Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom PenhDaily News

Ministry of Environment hands over the old Cathedral to Catholic Church

The minister of environment has considered this gift of the old Cathedral to the Catholic Church at this time as an opportunity for the local Church to contribute towards developing and preserving the inheritance and culture of the old Cathedral, which was left by the French colonial masters atop the Bokor Mountain. The cathedral will be re-dedicated and regular worship services will begin.

His Excellency, the minister Say Samal also made an appeal to the Catholic Church and citizens in general to participate in raising awareness of the environmental and ecological significance. Voice-over by minister: “Please participate in educating our people on environmental and biological issues. Yes, when engaging with Buddhist followers and other religions, the Bokor mountain is considered their respective holy sanctuaries. Then, we all take part in education to promote the biological sphere and to take care of the mountain together. This is the basis for us to go forward together. As far as this issue is concerned, any religious body can come and unite with one another. This is a special point in Cambodia that not many countries in world have the same opportunities as us. Yes, there is consideration for other religious institutions in the country. Please stick to this principle, because it is that very principle for all Khmer people irrespective of what religion they belong to. Yes, no religion teaches humans to become bad. They educate their people to be good. So, please adhere to that principles from now on.” French-Cambodian Bishop, Olivier Schmittaeusler of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh, praised the policy of the Royal Government of Cambodia by saying: “We all can live together in peace.”

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Voice-over by the bishop: “In Cambodia we see all religions are allowed to have their own activities just as Cambodians, although Buddhism is the state religion, we all have the freedom to practice our religion. We see that in our country each religion whether a Buddhist, Christian or a Muslim can practice his or her faith without hindrance. For me, I have been involved many times in inter-religious activities and three weeks ago in the Kampot detention center, I entered it with Buddhist monks, Muslim Imams to present gifts to the detainees. This is a sign that we cooperate with one another and alongside the government, especially through the Ministry of Cults and religion to protect and maintain harmony and educate our people to respect, love each other to build our nation to grow and prosper more.” However, the environment minister appeal to the Catholic community to map out a jion strategy in order to continue the development of this area so as to become a destination for everyone to come to relax in a cool environment as if it is the wealth of their religion.

Voice-over by the minister: “As for this area, I would like to request the Catholic Church to think of a strategy and initiate efforts to renovate it? This should include the efforts to make this place into a historical hesitance and look into the feasibility to build a new church. Please consider these requests and if there is any help needed, then contact the ministry, we consider this place a national heritage and it has to be developed further. So, in some of the areas, we cannot do much without development. This includes growing plants and other flora and fauna. Today we have initiated the first step through this hand-over, but please think hard. I remind you all that we are looking into developing and making this place into an ecological and botanical paradise on Bokor mountain.”

In his response, Bishop Olivier stated his strategic stance to covert the area into a Pilgrimage tourist destination with a beautiful environment. Voice-over by Bishop: “In the first place, we see a historical building and so my strategy is to do whatever is needed to protect the building in order to be able to retain an atmosphere, especially the facade of the building. We will maintain the old form of the building so that we will be reminded of the ancient times because it is listed in a historical national heritage of the nation. Moreover, it is a place where we need to invite our Catholics but we also know that a lot of other visitors come to the place and so it is a common place though it may not be a place only for Catholics. However, the Catholic community will come to pray and worship God and make their offerings. Today we have reached the top of this mountain and we hope in the future the Blessed Virgin Mary will be honored as we have Yeah Mao (name of the spirit of Our lady) to protect us all and lead us to be united in peace and one big family.”

It should also be pointed out that a study was carried out of the Bokor Mountain for the first time in 1916 and then because of its height, it was turned into a resort during the French colonial era and Sangkum reasoning (socialism). In 1960 it was discovered that the Bokor Mountain was located along the Domrey mountain range in the South-east of the Kravanh mountain of Cambodia. The mountain was designated as the naturally protected area by a Royal decree signed on 3rd November 1993 and became known as the Preah Monivong National Park of Bokor. This national park is 1 000 meters above sea level and is mostly covered by jungle of the lowlands. It is very steep towards the coastal area, about 200 to 300 meters away. In the South and North of the park, there was the wetland covering half of the jungle and the grove bush. The park not only has plenty of biological resources and it was considered as having had tradition of a religious nature, especially the Catholic faith on the mountain. During the Pol Pot era, the Catholic Church waived her right of custody of the  Cathedral. In 2001 the Church requested the government to renovate the Cathedral for use again. Today, the Environment ministry has agreed to the proposals of the local Church in Phnom Penh diocese. The Church also asked the ministry to be awarded custody and management of the Cathedral for worship services, retreats and celebration of the Eucharist for Catholics.

The government’s policy on religion is fair to all religions in Cambodia. The religious institutions should unite in harmony, peace for cultures, policies and economic ventures. All of these made everything possible for Khmer
citizens to go about in the country safe and sound. Please be informed that the signing of the handover ceremony took place at the Preah Monivong National Park of Bokor on the morning of 24th December 2017, on the Eve of Christmas.