June 16, 2009
PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- The Cambodian Church recently received a boost in its ministry to needy people after two nuns took their first vows in the Providence of Portieux congregation.
The event was the first of its kind for this congregation in more than 40 years.
The Church, devastated during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror from 1975-1979, has slowly been rebuilding and the Providence of Portieux congregation represents a microcosm of the work in the country.
The order now has 14 members in the country after Sisters Ann Mary Khhay Dany and Mary Mandela Den Chantha took their first vows in May, said Sister Agnes Nguyen Thia, the congregation's superior in Cambodia.
"This is a new growth for the Catholic Church" and "a sign of renewing of the Providence nuns in Cambodia," said Sister Joseph Mary, superior of the Providence of Portieux Sisters, based in France.
She said that this is the first time since 1968 that Providence nuns have taken vows in Cambodia. The congregation, which started in France, first came to the country in 1881 and had as many as 165 nuns at one time before the Khmer Rouge took power.
Sister Thia said that during the Khmer Rouge period, all Church personnel were either killed or deported, and the Providence congregation lost six nuns.
The congregation restarted their mission in the early 1990s as Cambodia opened up after decades of civil war.
More than 1,000 Catholics from across the country came to witness the vow-taking ceremony on May 7 at Child Jesus parish in Beong Tompo, Phnom Penh. Bishop Emile Destombes, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, and Monsignor Enrique Figaredo, apostolic prefect of Battambang, and 15 priests attended.
Sister Dany, 31, an ethnic Vietnamese, spoke to UCA News after taking her vows. She said that, at first, she was reluctant to become a nun because she was the eldest of eight children and was working as a tailor to support the family.
However, her family encouraged her.
Sister Chantha, 26, also an ethnic Vietnamese, has a similar story. The seventh of 10 children, she had wanted to enter the congregation 10 years ago but her father's business collapsed and the family lost all their property, including their house. "So I had to delay my dream and start working in a garment factory," she said.
It was only in 2005, after her older sister got married, that she joined the congregation. "Everything is in God's hands. If I don't reach out and search for him, I won't see his love," said Sister Chantha.
The Providence nuns run a hostel for poor girls and a center for disabled
children near Child Jesus parish. They also teach catechism and provide health care to villagers.
The hostel supports girls from poor families in the capital and surrounding areas. They study at public schools with the hostel providing accommodation, meals, school fees, books, uniforms and other school supplies. The nuns also run a program of moral education for the girls.
In addition, the congregation runs a center for disabled children. The children come from poor families all over the country and suffer a range of disabilities including hearing impairments, cerebral palsy and polio. Others are victims of Cambodia's violent past, having lost limbs to landmines.
The center sends them to schools for disabled children, and provides financial and material support as well as moral guidance.
Sister Sina Chruek, spiritual director of the Providence congregation, says that the nuns also teach catechism in the three Church jurisdictions in Cambodia -- the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh, and the apostolic prefectures of Battambang and Kompong Cham.
The nuns also run a health care center at the Battambang parish and visit the sick, including HIV/AIDS patients.
The Providence of Portieux congregation started in France and is now present in countries such as Belgium, China, Italy, Switzerland, Taiwan and Vietnam, in addition to Cambodia.