Mission Notebook

Random ideas, comments, reflections, and information on mission and life in a mission country.

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Cambodian Christmas Season #7

New Year's Eve Prayer

Dinner on New Year's Eve



Another of the Christmas season traditions for Maryknoll in Cambodia is a New Year's Eve prayer service. This year we first had a dinner together, after work, with just the formal Maryknoll members rather than the larger group that often prays with us. At this table were Steve, Helene O'Sullivan, John Morefield, Lisa Pirie, Kathy Morefield, and Meding Tan.





Prayer service



The prayer service itself was prepared by Helene O'Sullivan on the theme of the new consciousness of the unity, connectedness, and harmony of the cosmos. This has been a much-reflected on theme of the Maryknoll Sisters for the past couple years. The service consisted of readings, responses, and moments of reflection.


Cambodian Christmas #6

Christmas Day

25 December 2012

Nativity scene



Christmas morning, although a workday in Cambodia, we had a 10:00 AM Christmas at St. Joseph Church. The same nativity scene that we used last night at the Korean Center we transported to St. Joseph. Unlike US churches, where the crowds swell on Christmas and Easter, our Christmas mass was about 3/4 of our usual crowd because most of our parishioners had to work today.






Mourning at the home


One of our staff, a young woman who taught in our Education Project, died this morning so after mass and eating lunch, I went to her family home where her body was kept, wrapped in a mat like the one in the foreground and then placed in a large plastic bag. She was just 33 and we're not sure what she died of. The hospital said "heart attack" which makes me think they really don't know. At the home neighbors gathered to console the family and Buddhist monks came to chant.


Maryknoll Christmas dinner




Then in the evening, the Maryknoll community gathered for a Christmas dinner. We invited some of the people who are regulars at our Wednesday afternoon liturgy and also some stray foreigners who work in Maryknoll projects and have no family or connections in Cambodia.



Cambodian Christmas #5

Christmas Eve Mass

24 December 2012

Nativity set at Korean Center


When Christmas Eve or another special ceremony falls on a weekday, we cannot use the World Vision auditorium so we move to the Korean Ecumenical Center. The problem with that move--actually the problem at almost all our liturgies--is that we then need to transport everything we want to the venue, set up, and then take it down and take it home afterwards. To set up this nativity scene, we even had to bring the table.





Beginnning of the liturgy



Fr. Bob Wynne was the presider at tonight's liturgy which was at 6:00 PM. Christmas Eve--and Christmas Day itself--are work days here so when we have a ceremony on those days, we need to make it late enough to allow people to get off from work.



Cambodian Christmas #4

Christmas Carol Party

23 December 2012

Guests arriving for the party


Most Catholics are not accustomed to experiencing fellowship and comradarie as part of their church experience. We have tried to introduce a spirit of friendliness and fellowship through various activities, and today we had a parish Christmas carol party at the home of one of our parishioners. Here one of our parish families is arriving.



 Singing Christmas carols



About 80 or 90 people attended the potluck supper followed by the singing of carols. Our hostess is a member of the Bella Voce Choir and had invited fellow choir members to come and support our musical efforts. It was a pleasant evening! Thank you to our hosts!



Cambodian Christmas #3

A Joint Christmas Service

23 December 2012

Christmas Choir

Today was the day for the traditional joint celebration of Christmas organized by the large English-speaking international Christian communities.  Click here to see more photos.

Cambodian Christmas #2

Salesian Girls School Christmas Play

22 December 2012

School Christmas play

The Salesian Girls business school teaches and promotes the use of English among the students. One activity to encourage interest in English is staging an annual Christmas play that is performed in English. The play this year was shorter than usual but had a lot of action and dramatic characters which held the attention of many of the audience who don't know much English. Several ghouls like the one above converged on the hard-hearted businesswoman to convince her to change her ways and adopt the spirit of Christmas.

Cambodian Christmas #1

Decorating the sisters' house...

21 December 2012

Kathy Morefield working on the treeToday was the day for the traditional decoration of the Maryknoll Sisters' home with pizza and song afterwards. Here Kathy Morefield puts the final touches on the covering for the base of the tree.  Click here to see more photos.

