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Monday, March 22, 2010

Bishop Schmitthaeusler, the "young bishop" long awaited by the Church in Cambodia

By Alberto Caccaro*

On 20 March this year the Episcopal ordination of the coadjutor of Phnom Penh was held. The sign of peace with the apostolic vicar has represented the ideal handover between "father and son", to strengthen the Church's presence in the country. Among the priorities to be addressed "unity" of the faithful, education of young people.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - The sign of peace between Mgr. Emile Destombes, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, and Mgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler represented the ideal handover between "father and son", to continue and strengthen the Church's presence in Cambodia. It was a "beautiful and moving" moment that marked the Episcopal ordination of Mgr. Schmitthaeusler, on 20 March, in the capital. The new prelate chose the words of St. Paul as his motto “Love of Christ impels us", which clearly expresses his pragmatism, never separated from a deep love for Jesus and the Church.

Born in Strasbourg in 1970, Mgr. Olivier is the young bishop the local Church was waiting for. In Cambodia since 1998, he has earned the esteem of all, Catholic and otherwise, and the presence of over 5 thousand people from around the country has confirmed and renewed this deep affection. It appears to bode well for the work that awaits the new prelate.

Bishop Emile Destombes, the current vicar apostolic of Phnom Penh, the Apostolic Nuncio Mgr. Salvatore Pennacchio, and Auxiliary Bishop of Strasbourg Mgr. Christian Kratz, were the consecrating bishops. The celebration was also attended by the archbishop of Bangkok, Mgr. Francois Xavier, Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Min Man of Ho Chi Minh City and seven other bishops. Also among these were a good number from neighbouring Vietnam and Mgr. Louis Marie Ling from Laos. There were 85priests. The function was also addressed by the civil authorities, including the Minister for worship and religious affairs, and two delegations of Buddhist monks with their patriarchs, representing the two streams of Cambodian Buddhism.

Bishop Olivier had been vicar general to Mgr. Emile since 2007. Their close collaboration has allowed a continuous growth of the local church in "unity, visibility and effectiveness" in the context of a society in tumultuous and rapid change. Two priorities that they now face: "the unity" of the Church between the majority of Vietnamese Catholics and Cambodian minority, and education of young people. Bishop Olivier spent the first 12 years in Cambodia by building schools for the government and the Church, a sign that education and training of new generations have always been his priority.

Addressing the faithful, the bishop used a language of affection, like someone who feels as a father speaking to his children. He loves Cambodia, its people, its history and tradition and feels called, in Mgr. Olivier’s words, to "to appreciate all that is good in this fascinating country."

The Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh is rich in its variety of presences: male and female religious institutes, and NGOs Catholic and non-Catholic alike, but Mgr. Olivier definitely knows how to enhance the charisma of all involved and lead them towards a single goal, the "common good". He has built relationships with all kinds of people and groups: from the ordinary people of the villages to the ministers now in government. This style has enhanced the visibility of the Church, which has had and has the opportunity to bring its contribution to the future of new generations.

* Fr. Alberto Caccaro is a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Cambodia since 2000.

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