One of Phnom Penh’s Catholic priests who works with deaf people, Father Charlie Dittmeier, took time last week to explain the meaning of Easter in the Christian tradition as most important day in the Christian calendar.
In the Catholic religion, great emphasis is put on the behaviour of Jesus Christ when he was sentenced to die by crucifixion. Instead of fighting his captors and tormentors, he forgave them all, which was seen as remarkable and unusual behaviour and that story of forgiveness has been the foundation for the Christian religion, of which the Catholic Church is probably the biggest Christian organisation.
Father Dittmeier says Easter celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection, the moment when he “rose from the dead”.
According to Christian tradition, Easter is the most important moment in the whole year.
“Easter is the most important liturgy the whole year,” Dittmeier said. “Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter. We celebrate the resurrection on the first day of the week. That is why church is on Sunday.
“Christ died on Good Friday (today), was buried that afternoon, was in the tomb on Saturday and early Sunday morning he rose from the dead,” Dittmeier said in an interview last week.
The theological part of Easter, in the Christian tradition, is symbolic of a victory of sin over death.
“Jesus Christ died because of sinfulness of people, but he was able to accept that and to overcome and in that sense that it is a sign of hope for others,” he said. “Those who are baptised into his suffering and death and lifestyle are also baptised into the new life that he received when he rose.”
As well as being a diocese priest and a regular pastor of the Phnom Penh’s English speaking parish, Dittmeier also serves as project director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development program.
An American from Lewisville, Kentucky, Dittmeier was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1970.
He said the ritual of baptism symbolises going into a tomb by being immersed in water, and being resurrected by emerging.
“Baptism represents a symbolic dying of a sinful way of life and a symbolic resurrection.”
Dittmeier said Easter is a traditional time for baptism and that more than 300 Catholic people will be baptised here in Phnom Penh on Saturday night. An Easter vigil service will take place on what is known as Holy Saturday night, at 5pm at the World Vision Center at the corner of Mao Tse Tung Boulevard behind the Caltex station.
The Good Friday service is tonight at 6pm at the Korean Ecumenical Center at number 19, Street 330.
The Easter Sunday service will take place at St Josephs Church on National Road 5 just up from the Japanese bridge, at 10am.
Dittmeier said people did not have to be Catholic to attend the services and that all were welcome.
“These services are open to anyone and a significant percentage of our congregation are not Catholic. Many of them are Protestants of various flavours, and their churches don’t tend to celebrate the different events of holy week like we do in the Catholic Church.”
Christian events started last night with Holy Thursday which remembers Jesus Christ’s Last Supper. Good Friday remembers Christ’s death, followed by Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday which celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
Easter is also a spring time festival that celebrates the idea of new life, which is why eggs and rabbits are often seen in the celebrations and gifts.
In his daily work, Father Dittmeier works with people age 16 and older who are deaf and who have never been to school.
One of the services for the deaf people is educational job training and another is the teaching of sign language. There are between 100 and 120 deaf people in the Dittmeier’s program.
He said Cambodia was unique in that most deaf people had never gone to school.
“No deaf person who is an adult today has ever been to school because there were no schools for the deaf in Cambodia,” he said. “Today there are 15 deaf people in Cambodia who have graduated from high school.”
The Maryknoll Deaf Development program, along with the Cambodian organisation Krousar Themay, are both are actively involved in helping deaf people have better lives in Cambodia.