Inclusive Education Workshop

A Very Unpleasant Experience

18 December 2012

Inclusive Education workshop

Today there was a workshop on inclusive education for children with disabilities at the Phnom Penh Hotel. It was a major event, with government ministers and about 150 attendees. The sound was excruciatingly loud on the PA system. Cambodian culture loves that. An event is not real and certainly not fun unless the volume is fully up on anything that makes noise. But the PA system was so loud that we couldn't hear the Khmer-English translation through the headphones we were wearing. And my associate director from England, who is profoundly deaf, was commenting on how the noise was bothering him! I complained to the hotel staff but it didn't help much so I asked to see a manager and finally got the noise turned down.

"It's a nice building....

...Let's keep it."

16 December 2012

Municipality Building in Phnom Penh

 During French colonial days, when Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia were all part of French Indochina, this building on one of the main thoroughfares of the city was the headquarters of the Missions Estrangeres de Paris, the French foreign mission group comparable to Maryknoll in the United States. From here they administered all their mission work in the three countries. When the Khmer Rouge took over, they took control of the building and at the end of the Pol Pot era, the government decided to use it as a city hall and today it is known as the Municipality.

The Royal Palace at Sunset

14 December 2012

Sunset at the palace



This evening I had to go across Phnom Penh to pick up some materials at the church where we have mass on Sunday mornings. On the way back, we passed the Royal Palace, with its large photograph of the deceased king, at sunset.

Preparing for Christmas...

..the arrival of the tree

13 December 2012

Christmas tree in a tuk-tuk

Because of the rush of events (not Christmas related) coming up in December, Fr. Bob Wynne last Saturday set up our small old Christmas tree that has been with Maryknoll for years. Then an American family offered us their "pre-lit" artificial tree, nine feet tall, which they said they were abandoning because you need a PhD to get the lights working. After a quick discussion, we accepted it because our new Maryknoll office has a much bigger meeting room and today the tree arrived in two big boxes by tuk-tuk. (Thank you, Cori Parks!)

International Day of People with Disabilities

Ceremony at Koh Pich Theatre

11 December 2012

Koh Pich Theatre

Monday, December 3rd, was the International Day for People with Disabilities, and this year the government organized a ceremony with the Prime Minister in the new Koh Pich Theatre. The place is huge, seating 3000, people, and has a wide video screen across the main stage with two smaller video screens on either side. Because of protocol and government paranoia, there were some rough spots. Nothing new was said but the positive point was that this time the Prime Minister said it and things happen in the country only when he speaks in favor of them.

DDP Exhibit



About twenty DPOs (Disabled People's Organizations) had booths set up in tents outside the Koh Pich Theatre to display their services and activities. The Deaf Development Programme had a good number of staff present to represent our work and explain what we do.



CDPO Booth



The Cambodian Disabled People's Organization (CDPO) is one of the major DPOs in Cambodia. Here their director, Mr. Ngin Saorath (facing the camera) explains some of their programs to visitors to their booth.

Celebrating the Nobel Peace Prize for the EU

Human Rights Day

10 December 2012

Nobel Peace Prize for EU

Today was a holiday for Human Rights Day and the European Union in Cambodia held a reception tonight to celebrate the EU's receiving the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize today. Here the EU Ambassador Cautain welcomes the dignitaries and guests. Fr. Bob Wynne and Fr. Charlie Dittmeier were invited for speaking about human rights at the Catholic Church services.

For me, it was also a test to see how I would stand up after four days in bed with a virus. Such a stand-up reception allows for an escape at any time so I thought I'd give it a try and I did pretty well.

Is it parasites? Is it a virus?

Probably the latter...

9 December 2012

Probiotic yogurt

On November 22nd I went to Kep Province for a wedding and started feeling sick within a few hours. I had only three bananas and a couple homemade muffins bought at the bus stop in 36 hours and assumed I got something from the muffins. After a week I went to the doctor who diagnosed parasites and put me on a heavy course of antibiotics. That didn't help and last week on Friday I went to another doctor who said basically I have a hefty virus. They tested me for malaria and dengue but all of that turned out negative. My white cell count and platelets were back to normal and the fever down then so the doctor said to ride it out. I've been in bed since then and am finally feeling--not completely--better. One of the things the doctor said to do was eat vegetables, cheese, and this probiotic yogurt to rebuild the cultures in my gut.

Let the healing begin...

