will enable the gospel and its message not only to come closer to the people of Cambodia but to be expressed by them as their statement of their own experience of a Saving God who offers his justice and forgiveness and who gives peace and joy.
We are aware that this is a long historical process and must take time and generations.
But we are also aware that as long as the gospel and the Catholic Church are not inculturated in a Cambodian way, they will not be taken as something which is its own, as now Buddhism is, even though it originally came from India, but is nonetheless integrated with the local traditions of the people and considered as a part of the Cambodian national identity.

5. - Encourage and participate in inter-religious dialogue.
For Cambodia it is fundamental that we encourage social dialogue at all levels. For the sheer fact that we are in a country where already Buddhism and Islam are so markedly present, linked with many local religious traditions, this dialogue happens easily without looking for it. However to seek it positively, with openness, understanding and enthusiasm and with a desire to learn, this is another matter.
This society, punished by authoritarianism and regulations that were meaningless, now naturally and urgently seeks space for dialogue, understanding and acceptance of diversity. It is fundamental that we seek to open up spaces for dialogue. This is to be done not just in formal, religious settings, something which is indeed helpful, interesting and profitable. But it must occur in the dialogue of life, such as through cooperation in the social field and in social services. In Cambodia we need what Pieris would call a "symbiosis," each religion challenged by the other to give the most adequate responses to the vital needs of the Cambodian society as it emerges from the time of war.
A respectful dialogue among the various religious traditions at all levels is essential to achieve peace and reconciliation among the peoples of Cambodia. But this is simply a first and fundamental step. It is important that this dialogue takes place in the midst of life, with openness and good understanding, not only to enable a peaceful society, but also so that the religions can themselves generate life. And in our case so that the practice of Christian faith can bring the society to what it is called to be: " a new heaven and a new earth, in which justice dwells" (2 Peter 3,13) and where we may all realise that we are sons and daughters of our God of justice, joy and love.
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Reasons for living and praying in the hope of Christ

"The joy of the Lord is our strength."
(Nehemia 8,10)

In order to conclude, let me draw three brush strokes of hope and let us dream together with the Lord that men and women of good will may walk together towards his Kingdom.

1. - The second report on antipersonnel mines in Cambodia.
On the 4th September this year, in the Pedro Arrupe Centre of welcome for disabled children in Battambang, the second report of the "Landmines Monitor" for Cambodia was presented. At 800 new victims, the number of incidents in the year 2000 was the lowest for the last ten years. Obviously all the suffering of these 800 victims, and of their families and of the affected communities, caused by this artifice, is a deplorable fact. On the other hand in the Province of Battambang alone, already 106 minefields have been de-mined, thus releasing 749 hectares of fertile land. This is able to bring a great benefit to 1,576 families, as well as the infrastructure developed in the region: hospitals, markets, pagodas, access to water, schools and the access to them.
We will now all work to alleviate the suffering of these victims and we live in the hope that the next report will give us even greater encouragement.
2. - The village of the dancers for Peace.
30 kilometres from Phnom Penh, there is a small village of 25 families who are dedicated to the art of traditional Cambodian dance, classical and folkloric. This group of families had returned from exile in the refugee camps. They live by culture, music, and art, and this has helped them in their social re-integration after they repatriated.
Last year, 40 people from this group, most of them children, were invited by three Spanish NGOs in order to carry beyond the confines of their own country a message of life full of joy and challenge. The journey was a great event through which these Cambodian children could communicate, in great simplicity, a positive and hopeful message full of joy, colour and life, but also because these children, while being poor and in need of assistance, could reveal how gifted they are, and with few resources could transform the normal balance of relationships of our world. This two-way event succeeded in revealing to those who welcomed the children, the value of a simple life in which art is important. The experience disturbed their consumerist values and gave a lot of food for thought. The value of friendship beyond frontiers, languages and distant cultures leads us to hope for a world with greater and better understanding, in which all peace comes within the grasp of all.
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3. - A Cambodian prayer.

Maha Gosananda, one of the patriarchs of the Buddhist church in Cambodia and leader of the movement for Peace in this country, in order to help us maintain this hope, has offered us a precious prayer, full of wisdom that is drawn from the Buddhist tradition.

The suffering of Cambodia has been great.
This suffering gives rise to a great compassion.
A great compassion creates a generous heart.
From a generous heart is born an honourable person.
An honourable person builds a united family.
A united family generates a gentle community.
A gentle community creates a peaceful nation
A peaceful nation makes a happy world
In which we all live in solidarity, peace and happiness.

Battambang, 24-09-2001

[English translation, MR, 24-10-2001]
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