Kdol Leu (AsiaNews) – Luca Bolelli, a 40-year old priest from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), spoke to AsiaNews about his eight years in Cambodia. For the Bologna native, “discovering the Gospel has become a major consolidation.”
"Being a missionary in Cambodia is a great thing, because here the Good News aspect of the Gospel is much greater. In Italy, in Europe, we find it harder to grasp its beauty, message of faith, hope and charity. In a non-Christian context, looking at it from a different perspective, one can see more clearly how nothing can be taken for granted.”
"I am happy that I chose to become a missionary, even with my limitations, which I have felt in recent years. They have enabled me to experience the Lord and confirm the notion of grace, which defines being Christian,” he said.
Fr Bolelli undertook his theological studies at the diocesan seminary in Bologna, and was ordained priest in 2001. He has served for six years as pastor in Kdol Leu, a village on the banks of the Mekong, about 40 km north of Kompong Cham, capital of the province of the same name in the east-central part of the country.
He heads a Catholic village (founded in 1882 by Fr Lazar), in a country that is overwhelming Buddhist but in an area where with many ethnic Cham Muslims (3 per cent of the country’s population).
"Relations with Buddhists are simpler,” he said, “because Catholics and Buddhists are Khmer, the country’s main ethnic group. The Cham are another people, with a different origin, perhaps in Indonesia. They speak another language and, as a minority, they tend to rally around their own identity."
In recent years, the Cham Muslim community “has undergone a certain process of Arabisation” with the arrival of more and more people from Arab countries who, thanks to their money, build mosques, assimilate locals to their traditions and radicalise them.”
With respect to the mission, Fr Luke said that he had his first experiences with faraway lands at the diocesan seminary with priests who spoke enthusiastically about their experience. "They exposed me to a world of different needs, and another reality." He had first encountered such issues at home where “social issues and the poor" were discussed, which "led me to search for a missionary institute."
He chose the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) because it "maintains a strong bond with the missionaries’ churches of origin. Diocesan work and service to the local church are the two most valuable elements I found in it."
"Initially, I thought it would be easy to be a missionary,” Fr Luca said talking about his own situation. “The reality is quite different. I have hit a wall, so to speak; and it is not only physical, the hours and the pace of the mission.” Such realisation comes from listening to “people, their stories, personal events and life.”
One of the hardest things is the relationship with those in power, the authorities. In a mission village, the priest himself is viewed as one. "If one is not careful, one is liable to be used to abuse rather than serve.
In addition, "there is the issue of emotional freedom, one’s vows, and celibacy, which entail a commitment and pledge to love everyone, without bias, knowing that everyone is looking at you.”
One case comes to mind, that of 30-year-old widow, mother of four, who is “connected to our mission”.
“She fell in love with a man from another place, and to be with him she was willing to leave her home and community. I told her in no uncertain terms to think about the children, not to make rash decisions, but she took it badly as abuse, and so I failed to help her,” the clergyman said.
“Other members of the community helped me understand her point of view, that in Cambodia children follow their parents' footsteps. In order to protect the children, I was undermining local traditions, which must be taken into consideration if one wants deeper relations. I realised that, first of all, it is essential to listen and evaluate the context."
That is why evangelisation becomes more like "looking into the Gospel" for the novelties in Jesus’ words, and involving “as much as possible" the entire Christian community in the mission itself. This means encouraging “the faithful to be the first missionaries," and “promoting group activities, like communal Gospel reading. This has enhanced people’s faith.”
A sense of brotherhood is essential to a community’s development. "Unless one steps into a certain situation, one loses the meaning and value of the proclamation,” Fr Luca said. “This applies also to homilies, which must include as much as possible witnesses and actual deeds." (DS)