PIME priest speaks about Ta Khmau district, home to only five Catholics. “Many have never heard of Jesus, but when they experience God's gratuitousness, many doors open.”
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – “We are not yet sowing the Gospel here, we are still ploughing,” said Father Giovanni Tulino, an Italian missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), speaking about the Catholic community he serves, five people in all, in Ta Khmau, a town of 60,000 residents, some ten kilometres from downtown Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
The clergyman spoke last night about working on the frontier of evangelisation during an hour-long streaming interview organised by the PIME Missionary Centre in Milan as part of PIME’s Wednesday meetings.
Father Tulino arrived in Cambodia in 2014. In 2017 he followed in the footsteps of fellow PIME missionary Fr Mario Ghezzi in Ta Khmau, an area of urban growth. Three years earlier, invited by the Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, Fr Ghezzi had set up a Catholic presence there.
“Here most people do not know what the Church is,” the missionary explained. “Many have never heard of Jesus. But when they experience God's gratuitousness, many doors open.”
Fr Tulino defines his mission as one “of waiting because waiting is one of the most beautiful ways to say the verb to love.” The first proclamation comes with difficulties but also beauty in which “sometimes you feel like the Apostle Paul having to invent a language to tell what you believe in to those in front of you.”
The Catholic community in Ta Khmau today includes a small group of catechumens who have begun a journey that perhaps one day might lead them to baptism. “They were impressed by the fact that someone cares about them,” Fr Tulino explained. “Still, there are many difficulties.”
Taking care is this hidden part of the mission. “A few months ago, we realised the dream of buying a house that is next to mine. There we started a kindergarten for 35 children and an after-school. We keep the gate open from 6 am to 7 pm. It's the only space for kids in the area and parents trust us enough to send them.”
However, Cambodia too has had to deal with COVID-19. “For the past few days, we have been in total lockdown. Until recently, the number of cases in the country was low, and measures to prevent the spread have been very strict. Even now there's a checkpoint 100 metres from my house. As a matter of fact, I haven't seen anyone in days.”
Despite this, there is another expectation that could soon be fulfilled. “With the new building we began to turn the multifunctional room into a place dedicated only to prayer. I say this with the emotion of those who know that when it is ready it will remain for a long time the only church in this community.”