Laudato Si and Building Bridges
Pope Francis reminds us that his guide and inspiration, Saint Francis, “was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness.” (Laudato Si, para 10)
Encountering our brothers and sisters in parishes in Battambang, Cambodia, we witness many of the injustices experienced by the poor which Pope Francis highlights, and the positive impact that twinning has, both for the our twinned parish in Cambodia and for our own parish here in East Anglia. We are welcomed as friends and have the joy of seeing the benefits derived from the projects funded by our parishes.
When we meet parish priests in Cambodia who do not have a twinned parish in East Anglia we are often asked if we can help. Here are two examples of communities that would like to be twinned.
Kompong Chhnang is a demanding parish covering a wide area, served by Fr Rajat Hassapurti, a Jesuit priest from India. The predominant occupations are fishing and making clay pots which are sold all over Cambodia.
It is a mixed Vietnamese/Khmer community, mostly itinerant ‘water gypsies’ at the mercy of the river and changing seasons, and all that entails. Everything is floating [houses, shops, garages, hairdresser, school, restaurants etc]. Good hygiene is very difficult and there are many health problems. Fishing, once the lifeblood of the people, is now much diminished and the people are having to seek work on the land for which they are not prepared or leave the area for Thailand.
Special care is taken of children with learning difficulties at a purpose-built centre in the church compound, under the direction of the new NGO, Karuna Battambang.
Nikum is a small community around 40 kms north of Battambang, also served by a Jesuit missionary from India, Fr Manoj Kumar Ekka. When we visited in March 2017 part of the road was still a dirt track with umpteen potholes but it is being upgraded. The poor state of the road means that it takes an hour or so to get to the Church compound.
Like the road, the compound is very much under development but fantastic progress has been made over the past few years. There is a kindergarten financed by the Building Bridges scheme and a brand new church has taken over from the old decrepit building in which Mass used to be said. There is also a new priest house with accommodation for visitors. There are plans to develop a fruit garden and a vegetable garden to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for the children in the kindergarten.
This is a poor agricultural community which cannot afford new buildings and which, like so many other places in the Battambang prefecture, very much depends on external funding. It would be an exciting place to be twinned with.
Want to know more?
Bob & Katie Maidment (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Sacred Heart parish North Walsham, which is twinned with Sway Sisophon, and Mike & Marie-Madeleine Kenning (email@example.com ) of St Mary’s parish Ipswich, twinned with Chomnaom, would be happy to provide further information on what parish twinnings involve. Or contact Father Philip Shryane (firstname.lastname@example.org) the priest in charge of the Diocesan Building Bridges initiative for Cambodia.
Pictured above are pupils from the kindergarten in Nikum and, below, their ‘school bus’.