It was 1999. Phon, a young man aged just 20, said to his father Threi, in the parish of Busra, Mondolkiri province: ‘Dad, I want to be a priest. So, can I go to the Kcham seminary?’ Threi answered: ‘My son, if you want to become a priest, I will kill myself.’ Phon was then advised by those in charge of Kcham, who told him to give up his idea of becoming a priest and to help his father instead.
Today, he is the head of a respected family, with a wife and two children.
In 2000 another young man called Neth asked his father, Mr. Prak, for advice on becoming a priest. His father replied: ‘No, I don’t agree. If you become a priest, I will die.’ The son answered: ‘Dad, you are free to do what you like, it’s your life. But in my life, I have the freedom to become whatever I like’. Some years later, the son met a girl, married her and they have a child. He is happy.
Then in 2013, a teenager called Hyll asked her parents if they would let her become a nun. Piya, her father, was hesitant about speaking and did not say anything. Her mother, Sreueng, said to the daughter: ‘dear Hyll, to become a nun or priest is not for our people. You would do better to study medicine and become a health worker.’
Listening to the call from God
These three cases demonstrate the reluctance of parents in Busra Parish to encourage their children to listen to the call from God to follow Him by becoming a nun or a priest. This is not due to a lack of love for their children who are eager to hear God’s spiritual call, nor a lack of support for their local church. It is simply due to their fear that the life of a nun or priest and the long years of study would be too difficult for the Bunong people. If their children were to undertakesuch long studies, sooner or later, they would risk having to interrupt them and then would become sad losers in their lives. It is therefore better to oppose these wishes of their children from the start.
It was on June 29, 2022 that Deacon Prak Hong was ordained a priest in the same parish of Busra. A few years earlier, Prak Hong had been a well-known chef in a restaurant in Penh. When Father Juan Solorzano Martinez Jesus, a priest from the Yarumal Society of Colombia and parish priest of Busra, visited Hong in Penh, he listened to the wish he expressed to stop cooking and to put in the long years of study required to become a priest. The priest did not treat this as just a joke, but supported him with care and advice. Hong is a priest today, thanks to the constant support of Father Juan. Father Hong is none other than the younger brother of Neth, son of Mr. Prak who denied his eldest son’s wish to become a priest. Today, the same father is happy to welcome us priests and people gathered in his village, about 1,300 of us, and to lead his son to the newly built parish church to be ordained a priest.
A beautiful transformation
It’s a beautiful transformation of this community. Parents now feel confident to encourage their children in their religious aspirations. At the end of the Mass, Father Hong thanked a number of people. He addressed special thanks to all his Cambodian and Vietnamese co-seminarians. Now Father Hong is grateful to God for Father Hong’s sense of equality with his fellow seminarians. That too is a wonderful transformation. Blessed be God for these transformations.
Mgr Susairaj Antonysamy, MEP