The Church In Cambodia
The Catholic Church was established in Cambodia 500 years ago. On April 17th, 1975, Church was banned, the Church religious leaders were expelled and practice of any religion was prohibited by the Khmers Rouges, later the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmers Rouges and took control of Cambodia and maintained the ban on religion. The missionaries present there, in particular the MEP fathers, were forced to leave the country.
In March 1990 after the fall of the Khmers rouges, religious practice was once again authorized and people were allowed to practice their religion. But Church as an institution had to find means to come back into Cambodia. At this juncture, the religious authorities present in Cambodia, prior to the Khmer dictatorship, were ready to stage a comeback but intended to do it progressively. The best way for the Church to comeback into the country was through the social activities which was also a dire necessity on the aftermath of the Khmers Rouges retreat. Wanting to be very cautious in a very vulnerable and uncertain political situation, Church opted to come under the banner of social work. Consequently, Caritas Internationals played an important role in negotiating with the new leadership in Phnom Penh, to get the Church in as a social work organization. As such Church came into Cambodia as an antenna of Caritas Internationals to carry out social activities in the new Cambodian society. Fr. Emile Destombes was sent as a Caritas Internationals representative to initiate Caritas Cambodia, antenna of C.I. and he was soon followed by Mgr. Ramousse and Fr. Francois Ponchaud, Paradoxically, Caritas came to existence first and facilitated the entering of the Church into Cambodia. It was only at a later stage that the Church was recognized as such by the Cambodian government and was allowed to work as such. Today Caritas Cambodia exists as a faith based NGO and the Church does exist as an institution.
In any case, as on today, the Church is a minority institution. The Catholics are about 60 000 in number, about of which only about 7 000 are Khmer. The Khmer catholic community is very poor. The Church in Cambodia is totally supported by the religious community from all over the world All the Church structures are managed by foreigners, except Caritas which has got a Khmer leadership today. The biggest challenge is the future of the Cambodian Catholics and the future existence of the Church with a Khmer identity. A few Khmer priests have been ordained in the last few years. At the same time, there is an important solidarity within the Catholic community.