1 December 2012

Medicine for parasite



Last weekend I had a wedding in the southern province of Kep. Immediately upon returning, I started feeling bad and at first thought it was a bad cold. Then it seemed to develop into more flu-like symptoms with fever, chills, aches and pains. The fever has been up and down all week so today I finally went to the doctor and they discovered that I have a parasite and a bacterial infection. I had to go to the doctor three times today, the last time after mass to pick up 96 tablets for killing the parasite!

A Wedding in Kep

24 November 2012

A wedding in Kep Click here to read about a marriage ceremony held in Kep.

Trans-Siberian Railway Ticket

My first Maryknoll home visit

6 November 2012

Ticket for the Trans-Siberian Railway


Today in a book I was giving away I found my ticket for the Trans-Siberian Railway when I returned from Hong Kong to the US for my first home visit three years after joining the Maryknoll Associate Priest program. If you look closely, the stamp shows the destination as Budapest, Hungary. I bought the ticket in a small gray-market operation in Hong Kong, picked it up in Beijing where I had to get visas for Russia and Hungary, and then rode 6,000 miles in eleven days from Beijing to Manchuria to Moscow to Budapest. Quite a grand trip, and it only cost me $80 for the ticket!

King Sihanouk's Death

The time element

24 October 2012

King SihanoukThere are several interesting time elements connected with King Sihanouk's death on Sunday, 14 October. First of all, 14 October is during the Pchum Ben Festival, the Khmer equivalent of All Souls Day. The whole nation was already memorializing their deceased family and friends in a three-day observance when the king died in Beijing. Then the government declared a three-month period of mourning. That seems an extraordinarily long time and part of the cultural trend of celebrating many events with multiple holidays. The Water Festival, the biggest national celebration after the Khmer New Year, occurs in November, but this year the boat races will not take place. In Western terms, it would be like canceling Christmas because the president died six weeks earlier. Now the first week of official mourning has been ended. The televisions stations--all controlled by the government—are still showing nothing but material about the king's life and his death.

King Sihanouk's Death

Catholic Vigil Services

20 October 2012

Vigil Service for the king


The Catholic Church has had good relationships with the monarchy in Cambodia, and Cambodian Catholics wanted to have an opportunity to express their sorrow also with their own services so Bishop Olivier asked each local community to arrange a memorial service. In Phnom Penh that service was held tonight at St. Joseph Church.

A time of mourning for the King

Flags at half mast in Phnom Penh

18 October 2012

Flags at half mast



As soon as I left the airport this morning after returning from the United States, I started encountering flags at half mast all along the route into town. Yesterday King Sihanouk's body was brought back from Beijing and probably the flags will stay up for the remainder of the the three-month period of official mourning.

Religious Education

22 September 2012

Part of the mission and work of the English-speaking Catholic church in Phnom Penh is religious education for the children of the community. The religious education classes meet normally every two weeks on a Saturday morning throughout the school year, but that schedule is really complicated by the inordinate number of holidays observed by the Cambodian government.

A religious education class
Three classes meet at the Maryknoll office in Phnom Penh. Maryknoll moved to this building mainly to have more classrooms after the Russian Cultural Center kicked the program out of their facility. The reason they gave was that the children were eating their snacks while standing on the seal of Russia which is set in the floor! Nobody believes that is the real reason but no one really knows also why the religious education program had to move.
Shoes of the students
One characteristic of religious ed in the Cambodian context that differentiates it from programs in the West is the large number of students' shoes left outside the door when the students go into the Maryknoll office for class.

Neat Program

Following Air Traffic around the World

19 September 2012

Flight Radar air traffic

Fr. Bob Wynne is returning home from the United States later tonight, landing at 11:00 PM. Yesterday I found a neat program that tracks aircraft all over the world, in real time. I just looked up Bob's plane and it is now off the coast of China (the red aircraft symbol) and the accompanying information box says that it has about 3:40 hours until it arrives in Phnom Penh. The tracking program impressed me so much that I bought the corresponding app for my iPad. It may be of interest on my travels when I'm sitting in an airport and wondering where the incoming aircraft is, the one I'm supposed to fly out of that city.

