Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/EDA) - Cambodian Catholics, a minority in a country where they were once persecuted, are celebrating the pilgrimage in the Asian country of the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The remains of the French nun and mystic, better known by her nickname of 'Little Flower' to distinguish her from St. Teresa of Avila, arrived on 26 April after travelling for over four months in the Philippines, one of only two countries on the continent with a Catholic majority (the other is East Timor). Now her earthly remains are the object of adoration and prayer for Cambodia's 25,000 Catholics, a small number in a country's of 12 million people, but full of life and faith.
The relics arrived at the small village of Taingkauk on 4 May, about 100 km from Phnom Penh, a place of great symbolic value for the Catholic Church in Cambodia, for it was here that the first bishop in Cambodian history, Mgr Joseph Chhmar Salas, died from starvation, illness and hardship on a September day in 1977.
Ordained in 1975, right before the Khmer Rouge took over, the bishop died like two million of his fellow citizens at the hands of Maoist revolutionaries led by Pol Pot, who exterminated one quarter of the population and destroyed all of the country's religious and cultural symbols.
Over 3,000 people took part in the Mass celebrated by Mgr Olivier Schmitthaeusler, the apostolic vicar to Cambodia. On this occasion, the saint's remains were placed on the bed, still miraculously intact, Mgr Salas used during his imprisonment under the Khmer Rouge and where he performed, occasionally and in secret, the Eucharistic service before he died.
The ceremony took place in the presence of other prelates, priests, and especially 85-year-old Mgr Yves Ramousse, Mgr Schmitthaeusler's predecessor, who also celebrated 50 years of episcopacy and 60 years of priesthood.
A substantial number of local Catholics took part in the adoration of the remains of the "patron saint of the missions", who is connected not only to China but to the whole continent of Asia as well.
During the ceremony, participants were reminded that the capital's Carmelite monastery, built in 1861 (after that of Saigon in 1838), was closed down following the Maoist takeover in 1975, but is now, thanks to a group of South Korean religious, open again, home to six of them.