Follow our Parishioners on their trip to Cambodia
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12th January 2015
Eleven of us met in the Cherry Tree car park at 3am to begin our journey to Cambodia. Our first flight left Manchester at 6am and we arrived 24 hours later in Siem Reap. All our flights went according to plan and the food was lovely, the wine flowing and the craic good.
After the long haul flight, at Kuala Lumpur Terminal building we were invited to “Indulge & Relax”
Some people managed this better than others!
13th January 2015
First sight of Siem Reap was a pleasant surprise, seeing a Terminal Building in Cambodian style construction. It was also lovely to be greeted by a blanket of hot air, a welcome change from the gales we left behind!
Outside the terminal building we were met by Fr Stephen and his willing helpers who transported us to our hotel.
After a few hours rest we were ready to explore Siem Reap.
Investigating Pub Street!
Our first meal together sampling local cuisine.
With some local National entertainment
And so to bed for a well earned rest!!
14th January 2015
We left Siem Reap at 8.30 am to travel the 70 Km to Taom and arrived at 10am. We visited the children in kindergarten aged 3-5 years old and they were sitting on the floor colouring in. Many were not perturbed by our visit, some were shy and others were more forthcoming.
Outside in the grounds a group of ladies were preparing a rice vegetable soup in cauldrons on open fires.
After school the children gathered in the church to entertain us with their singing. When lunch was ready the children sat on the floor to be served, in 6 rows. We served over 100 children and more soup was available for those who wanted it. Afterwards they washed their own dishes. This was a humbling experience for us all.
Later in the afternoon Fr Stephen and Fr David celebrated Mass for the local catholic community and we joined them. For this community Mass is celebrated only once every two weeks.
Before we left we had a group photo opportunity for visitors and the local pastoral team outside the Pastoral Centre which our parish contributions helped build.
15th January 2015
Another day another soup kitchen! This time we paid a visit to ‘The Jesus Village’ and ‘The Jesus Farm’. The children gave them these names and also referred to Fr Stephen’s car as ‘The Jesus Car’!
Fr David like everyone else got stuck in to serve the children their soup.
Today’s rice soup fed over 100 children, all from the local community but none of them are Catholics. Mums were rushing with 2 and 3 children to ensure they didn’t miss out on them being fed.
The rice soup project today also gave a new meaning to takeaways! Little children were taking bags of soup home with them for their siblings. Clearly all are welcome in this place.
Thom our guide for the day showed us around the Farm although we didn’t see all 17hectares. The farm grows a variety of flowers and crops for sale and consumption. It also has a variety of animals including cows, chickens and ducks. Although Thom is a dedicated catechist he was not returning with us as he was staying overnight on the farm to help with the farm work chores.
The return journey for us was a hair-raising drive along pot- holed sandy tracks in places, but all in a day’s work for the pastoral team getting to and from their community projects.
16th January 2015
Today was scheduled as a day for a spot of sight-seeing so we took the opportunity to visit the World Heritage Angkor Wat complex. The morning was spent exploring a number of Hindu and Buddhist Temples, especially those made famous by the Lara Croft movie “Tomb Raider”. After a pleasant lunch it was time to see the main architectural masterpiece built during the time of the great Khmer Empire.
For several years I have been visiting Cambodia, a country I have come to love. It’s people are so welcoming and friendly and many have been through the most horrific experiences imaginable, yet they still manage to smile, and despite real poverty, they are truly hospitable. It is wonderful to be able to share this place with a group of parishioners and introduce them to the wonderful people of this ancient land.
Some years ago we established a link with the Catholic community in Siem Reap and Toam. Since then we have been visited by Fr Hari (RIP) and Fr Panus (Stephen) at St Joseph and St Alban’s. They have told us about their wonderful work here but to have the chance to actually see work and share in it in a small way is an enormous privilege and a very humbling experience. I think the group are enjoying an uplifting yet challenging experience that I am sure will deepen our faith but also galvanise us to re-double our efforts to support this wonderful work of the small Catholic Community here. I suspect this might be the first of many visits from our parish to Cambodia. Please join us by praying for the work of the Catholic community who share so simply and yet powerfully their Christian love with the people here.
