Fr. Legnani, PIME priest for 20 years in Cambodia, says the former vicar "embraced the destiny" of the country, "living in contact with people”. An "extremely simple" person, "happy to be in touch with his people." The funeral celebrated by his successor, Msgr. Schmitthaeusler. In his homily the vicar recalls his "trust in God and man."
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - "He embraced the fate of Cambodia, living in contact with people. He knew how to be a man of God to others, a true shepherd to his people, while building a good relationship with us missionaries ":This is how Fr.Franco Legnani, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), describes Msgr. Emile Destombes, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh from 2001 to 2010, who died on January 28 at the age of 80. Fr Legnani, today in Rome as rector of the PIME General House, lived in the Asian country for 20 years and personally knew the former apostolic vicar. He was among the first to return after the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge "and - he added - because he knew the Khmer language very well, he started to search the streets and roads for Christians discouraged and dispersed by the persecution of Pol Pot."
The funeral of Mgr. Destombes was held Saturday, January 30. It was presided by the current Apostolic Vicar Msgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler, who in his homily stressed his predecessor’s "trust in God and man". A trust in others that the violence of the Khmer Rouge was unable to touch. Indeed, he experienced firsthand the tragedy "of a people who had adopted him and to which he had agreed to generously donate his life."
Msgr. Olivier recalled the words that the former vicar used to say in the days when the bloody Maoist revolutionaries, led by Pol Pot, made their entrance into the capital: "We remain, whatever happens." A faith nurtured and sustained by prayer, especially that of Charles de Foucauld "which he liked to recite every day" and that supported him in his last days "when health was slowly deteriorating."
Following the example of St. Paul, he was able to transform the Cambodian Church into a "missionary" reality, which allowed her to "put down roots" despite persecution, violence, massacres. "Msgr. Emile served Cambodia and his Church with joy and sense of humor - added Msgr. Olivier – living his mission as a service ".
Fr. Legnani shares these sentiments, adding that Msgr. Destombes left two great legacies to the Church in Cambodia: "The desire in her heart - she says - a faith that had the face of Cambodia, bringing the salvation and hope of the Gospel into the lives of the Cambodian people. He had a heart of a shepherd, who harbored love and affection for his people. I particularly remember a picture of the bishop, with miter and pastoral staff, his face was happy ... happy! ". And yet, the bishop leaves the faithful "his pastoral soul ", his being "missionary, his love for his people, his heart like that of Jesus ... we can say that he successfully combined the heart of Jesus and the heart of a Cambodian".
"Msgr. Destombes was extremely simple - recalls the PIME missionary, among the first to leave for Cambodia - he lived in a small room full of books; there was always a candle and a copy of the Gospel in the Khmer language on his desk. He loved to read, pray, meditate the Gospel in the local language. This aspect impressed me a lot, because usually the missionaries have a Bible in their native language. While he used a Gospel in Khmer language to embrace his people. " Working closely with him, said Fr. Legnani, "I saw in this man a heart of a shepherd, always happy, serene, content to be in touch with his people."