08/12/2005, 00.00
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En route to Cologne, Cambodian youths pray for Italians: "They have forgotten their faith".

Rome is the first leg of a pilgrimage of 10 Catholic youths coming from Cambodia; they will reach Cologne on 16 August with high hopes of "finally feeling part of the universal Church".

Rome (AsiaNews) – Feeling part of the universal Church through an exchange of faith and culture with youths from all over the world who witness to Christ, as well as praying for those who – like Italian young people – appear to have forgotten their faith. Such are the expectations of 10 Cambodian youths traveling to Cologne in a pilgrimage via Rome, Assisi and Milan.

The youths are accompanied by a Cambodian sister and by a priest who is studying in France. AsiaNews caught up with them during their stay in Rome and interviewed two who have undergone different experiences and who have diverse needs, but who share a desire to concretely live out the concept of "belonging to a large family", even if this is only a "small and undefended minority" in their country.

Sokha is 23 years and comes from a Buddhist family. She studies at the University of Phnom Penh and lives in a hostel run by the Church: it is right there that her "gradual conversion" to Christianity started, when she took part in voluntary activities. Last year, she was baptized. "I come from a very numerous Buddhist family but since I started to work with the sisters of Mother Teresa, an activity suggested by the hostel, my life has changed." What amazed the girl most of all was the love freely offered to the poorest of the poor and the idea that poverty is not a fault, quite the contrary. She said: "Buddhism considers that your present condition is a consequence of the life you led in the past. You must bear your sins within you all your life and even in your following life, perhaps incarnated as one who is poor; the idea of mercy foes not exist, nor does the concept of the person, there is only individualism."

Now Sokha's greatest desire is to "swap with youths in Cologne our faith and cultures". "When I was invited to the WYD in Cologne, I expected to meet John Paul II: now I am sorry he will not be there, but anyhow I am happy and I cannot find the words to describe how I feel."

Naah is nearly 26 years old and his family is Catholic; four years ago, he entered the seminary in Phnom Penh, and he started to study philosophy after two years. "I am really happy, for me going to Cologne is like responding to the Lord's call. At the WYD, my eyes and mind will be wide open to receive him."

Even the friends of Naah and Sokha who were unable to attend told the two youths they were happy just because Cambodian youths "were uniting" with the Catholic world.

Sokha said her friends "are praying that our trip goes well". Meanwhile, the friends of Naah asked him to "see for them too the beautiful things awaiting us in Italy and then with the Pope in Cologne."

The seminarian said: "At St Peter's, I prayed very much for the unity of the Church in Cambodia and for Italian youths: I am worried about news we hear about youths here who are taken up by the well-being of their society and who have forgotten their faith because of this quest for ephemeral happiness."

For this reason, the Cambodian youths would like to "talk about their country, about the beautiful things but also about the poverty and above all to communicate the great need to testify to Christ without fear."

In a country where Buddhism is the state religion, it is difficult to find the right means to communicate the Gospel without offending the majority. Naah is convinced that "not words are not necessary, love expressed in actions is enough". Meanwhile, Sokha chooses to talk about her voluntary work with the Church, with the sisters of Mother Theresa and other concrete ways in which Catholics help the poorest of the poor.

Fr Legnani, missionary of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions in Cambodia and organizer of the trip to Cologne, confirmed the great enthusiasm of his young believers. "The Cambodian church is young, reborn in the nineties after fierce repression: these youths are its hope and vital lifeblood."

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