12/02/2021, 15.59
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Prak Hong, the first Bunong deacon

The Cambodian Church has its first ordained minister from an ethnic group living in highlands on the Vietnam border. In an area where locals are struggling to maintain their own culture and identity, this is a significant moment for its small Catholic community.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – The small Catholic community among the Bunong, an ethnic group also known as Phnong living in the highlands on the Cambodia-Vietnam border, now has its own first deacon.

Prak Hong was ordained on Tuesday at the Church of St Joseph in Kdol Leu. The apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, Mgr Olivier Marie Schmitthaeusler, led the celebration.

The apostolic administrator of Kampong Cham, Father Bruno Cosme, and the apostolic prefect of Battambang, Father Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzález, concelebrated the service.

Prak Hong was solemnly led to the church in a procession accompanied by the sound of drums with people wearing traditional Bunong garments.

The new deacon hails from Mondulkiri, a province where residents still keep alive their distinct identity.

Before the Pol Pot years, they were known as “elephant keepers” because each village had its own elephants and their number was a sign of wealth.

Although many ethnic Khmer have moved to the highlands, the Bunong are still the majority. If those living in Vietnam are added, they number about 50,000.

They largely practice subsistence farming, but their way of life is currently threatened by land concessions granted to large business interests.

Most Bunong are still animist, but thanks to the presence of missionaries, some families have found Christianity.

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