In celebrating the recent Christmas feast, the Kampot Church in Phnom Penh diocese organized friendly talks with 974 inmates in the Kampot provincial prison on the morning of 9th January 2020 in the presence of Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh. Joining the bishop were Chan Sovan, chief monks in the province, the imam, monks, priests, pastors and a large number of faithful from the various religious bodies.
During these friendly talks, Fr. Gianluca Tavola, the parish priest of the Kampot pastoral sector, said that the Church was happy to welcome all brothers and sisters from various religious groups who had come to visit the inmates in celebrating Christmas. They had also shared joy and love that come from Jesus and God. He further said the presence of these brothers and sisters were special to jointly promote peace and efforts to join hands to live harmoniously with love, peace, happiness and communion.
Kampot Church had taken part in visiting the inmates on the occasion of Christmas since 2004, which was initiated by the then-Fr. Olivier. In 2010, the church organized inter-religious dialogues with Fr. Un Son as the representative. So far, there have been 16 such visits and dialogues. A report from In Ream, deputy head of Kampot prison said that there were 974 inmates, of whom 38 were women. 20 were foreigners and 35 are Khmer Muslims.
Chan Sovan encouraged and reminded them of the five precepts of Buddhist Sabbath Day, which are teachings of the Buddha for people. These precepts enable them to live in peace by not being murderers or harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and not consuming alcohol.
He also said that if the inmates begin to follow these precepts, they will not suffer. Hope was expressed, that all the inmates will attempt to have a change of heart to become good citizens again. From the Islamic point of view, the Imam said that each person in this world wished to live in peace with freedom and happiness. The rights, freedom and happiness depend on each person who does good deeds. Just as in the Koran, Allah does not change the attitude of humans, as long as they change their attitude according to the advice of the law of national society or religious beliefs.
The imam added that according to the principles of the Muslim faith, if anyone committed wrongs intentionally or unintentionally, no matter how big a mistake, he/she really accepts it and have a change of heart, Allah forgives them and all sins they had committed so far. The society also forgives them. Mahamat prophet said that when a person dies, his/her body is to be carried in a procession to the cemetery. His/her relatives, properties and goodness or merit will accompany his/her body to the cemetery. After the body is buried, the relatives and the properties will go back, while goodness and sin will go along with the body. Sovan also encouraged them to consider reforming themselves and do good deeds again.
Bishop Olivier said that God had created men and women. He had created everything on earth including the universe and animals to have peace, happiness and harmony. Humans have entered into this plan with the purpose of living in peace and harmony.
He also commented: “Please consider always, saying to yourselves that you enter into this plan of creation. You must remind yourselves that you are a man or woman thinking that you serve freedom in a proper way.” Citing a Khmer proverb, ‘Paddle your own canoe’, and God will help you accordingly.
He further said: “We not only depend on ourselves, but also the frontier of our freedom. Just as a kite that flies skywards. If its string breaks, the kite will fall down. Our life is vital, while our freedom depends on the five precepts mentioned earlier. We depend on the commandment of loving one another just as we love ourselves because God loves us. We depend on others. We depend on society to live by helping one another. All of these lead us to find happiness.”
In conclusion, the Bishop wished that they would grow in the five precepts with dignity and happiness. They would be reminded of the precious life in which they have to be responsible for families, society and nature. He urged them to be stronger in the struggle to have a change of heart.
Following these friendly talks, all the visitors sprinkled on them Holy Water and prayed that they will have the strength to struggle and be healthy. Then, the visitors had a fellowship meal at Kampot Church.