07/27/2012, 00.00
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Young and enthusiastic: Cambodian Church teaches "love and value" of life

by Dario Salvi
Fr. Mario Ghezzi, PIME missionary, tells AsiaNews about mission in Phnom Penh. Faith is "fragile" and must be "supported and sustained." The crisis of Buddhism has left the country without moral guides. Charity, through Christ, the way to evangelize. Practical help to poor, sick and needy has become an example to imitate.

Rome (AsiaNews) - A "young and enthusiastic" reality, however, characterized by elements that render it "fragile" and as a result it is in need of "support and sustenance" for growth: This is how Fr. Mario Ghezzi, an Italian priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Cambodia for 12 years, describes the faith of the people and the work of the Church, engaged mainly in the social field to AsiaNews. Evangelization and charity, he adds, "go hand in hand", because "charity without Christ is impossible." Through aiding others, through concrete works, from care for the sick and weak to encounters and discussing opportunities that arise, particularly with young people.  These in  turn into become a conversion experience that leads many Buddhists - a religion "in crisis" - to take the catechumenate and, after three years, to receive Baptism. Even if, years later, there remains a distrust of those who decide to become Catholic, often hailed as "traitors".

In Italy for a short holiday, Fr. Ghezzi - originally from Milan - will leave for the Asian nation in early August. AsiaNews met with him to hear his views on the Church in Cambodia, society and the problems this mission entails. " Christianity's great challenge - he explains - is being able to instill the profound value of life and personal dignity of each individual in everyone's heart." This requires two key factors: "trust in God and a personal relationship with Him," and, consequently, "trust in our relationships with others," and, last but not least, "the idea of ​​forgiveness" that is "difficult" to understand and to accept.

Cambodia is still marked by massacres carried out in the 1070's by the Khmer Rouge, who exterminated one quarter of the population and created a climate of hatred and suspicion even among fathers and sons. The fanatical Maoist ideology pursued by Pol Pot also led to the systematic annihilation of intellectuals, scholars and religious leaders. This is why today, after 30 years on, there is no authoritative Buddhist leader, which Fr. Ghezzi describes as "post war" a reality without a real "transmission of faith and a formation of new generations," which has also determined a "lack of moral guidance for the country."

The faith of the Cambodians, continues the PIME missionary, a pastor in a suburb of Phnom Penh, is "young and enthusiastic," but "fragile" because people who come to Christ, then struggle to "find a  surrounding reality that helps them in this journey." Especially when, on leaving the villages and small communities, young converts are confronted with the capital. This requires triggering "a sense of belonging to a new community", to help them understand that "baptism is only the start," the beginning of a new path. Moreover, he adds, in the Buddhist world "there is no concept of community and salvation is a goal that you reach by himself", while for us Catholics "it is mediated by the Church."

However, Christianity continues to fascinate the Cambodians so much so that "in 2011 on Easter night 300 people were baptized, while this year there were over 200". These numbers are "significant," explains Fr. Ghezzi, because "they require a long period of preparation, of at least three years" before these people are truly part of the Christian community. Christianity proposes the ideal of charity and "this element has a huge impact on the Cambodians". "Many - says the priest - begin to ponder the meaning of our actions towards the poor, the sick, the marginalized. They are particularly struck by the experience with the ill: when a person is faced with acts of gratuitous charity, it is natural to ask about the reasons and source of this solidarity. "

In fact it is through solidarity, charity, selflessness that opportunities for interaction and conversion arise, especially among young people. The story of Reaksmei, a young Buddhist from the countryside, is just one of many examples: a poor boy, raised in a pagoda where he barely had enough to eat. He later was accepted into a hostel and Catholic school, where initially he had difficulty integrating. Over time, says Fr. Ghezzi, he meet a group of young people close to the Sant'Egidio community, which is built on the principles of friendship, prayer and care for the poor and lends support to the underprivileged and marginalized in the capital. Following their example - because the Cambodian "asks no questions, but looks at the experience," said the priest - he got together a group of young people and "tried to do the same thing, creating small artifacts to sell and, with the proceeds to buy food or basic necessities for the poor. " Today Reaksmei follows the path of the catechumenate and wants to be baptized: "I do not know if he will continue on this path - concludes the missionary - but he will certainly leave the parish with a different outlook on reality and life."


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