Fr Giovanni Tulino, PIME missionary, talks about his story. His living room is a kindergarten in the morning, an oratory in the afternoon, and a chapel on Sunday.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – Ta Khmau is a city about 10 kilometres south of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Its Catholic community includes two priests, five Christians and eight catechumens.
Fr Giovanni Tulino (pictured), a 41-year-old priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), has spent almost six years in the country. For him, this “is a land of primal evangelisation. There are people here who have never really heard about Jesus,” he told AsiaNews.
Two years ag, Mgr Olivier Michel Marie Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, sent him to this place to support the local pastor, a French priest with the Society for Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP), who has been in the country for 20 years.
“In places like these, a missionary becomes part of a story written by others before him; he is called to continue building on their foundations,” Fr Tulino explained.
Ta Khmau is a new pastoral area, founded only five years ago. "It was an intuition of the bishop. This is Phnom Penh’s first large suburb which, through new roads and urban sprawl, has effectively incorporated it.
“Many residents of the capital are moving to Ta Khmau, because living is cheaper; moreover, there is still land and there are factories. For this reason, Mgr Schmitthaeusler saw it as a place of evangelisation.
“The first to arrive was my confrere, Fr Mario Ghezzi, when there was still no Church presence. Mario bought a house and started the first missionary activities.”
Although Ta Khmau’s Catholic community is tiny, Fr Tulino daily schedule is always full. “In our house, we run a small day care centre for local children, all from Buddhist families who go to work in the morning. Without this service, parents would not know where to leave them.
“In the afternoon, the living room is turned into an oratory and welcomes other local kids, who can also enjoy themselves on our plot of land (the only open space in the area).
“The gate is always open, from 6 am to 6 pm. Two months ago, we started a medical mission in Ta Khmau for the surrounding villages. We believe that education and health are the keys to enter people's hearts.”
The first person Fr Mario baptised at the mission was a man who came from out of town, and is now back in his village. Last year, Fr Tulino celebrated five adult baptisms, including three who are not originally from Ta Khmau. The two women, mother and daughter, are the first two local Christians.
“The mother works with us. For me, her testimony of faith is something very positive. She can’t read or write and is ill. Her husband left her with three children to support. Fr Mario helped her by hiring her as a cleaner and helping her with medical treatment. Captivated by my confrere’s selfless help, she asked to be a catechumen three years ago.
“Before she was baptised, it is customary for catechumens to change their name and choose a Christian one. When I asked her what she wanted to be called, she replied: 'I would like my name to be Mary, because she was the first servant of the Lord. I would like to be the first servant of this community.’”
“These words deeply affected me and made me think of the passage in the Gospel where Jesus thanks the Father saying ‘although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike’ (Mt 11:25).”
"Together with Maria and the rest of the small group that was baptised last year, and thanks to the support of some Christians from other communities, we are trying to build the local Church understood primarily as a family.
“On Sundays, in addition to meeting for Mass, we are involved in catechumenate activities. This year, we will not celebrate baptisms at Easter. The catechism lasts on average three to four years and at present eight people have undertaken it; four are in the first year, the others in the second.
“The work I am called to do is exciting, but there are moments of frustration and misunderstanding. For us missionaries, in places like Ta Khmau, it is necessary to be patient.”
Lastly, “I will not see the fruits of my labour,” Fr Tulino said. “Whoever comes after me will not see them either; perhaps the third or fourth generations of priests who will come to care for this community will see them.
“As I say every morning, this is not yet the time for sowing, it is the time to prepare the ground.” (PF)