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Thank God for Catholic missionary approach

Dear Editor,

Reading Sebastian Strangio's interview "Border camps, Buddhism and building a mission" (June 5) made me think about the different approaches of Christian missionaries in Cambodia.

I really appreciate Sister Denise Coughlan, who says her Jesuit Services Organisation doesn't proselytise or baptise Cambodian people.

Among Christian denominations, Catholicism has carried out their overseas missions very differently. While other denominations, such as the Anglican church, have used the Bible as their means to interact with people, and employ charitable proselytising to attract people to convert, Catholic missionaries have worked tirelessly at the grassroots level. For example, in their communities they work hard providing basic education, helping to preserve local traditions and culture, and they have worked closely with Cambodian Buddhist monks.

In Cambodia recently, there has been some controversy over Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who have disturbed the calm of their Cambodian neighbours with their proselytising. Aggressive missionary approaches will, most likely,  achieve more conversions. In contrast to this approach, Catholic missionaries spend more time improving education and health care and building their understanding of folk culture.

Catholics have always attempted to strengthen their ties to the grassroots level of Cambodian society. Catholic pastors have even adopted rituals that imitate Buddhist rituals, such as sprinkling sacred water on the participants at crops blessing ceremonies.

In addition, much Buddhist language has been used by Catholic pastors.  Father Francois Ponchaud, a scholar of Cambodian history and tradition, exemplifies this.

In sum, the aim of all Christian missionaries is ubiquitous: to work towards the propagation of the Christian gospel, but their approaches are different.

World Vision, one of Cambodia's largest charitable organisations, stated as their key mission "to follow Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God". Many Cambodian employees working for World Vision might be a Christian or attend the Mass once per week.

The Catholic's Second Vatican Council told those of non-Christian faith that they were created by God and they all will return to God. But this statement is badly opposed to the principle teaching of Lord Buddha, which holds that "human beings are created by Karma or deeds via thought, speech and action, and human beings can all be developed to be the master of Gods and men".

Sophan Seng

University of Hawaii at Manoa 

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