Our parish is twinned the parish of St Therese of Lisieux, Chomnaom, just outside Battambang in Cambodia and we linked to the Tem im Student Centre in Battambang.
The Friends of Cambodia are a parish group, open to all, who provide information about our twin parish and our links to the student centre in Battambang, Tep im. This is a student hostel for girls and boys coming from very poor families and isolated villages. They study from tenth grade through university, a very inspiring place, filled with joy and faith.
They meet a few times a year and help us to keep in touch with news from Cambodia and projects we are supporting.
Our Twin Parish of St Therese of the Infant Jesus
Support for Chomnaom - background to our twin parish Chomnaom’s population (for the 3 villages within reach of the church) is about 2000 families; about 115 of these contain Catholics, though each family may hold a mix of beliefs; so the Chomnaom congregation is about 400 souls. Most of the homes we visited now have at least some electricity, but this is only sufficient for a few electric lights and often a TV. None had piped water or sanitation; water for drinking generally comes from huge jars of collected rainwater, while washing water may be from a pond or the river. Nobody has a car and there is no public transport; those who can, get around by bicycle or moped. Local earnings are often as low as 100 USD per month, which is why many local women as well as men go to Thailand for work, leaving children with grandparents. Life expectancy used to be 50, but is now approaching 60.
History of the church in Chomnaom:Pre Khmer Rouge (pre-1975): There was a church in existence before the Khmer Rouge destruction of 1975-8. Unusually, it had a parish priest who actually lived in the village, Fr. Jean Badré , who had been a French Benedictine monk at the pre-Khmer Rouge monastery at Kayib. Fr. Jean Badré left the monastery and took up parish ministry out of a desire to serve the local people more directly.He was killed and the church destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Regular worship only recommenced at Chomnaom in 1995. At that time the church’s presence was still very small – in 1997 there was still just 1 priest based at Battambang, it took 4 hours to reach Chomnaom, and he visited only once a month. The new church building was begun in 1999 and completed in 2000. Initially it was served by Fr. Sophal, and then by Fr. Totet, before Fr. Pedro arrived in 2001. At that time it still took 4 hours to get to Chomnaom from Battambang. The new church was finally blessed in Feb 2002, and has been under Fr. Pedro up till his departure in Decemberr 2016; Fr Viney will then look after this parish.
Chomnaom Pastoral Council: We also met with the Chomnaom Parish Pastoral Council, who clearly reflected the same appreciation of our twinning that we got from all our visits to individual parishioners. In some ways the Pastoral Council has a bigger role than in St. Mary’s, as Fr. Pedro is not resident in the village; because of his other duties, he typically sleeps only two nights a week in Chomnaom. They look after things like student bursaries, parish visiting, and cooking in the kindergarten (for example). We had the impression they were well-known parish figures that people would call on for advice and help, as well as the priest. Most touching was their inquiry whether there might be a priest from East Anglia who could come and assist the priest shortage around Battambang!
St. Mary’s contributions: Our parish donations really matter in Chomnaom. St.Mary’s has typically given $7-9K every year, which is a huge 25-30% of Chomnaom total budget of $30-35K. Chomnaom really does depend on external donors, since the villagers are much too poor to provide much by themselves; Sunday collections are tiny. Consequently St. Mary’s has, among other things, made it possible for the kindergarten to have a fourth class; this means covering the teaching, uniforms, and meals for 40 children. We have also notably provided substantial funding for the Chomnaom Parish rice field, paying for a reservoir and irrigation so that it can produce two rather than just one crop per year. The goal here is a sustainable resource that will provide a significant piece of income for the parish, as well as supplying basic food for children and vulnerable people in the village, and for the students at Tep Im. Fr Manoj has now taken over the running of the Tep Im hostel from Fr Pedro.
The Tep Im Student Centre, Battambang
Chomnaom is a small village in Banteay Meanchey province some 50 kilometres from Battambang. As only part of the road is paved, it can be hard to get to. The main source of livelihood is rice farming.
Chomnaom has only had power lines since 2012 and many villagers remain without electricity due to the high cost of connections and supply.
There is a primary school with around 200 pupils.
Chomnaom is the second oldest parish in the Battambang Diocese, with around 120 Catholic families. The parish compound includes the Church, dedicated to St Therese of the Infant Jesus, and served from Battambang, a kindergarten, and a parish pastoral centre. During the Pol Pot regime, the parish priest, Fr.Jean Badre, a French Benedictine monk, was killed by the Khmer Rouge. The present parish priest is Fr. Pedro Gomez, a Yarumal missionary from Columbia, following Fr Pedro moving to go for a break to Canada, Fr Viney is now the Parish Priest (March 2017)
Latest News from Cambodia
Watch the video messages from Fr Viney (Chomnaom’s new parish priest) and Fr Manoj (who has taken over the running of the Tep Im hostel)
Recent letters from Pope Francis
Look out for more live simply ideas and things we can do together as a parish family in the coming weeks and months
How about joining freecycle - a great way of handing on those unwanted items and finding things you need for free visit the Ipswich page FreeCycle