02/27/2021, 13.40
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Msgr. Yves Ramousse, the French bishop expelled by Khmer Rouge, has died

by Bernardo Cervellera

Msgr Ramousse died yesterday of Covid. He was expelled from Phnom Penh in 1975. He returned there in 1989. He focused heavily on the growth of a Khmer Church and on the flowering of local priestly vocations. It was also thanks to him that the Catholic Church is now recognized by the Cambodian government. Collaboration with PIME for the rescue of 2,000 Cambodian and Vietnamese boat people.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Bishop Yves Ramousse, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh until the Khmer Rouge took power and then again vicar in the reopening of Cambodia (from 1992 to 2001), died yesterday at the age of 93.

He witnessed the destruction of the Cambodian Church during the regime of terror inaugurated by Pol Pot, but he was also among those who returned to the country, contributing to the rebirth of Christian communities.

Born on February 23, 1928 in Sembadel (Haute-Loire), he entered the seminary of the foreign missions in Paris in 1947 and in 1953 he was ordained a priest. In 1957 he left for Cambodia.

At the young age of 35 he was appointed apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh on November 12, 1962. He participated in several sessions of the Second Vatican Council. It was during this time after meeting two bishops from Laos, that he had the idea of ​​creating a Conference of the Bishops of Cambodia and Laos who in an effort to distance the local church from the overwhelming influence of Vietnamese Catholics.

On his return to Back in Cambodia, he promoted the use of the Cambodian language in the liturgy, for the study of Buddhism among Christians, for the translation of the Bible.

In 1968 he was successful in gaining Rome’s approval for the division of the Vicariate of Phnom Penh into three, adding the Vicariate of Battambang and Kampong Cham. He also tried to open a Khmer seminary, but the civil war intervened effectively bring his work to a halt.

At the outbreak of the war, the Vietnamese who worked in the Church returned to Vietnam and the Christian community dropped from 65 thousand faithful to 7 thousand, including 183 religious, who decided to stay. Most of them will die during the Pol Pot years.

In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge were about to arrive in the capital, Msgr. Ramousse ordained a Cambodian bishop, Msgr. Joseph Chmar Salas, who returned on purpose from his studies in France. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh and a few weeks later all foreigners were expelled.

Later, Msgr. Ramousse will define exile as "the denial of being sent on a mission. We are rejected as useless. And then we are faced with a void. Many missionaries have fallen into depression because they have never been able to fill this void.”

While the sacrifice unfolded of Msgr. Salas and all the religious personnel, and a large part of the population, Msgr. Ramousse immediately turned his attention to the plight of Cambodian refugees who fled the oppression of the regime. A collaboration was born between Msgr. Ramousse and the PIME Center in Milan for the rescue of about 2 thousand Cambodian and Vietnamese boat people.

After the fall of Pol Pot and the end of the civil war, in 1989 the bishop returned to Cambodia with an aid committee. He was preceded by Fr. Emile Destombes and Fr. François Ponchaud and Msgr. André Lesouëf. Together and with great patience they rebuilt relations within the Christian community, whose faithful had been dispersed or killed.

Thanks to his friendship with King Sihanouk, Msgr. Ramousse was renamed apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh; in 1994 Cambodia established diplomatic relations with the Holy See and in 1997 the Catholic Church was recognized as a religious reality, and not as an NGO, as it was until then.

His commitment focused on fostering a diocesan clergy, a task that from 2001 was also taken up by his successor, Fr. Emile Destombes.

Bishop Ramousse remained in Cambodia until 2013, then he retired to Montbeton in France. Yesterday, hospitalized, he died of Covid-19.

Eglises d'Asie, the site of the Foreign Missions of Paris concludes his eulogy thus: "His patience, his vision, his perspicacity, his courage, his resilience and his sacrifices have allowed the Church of Cambodia to be reborn from ashes in the 1990s. The baptized young people do not know Msgr. Yves, but if they are happy to follow Christ today, it is largely thanks to Msgr. Ramousse."

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