Pope Francis appointed Fr Pierre Suon Hangly, the first local priest to lead a Cambodian ecclesiastic jurisdiction since the ouster of Pol Pot. He follows Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas, who starved to death during the Khmer Rouges’ reign of terror.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Fr Pierre Suon Hangly, a 50-year-old priest from Phnom Penh, is the new apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, one of the three territorial jurisdictions that make up the Catholic Church in Cambodia.
Pope Francis appointed him today in replacement of Antonysamy Susairaj, an Indian-born member of the Missions étrangères de Paris, who resigned in 2019.
Fr Suon Hangly’s appointment is an important step for Cambodia’s Catholic community, which began its rebirth 20 years and now can count on 20,00 members in a country of 16 million.
Ordained priest for the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh in 2001, Fr Pierre is in fact the first local clergyman to assume the leadership of an apostolic prefecture after the journey through hell the Cambodian Church underwent at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot.
Fr Joseph Chhmar Salas was the first and only Cambodian to be appointed bishop. He was ordained very young as coadjutor bishop of Phnom Penh on 14 April 1975, three days before the Cambodian capital fell to the Khmer Rouge.
After the expulsion of the apostolic vicar, Bishop Yves Ramousse, Bishop Chhmar Salas, like the Apostolic Prefect of Battambang, Fr Paul Tep Im Sotha, died in the wave of violence and deprivation unleashed by the Khmer Rouge. Both are among the martyrs of Cambodia, whose beatification process began in 2015.
Fr Pierre Suon Hangly is now a face of the local Church risen from the ashes of this tragedy. Born on 14 April 1972 in Phnom-Penh, he was ordained priest on 9 December 2001.
He served as a parish priest in Kampot/Takeo from 2002 to 2007 followed by studies in France at the Institut Catholique de Paris (2007-2015), which earned him a bachelor’s degree and a licentiate in spiritual theology.
Back in Cambodia he was parish priest in Phnom Penh Thmey, later becoming vicar general of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh and superior at the local seminary.
In announcing Fr Suon Hangly’s appointment, the Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, thanked him for his service in the past few years and urged the faithful to pray that God will give him “strong faith, full of love and hope to be a zealed pastor in Kompong Cham.”