17th January 2015
Today we traveled 60km southeast of Siem Reap to the village of Kampong Khleang on the Tonle Sap lake. In 2008 a regular schedule of Masses, catechism, rice-soup programme, and literacy classes was set up to serve about 60 Vietnamese Catholics. They have since left the area but the parish continues to provide a kindergarten and rice-soup programme for the needy non-catholic children of the area.
The school building, like all the village dwellings, is built on tall stilts to cope with the fact that, during the rainy season, the water level rises by about 10 meters. To reach the school provided something of a challenge. We all know the story of how St Peter’s lack of faith meant he could not walk on water. Well it turns out that for some people it’s a struggle even when wooden planks are provided.
When the school room was eventually accessed the children sang to us a wonderful welcome song and soon had us joining with them in some of their games. And once again we helped serve the rice-soup which they all enjoyed. The children seemed so happy and friendly the expression ‘we all smile in the same language’ sprang to mind.
Before boarding the mini-bus for our trip back to our hotel we thought we would have one last photograph of just ourselves before leaving. The children had other ideas!
This was another visit none of us will ever forget.
18th January 2015
Today we had a planned visit to a church with a difference, but before embarking on our journey we were invited to see how the catechetical programmes are organised. At the local Siem Reap church, St. John’s, there were 3 groups – one infants, one juniors and the other young adults. We didn’t understand what was being said but the infants in particular were joyfully participating and afterwards the children were transported home.
We then boarded our minibus for the 18km drive and a 20 minute boat journey to our next destination which was St Peters Church, Chong Khnies. What is so different about this church is that it serves the community of floating villages which means that the church itself floats. Given the trials and tribulations experienced yesterday it was good that we did not have to approach the church on planks!
The congregation, mostly children, appeared to enjoy our presence but the pleasure was ours. The church has developed as a thing of beauty in the dark and murky waters, like a lotus that grows in similar conditions. The Mass was con-celebrated by Fr Stephen and Fr David and the children sang beautifully.
Following Mass the children were as usual served rice-soup.
19th January 2015
On this the last full day we visited the Angkor National Museum, did a bit of last minute shopping and over lunch took time to reflect on our experiences of the past week. We found it difficult to put into words the emotional impact it had on us all. The first time at one of the rice soup lunches it was humbling and unbelievable. We were reminded of the parish Friday lunch theme ‘Eat simply that others may simply eat’.
When someone on the Parish Pastoral Council suggested that Fr David lead a group of parishioners to see at first hand where the contributions from the parish are used in Cambodia, it was nothing short of inspired. The ten of us who traveled on this trip with Fr David have certainly had an encounter we are unlikely to forget.
Normally on such a trip as this to a far eastern country the highlight would be a visit to a world famous monument such as Angkor Wat. On this occasion however it proved to be the least significant activity of the week.
We came to Siem Reap to experience Cambodia, what we actually experienced was church – church in action.
Fr Stephen is Parish Priest to a number of communities spread over a vast area of Siem Reap Provence and he and his small team of helpers live up to the Mission Statement on their parish information leaflet ‘Called to Love and Serve’. We saw them in action and know they feed over 1,000 children every week and most of them are not Catholics. So regardless of faith when they see a need they respond. The words of the Gospel are lived rather than preached ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat’.
To sum up it would be true to say WE CAME, WE SAW AND WE FELL IN LOVE.
20th January 2015
A message from site administrator:
For those of us back home in the Parish this blog has been an inspiration. We have waited eagerly each day for news of what you were doing that day.
Thank you for taking the time and the trouble to keep us up to date on your travels and for inspiring us with your words and pictures.