The remains of Saints Louis and Marie-Azélie Martin will be on exhibit at the Apostolic Vicariate in Phnom Penh, followed by the prefectures of Kompong-Cham and Battambang. In 2017 the Cambodian Church began a three-year period dedicated to the family. For a PIME missionary, the goal is "to exhort families to lead a life whose goal is holiness with Louis and Marie-Azélie Martin as a point of reference."
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Cambodia’s small Catholic community took part in solemn masses, processions, songs and prayers in order to accompany with joy and devotion the pilgrimage in their country of the relics of Saints Louis and Marie-Azélie Martin, parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the first married couple to achieve sainthood in 2015.
The Saints’ relics, which arrived in Cambodia from France two days ago, will be exhibited to the public first in the parishes of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh, followed by the Apostolic Vicariates of Kompong-Cham and Battambang. Finally, they will return to the capital on 16 September before their return journey to Europe.
"In 2017, the Cambodian Church began a three-year period dedicated to the family,” said Fr Gianluca Tavola, PIME (pictured second right). “Therefore, Mgr Olivier Michel Marie Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar to Phnom Penh, asked that the Saints’ relics be put on exhibit to encourage fathers and mothers.”
"This couple is a model and an example for the whole Church,” Fr Tavola explained. “The remains’ visit to every Catholic community is meant to exhort families to lead a life whose goal is holiness with Louis and Marie-Azélie Martin as a point of reference."
In the country for about 12 years, the 48-year-old Fr Tavola is the superior delegate of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Cambodia. He carries out his missionary work in the Vicariate of Phnom Penh, serving in Chum Kiri, a village in the southern province of Kampot where Catholics welcomed the Saints’ relics this morning.
"For the occasion, we brought together all five communities in the province. Carried on the shoulders by many participants in the procession (pictures 1 to 3), the remains entered the church, where we celebrated a solemn Eucharistic function, led by Mgr Schmitthaeusler.”
“The celebration was also attended by people who have not yet received the baptism. However, those who are not Christians followed the activities with detached interest. Usually, the reactions are always positive, but it is necessary to explain the meaning of our gestures."
The bishop also attended the preparation that followed the Mass (picture 4). "After the meeting," said Fr Tavola, “we started south. Upon reaching Kep, a seaside town, we stopped at the Salesian-run Don Bosco Technical School.”
"In addition to the chief administrator, Fr Samnang, there were three sisters from a Carmelite-inspired institute founded in Mexico. As a pastoral centre and mission in Kampot province, we have decided to come to Kep rather than in the city and the capital’s parish. We will spend the night in prayer at the school and the relics will leave tomorrow for the west and the next province, Preah Sihanouk."
Cambodia has a population of 15 million inhabitants, 95 per cent ethnic Khmer, with Vietnamese and Chinese minorities. Theravada school Buddhism is the predominant religion (93 per cent), but there are also some Muslims. The Catholic community numbers around 20,000 people (0.15 per cent).
PIME missionaries have been active in the country since 1990 in the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh and in the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang.
(Photo credit: Catholic Phnom Penh).