03/22/2004, 00.00
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Native congregation has first members since all disappeared under Khmer Rouge

Kompong Cham (AsiaNews/Ucan)  - A Cambodian congregation whose members perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge or disappeared nearly 30 years ago has revived with the profession of two new sisters.

On March 21, Sisters Ang Songvat and Bouang Buntharin professed their temporary vows as members of the Lovers of the Cross Congregation of Kompong Cham apostolic prefecture. The profession took place in Kompong Cham, 75 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh.

Monsignor Antonysamy Susairaj, apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, whose Church territory covers eastern Cambodia, accepted the vows.

The ceremony was a beginning step in the revival of this Religious congregation, which flourished in Cambodia in 1772 and grew to 115 members by 1942. However, in May 1970, almost all its members were expelled from the country by the military government led by Lon Nol.

Lon Nol, former defense minister of Cambodia who orchestrated the coup that toppled Prince Norodom Sihanouk on March 18, 1970, expelled ethic Vietnamese from Cambodia. Most of the Lovers of the Holy Cross nuns were Vietnamese, though many of them were born in Cambodia.

 Two Khmer nuns decided not to leave the country with the other sisters. One of the two was killed during the communist regime headed by Pol Pot, which came to power in 1975. Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge, a radical group held responsible for the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians before Vietnamese troops forced it from power in 1979.

The other nun continued faithful to the Church and to her congregation throughout the years, helping the poor and visiting Christians. She died a few years ago in Phnom Penh at an advanced age.

Sister Estella Siriporn Jitsanore, secretary of the Lovers of the Cross of Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, told UCA News on March 22 that her congregation has sent four sisters as missioners to Cambodia and was responsible for the training of the new sisters.

She said Sister Jovanna Wanida Thavorn, superior general of the congregation, led a delegation to attend the "historic event" March 21. Sister Siriporn added that her congregation will continue training the Cambodian nuns and help sustain them until they become independent and run the congregation themselves, with more new members.

The order has a long history. French missioner Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte, who arrived in Tonkin (now northern Vietnam) in 1666, officially founded a community of Lovers of the Cross in 1670 in Tonkin, near Ha Noi. The congregation subsequently extended its presence and grew to many congregations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. Today the congregations are active in dioceses in Southeast Asian countries, as well as in the United States.

Paris Foreign Missioner Father Nicholas Levavasseur started the Cambodian congregation in 1772.

In 1996, Paris Foreign Mission Father Andre Lessouef, then apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, started a formation house to revive this lost community. But it was not until 1999 that two postulants, now Sisters Ang and Bouang, began their formation journey. They entered the novitiate in 2002.

The congregations in Southeast Asia and the United States have a common constitution approved by the Holy See, but each congregation, established in a diocese or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, make its own decisions.

Each autonomous congregation is headed by a superior general with its own administration under the jurisdiction of the head of the local Church.


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