PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- Foreign missioners serving in Cambodia shared their sense of mission as relationship, with the local people and culture, when about 65 of them gathered here.
The missioners from many of the more than three dozen Religious congregations and missionary societies working in the country came together in the capital for a forum on Oct. 23 to mark Mission Sunday, which fell on Oct. 19. "To be a missioner is a matter of relationships, to share your life with others," said Father Alberto Caccaro, a panelist at the forum held in the auditorium of the Catholic Social Communications center. The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) priest shared that he realized this after "slowly learning the language, the culture and discovering the seeds of the Gospel in Cambodian society." A missioner here for eight years, the Italian priest is based in Prey Veng, 45 kilometers east of Phnom Penh, where he cares for a community of 30 ethnic Vietnamese Catholics and runs a youth center that provides accommodation for students. In his encounters with people, Father Caccaro said, "the main interest is to let them know the love and grace of God, even for those who have never known Jesus." In this way, both parties can discover the meaning of being human, and how God works in each culture, he added. Another panelist, Marie-Laure Ayala, serving with the Canada-based Quebec Missionary Society, shared Father Caccaro's view. "Mission is a relationship," the laywoman affirmed, and missioners "are here more to listen to others than to speak." Reflecting on her experience, she said: "What we will really remember is how we lived together, our testimony, the reconciliation with each other, the love we expressed to each other." For panelist William Burns of the Maryknoll lay missioners, being a missioner means "having an ordinary life with ordinary people." "The people I live and work with here are very vulnerable. If they get sick they cannot go to Bangkok," he observed. Foreigners in Cambodia usually seek medical treatment in Bangkok, the most easily accessible city with up-to-date medical facilities. "To accept the vulnerability, to be as vulnerable as the ordinary people here, is the challenge for me, and it is what I am trying to work on as a missioner," Burns said. Other forum participants expressed similar views of mission to UCA News. Father Hernan Pinilla, local superior for members of the Colombia-based Yarumal missionary society, pointed out their mission is not only for small groups of Catholics. "It is extended to the whole population, because we have to spread the Good News of Jesus to all." However, spreading the Good News in predominantly Buddhist Cambodia is not limited to Scripture and the sacraments, according to Maryknoll Father Charles Dittmeier. During eight years working with deaf children here, "I have not baptized even one Cambodian person," he said. "And I don't give bibles." Yet he described his work "bringing the Good News to the deaf people" as evangelization nonetheless. Paris Foreign Missions Monsignor Antonysamy Susairaj, apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, said at the forum, "We all should always be aware of the immense importance of being together, create community life, strengthen relationships and share the ordinary life with ordinary people." The other two Church jurisdictions in Cambodia are Battambang prefecture and Phnom Penh vicariate. During discussions, participants stressed that missionary societies have given a very concrete and meaningful contribution to the Church by leading mission work. The forum explored the question: "What is the role of missionary societies in the mission of the Church in our world today?" Earlier, forum convener Father Omer Giraldo stressed the need for missioners from different backgrounds, cultures and missionary societies to come together to share "our common goal of being witnesses to Jesus in Cambodia." "The beauty of being a missionary in Cambodia is that each of our missionary societies does not have its own autonomous project," the Yarumal missioner told participants. "We share our efforts, working together with the local Church in a common apostolate." Cambodia now has more than 150 foreign missioners. They started coming in the early 1990s to help rebuild the local Church after two decades of civil war and religious persecution.