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    » 03/21/2013, 00.00

    CAMBODIA - VATICAN

    A letter to Pope Francis from Cambodia’s "crucified" poor

    Mario Ghezzi

    Fr. Mario Ghezzi, PIME missionary, vicar general of the capital, tells the new pontiff about his visits among the poor: a toothless old Buddhist woman who goes to church to pray the rosary, a group of street women, abandoned and dirty. All find a home in the Church, which is their mother.

    Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - Below we publish the full text of a letter sent by Fr. Mario Ghezzi, 14 years in Cambodia.

    Phnom Penh, March 18, 2013.

    Dear Pope Francis,

                                   Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, I left the parish at 2:30 along with James and ten young men, they belong to the St. Michael the Archangel Group, young men in their twenties who are reflecting on the priestly vocation and living in the parish community. A few days ago they said to me: Father, Sunday, we are going to bring some provisions to three poor families in Arey Ksat. This village is located on the banks of the Mekong River, about fifty families live there, they are Vietnamese living in Cambodia as stateless refugees. They have no right to own land and no documents, so their only chance of survival is to set up their homes on the banks of the river that sometimes furiously breaks its banks and enters their poor houses, sweeping everything away.

    We set out by bus and arrived at the haphazard ferry that loads cars, motorbikes, people, animals and cargo beyond its real capacity. We found standing space on the "drawbridge", which is not drawn up to allow as many people as possible to board. The heat was almost unbearable, the sun burned our skin, but the breeze of river crossing made it more bearable.

    Arriving on the other side we walked a few hundred meters along the dusty road, and arrived at the village: wooden houses on stilts, sprouting one on top of another, gobbling up any available land. Here Cambodian is no longer spoken only Vietnamese, so I often have to ask the kids to translate for me, for I do not know the language.

    A brief visit to the church and then we continue on to find our "Christs on the cross," I visit three of crucified Lord, but the most beautiful crucifix, has wrinkled skin, no teeth and an impossible name to remember: She is a grandmother who lives alone with her son suffering from AIDS. This Christ lives in a house on stilts that literally rises from the disappearing river bank, in a few months it will be completely in the river. I am the first to climb the rickety steps up the wooden stilts and my light weight shakes the entire structure, all of the ten boys could not climb up because the house would never bear their weight. Only a few of them climb up to the shack, carrying the box of supplies and they sit there chatting. This toothless Lord Jesus also speaks Cambodian pretty well, but is more fluent in Vietnamese. A few pleasantries and then Sela (Peter) says to me, Father, Grandma wants to share a her story with you. I say to myself: tell me of your Passion, Jesus, I want to hear!

    First of all, a beautiful smile and then she began: My husband died two years ago, he worked a little, he was a fisherman, but now I have no means of support, I am too old to work, but I do something every now and then, when I can find a small job to earn 2,000 riel (half a dollar). My son is sick and can not work on a regular basis, we survive thanks to the charity of our neighbors and the parish nearby. There is always someone who brings us a bit of rice, a fish, or some vegetables. I go to church every day because I feel good there, there are good people there, and I pray with them. Oh, I say, but then you're Catholic! No, she says, I am Buddhist, but I like to go to church ....

    See how beautiful, Pope Francis? The poor, as you know well, are not stopped by rules and regulations, they are freer than us, they are just looking for a little bit of light, of comfort and of love. If a rosary can do this, they come, even if they are not baptized, that is true inner freedom!

    I ask them to translate my question: do you want to be baptized? No, you have to study too much and I'm too old. I say, no problem, if you want, I will baptize without you having to study too much, the important thing is that you know Jesus and want to love Jesus and Mary. She says: I love them both, but I have to ask the Pagoda if I can become Catholic ... But no, I say, that's okay, the Lord Jesus knows you and you already enjoy his love. That is enough.

    We ask permission to say a few prayers in Vietnamese that she joins with joy. Everything ends with smiles and thanks but the most beautiful smile was a toothless one because it is full of gratitude and joy. But, Lord, you can smile from the cross? As we got up, the house swayed dangerously but survived the jolt.

    You know Pope Francis, yesterday I had the impression that you were with me on that visit to the edges of the world. Your words of affection towards the poor instilled me with greater courage to continue the work we do with the poor, a "never-ending" job, which continuously requires us to begin all over again, but one that is the most eloquent sign of the gratuitous love of God. Without attention to the poor we would not be Church, we would only be a congregation of people who gather to recite prayers, maybe beautiful and perfect, but sterile. The encounter with the poor brings life to our prayer, it transforms our prayer into flesh and blood, the Eucharist generates life when a Christian encounters the poor, saying in his heart: here is the Crucified Christ!

    A few days ago I went back for a quick and middle class visit (I was in the car ..) to the periphery of the world where I had not been for a long time, at the furthest point of this suburb, where I often went to sit down to listen to the suffering of the desperate, a group of women approached me and greeted me warmly. A tender and at the same time unwatchable spectacle, each one dirtier than the next, with matted hair and infested clothes, breeding grounds for fleas and lice, but all smiling and happy to welcome me back again, telling me, Father when you come, if only for a few minutes , we feel better, it lightens our heart ...

    What a great gift I brought home! It means that the time "wasted" on these crucified who seem to have locked themselves within their misery, is never a waste of time, rather, it is time that gifts them a tiny morsel of God

    Everyone should have at least one poor person to care for, not with money, but with company, affection and prayers, it would also help us to put our own difficulties and negative moods into their proper perspective.

    Dear Pope Francis, continue to speak of the poor and of mercy because these are the privileged places where the crucified Jesus dwells.

    And may I also add: it is nice to feel part, to be part of a church like that, a Church that we can only love as it is, just as we love our mother exactly as she is.

    Fr. Mario Ghezzi

     

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