Cathedral on Mount Boko, Kampot, returned to Catholics

Built by the French in 1917, the church had been abandoned for decades. The intervention of the Ministry of the Environment was decisive. The Catholic Church is now tasked with restoring the place of worship. After that, the building might serve as a shrine.

Kampot (AsiaNews) – Cambodia’s Environment Ministry has decided to return to the Catholic community the cathedral built by the French during colonial times on top of Mount Bokor, in the southern province of Kampot.

The building, abandoned during the country’s civil war and structurally unsound, was handed over in a ceremony held last Sunday in the presence of Environment Minister Say Samal, Mgr Olivier Michel Marie Schmitthaeusler, apostolic vicar in Phnom Penh, Chea Sam Ang, director of the General Department for nature conservation and protection, and Ly Sovanna, executive director for the Catholic National Office for Social Communication.

Environment Minister Samal said that the government decided to hand over the church to the community in order to have it maintained, repaired, and preserved for religious practices.

“It means that the government recognises all religions and the people’s right to practice their faith,” he said.

Local Catholics have expressed satisfaction with the decision, said Fr Gianluca Tavola, superior delegate of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Cambodia, who spoke to AsiaNews.

"Although the church was built in the colonial era, for the faith of our people this place of worship bears witness to the centuries-old presence of the Catholic Church in the country,” he said.

"The Christian community in Kampot has come to the faith recently, at most 20-22 years ago,” he added. However, “The return of the building puts an end to a process that lasted years, during which we made several requests to get it back.”

"We had turned to the Province, to the company that rented the mountain from the government, before being re-directed to the Ministry of the Environment, which made the return possible."

"News of the authorities’ decision came only ten days ago,” Fr Tavola said. “It all happened very quickly.”

At present, “We think more about setting up a shrine rather than a parish. On the mountain, in fact, there is no Christian community.”

"Given the beauty of the place, this will be a reference point for pilgrimages and spiritual retreats for the Catholics of Kampot and all of Cambodia, if we can build the necessary structures that is.”

"The building is completely empty inside. The Church will pay for the renovations, even though the minister said that his department can help us, more than anything in terms of red tape."