Aventures missionaire

From the lands of the Bunong to Penh Hill

Publié le 14/12/2023

For five years, Father François Hemelsdaël lived in Mondulkiri, a province in north east Cambodia. He has now become parish priest at the Infant Jesus parish in Phnom Penh.
Paroisse des Bunongs, dans le Mondolkiri

Paroisse des Bunongs, dans le Mondolkiri

At the end of 2022, a celebration was held in the parish of the Infant Jesus (Beung Tompoun – Bgtp) in honour of Father Damien Fahrner, who was about to leave the parish. The Bishop of Phnom Penh, Mgr Olivier Schmitthaeusler, was also present there, as was I, passing through Phnom Penh for the catechesis service of the Saint Irene interdiocesan centre. After the celebration of the Eucharist, games and sketches were played and, during the meal, I knew inside that I would be the next priest.

At Easter-time, I invited the Bishop of Kompong Cham, Mgr Ly, to come to my house in Mondulkiri to help me celebrate about sixty adult baptisms. And it was on Good Friday that my inner feeling was confirmed. The three bishops called onme to take charge of the parish of Bgtp in Phnom Penh in order to be more available for the Saint Irene centre that is nowto take care of liturgical and biblical pastoral care, in addition to catechesis. I was also given responsibility for the student hostel which is next to the parish. What an enormous change! I am not only changing diocese, but I am also moving from a rural parish to the capital city.

A parish of young people

The Bgtp community was created by an Italian priest and the Sisters of Providence around twenty years ago. I went there from time to time in the year 2000 during my probation year as an MEP seminarian. At the time, the church was a small house on stilts in the middle of a rice paddy. Today, with a new church built by this same priest around ten years ago, it has become the parish where the young Khmer Catholics of Phnom Penh like to gather. So there are many young people, there is the Saint Francis hostel for high school students, a centre for students who come from all over Cambodia to study in the capital, the headquarters of the Sisters of Providence, which also has a home for young girls, and another for deaf people. There is also a centre that welcomes some sixty autistic children and adolescents, created at the initiative of a parishioner and with the help of Fathers Vincent Sénéchal and Damien Fahrner, whom I humbly succeed.

The price to pay, however, is having to leave my beloved Bunongs in Mondulkiri for at least three years, especially as a new community, Memang, is only just being created. Since the official announcement of my change of assignment, it’s been a bit of a crisis situation here. Of course, I will not be taking over Bgtp until January 2024, but still, it has been quitehard for everyone, especially as we don’t yet know who will be replacing me. There are many Bunong who study in Phnom Penh and go to the Bgtp parish, there is even a special centre designated for them but, of course, it is not the same. Despite all of this, joy is my strongest emotion. There is joy in the change, joy because of the trust placed in me, joy at the work to be done, and the joy of knowing that it is the Lord who is calling me. I also trust him to look after the future ofMondulkiri, for he is the Master, he knows what he is doing. Dear friends, I invite you to pray for all of us here and to give thanks to the Lord for all the great things he does for us!


Fr François Hemelsdaël, MEP