Training for the Lectors

15 September 2012

Lector training workshopIn the English-speaking Catholic community, we are trying to develop the different ministries and today there was a refresher course for the lectors who read the scriptures at the weekend masses. Sharon Wilkinson (left) helped the lectors with tips and practice on pace and projection and pronunciation. The workshop will be repeated next weekend on a Sunday afternoon to catch the lectors who cannot come on a Saturday morning or who were out of town this weekend.

Visiting the church in Boeung Tum Pun

Learning about different religions

14 September 2012

Students visiting churchThe International School of Phnom Penh is the largest international school in the country. Yesterday 77 ISPP fourth and fifth graders came to the Church of the Child Jesus in the Boeung Tum Pun area of Phnom Penh on an exposure trip to learn more about the Catholic faith and practices. The students were from a multitude of countries and represented Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, the Orthodox, Judaism, Islam, and several other religions along with atheism. It was interesting to see the children with no Christian knowledge or upbringing react to the large crucifix suspended above the altar. The students have previously visited a synagogue and mosque and a Buddhist pagoda.

Wednesday Gathering

12 September 2012

The Maryknoll Cambodia community has been meeting every Wednesday afternoon for more than twenty years, to take care of Maryknoll business, support the Maryknoll ministries and projects, and to support each other and pray together. We usually meet from 3:00 to 5:00 PM, then have a simple liturgy, and then a simple meal together.

Guitarists at mass
The Marist Brothers from Australia and the volunteers who work with them often join us for the mass and the dinner. Tonight we said goodbye to two of the Marist group, Josh and Tony (third and fourth from the left) who are finishing up their time here and returning Down Under. Meding Tan and Steve provided additional guitar support.
Wednesday evening dinner
We usually have about 25-30 people for the mass as we are joined by people who appreciate the opportunity to pray together in the middle of the week, but tonight a number of the group had to run after mass for other events and we had a few fewer than usual for dinner eaten casually in the living room which every week becomes our meeting room and chapel.

Getting my beard trimmed

No waiting in my own barber shop!

11 September 2012

Trimming my beard

Recently we moved our barber training shop to a new location in our office compound where we believed there would be more foot traffic and more customers to give our trainees experience. It is really vital for them to cut as many heads as they can--and as many different heads so they will be able to deal with the situations they will face in the future. One thing they have almost no experience with--because most Asian men don't grow beards--is trimming a beard so I make a point of going to the shop when I start getting fuzzy around the chin.

The Maryknoll Family Affiliates

Patti and Joe Shannon

1 September 2012

Patti and Joe Shannon at DDP


The Maryknoll family has many branches. First there were the priests and brothers and then the sisters and then the lay missioners. All of these Maryknollers have made long-term commitments to serve in mission countries overseas. A fourth branch of the Maryknoll family tree, though, is the Maryknoll Affiliates. These are people who want to be part of the Maryknoll spirit and family but are not able to serve overseas. In local groups around the world, they serve mission through their interest, their awareness of mission issues, their fund-raising, and often through shorter-term service. Patti and Joe Shannon belong to an Affiliate group in Hawaii, and this year they spent a month in Cambodia working at the university. Near the end of their stay, they came to visit the Deaf Development Programme and had their picture taken with the barber trainees at DDP.

Mother and Child

What's their story?

20 August 2012

Mother and child on the street


This young mother and her baby are sitting on top of their possessions on the sidewalk next to a bow tree on a major thoroughfare near the river in Phnom Penh. Is this all they have and this spot is now "home?" Or are they waiting for a ride to come and pick them up and take them back to the provinces? It may be the latter because the mother is wearing blue jeans, which are not cheap, and the baby clothes and the backpack seems in good shape.

Music for Flood Relief

19 August 2012

There have been devastating floods in the Philippines in the last week or ten days, especially in Manila. The Filipino community in Phnom Penh has responded determinedly. Last weekend the collections at the English-speaking Catholic community were given for flood relief and today there was a benefit concert.

Acoustic Jam at the Peace Cafe

Musicians at Acoustic Jam
Many of the Filipinos in Phnom Penh are musicians and singers, reflecting the importance of music in their culture. This group of performers is basically the same group that plays and leads the music at our 10:00 AM English liturgy on Sunday mornings. Their performance today was billed as an Acoustic Jam to show gratitude to the Phnom Penh community for their generosity and to demonstrate solidarity with those affected by the floods.
Guests watching videos of the flood
While waiting in line for pastries and fruit drinks and smoothies served by the Jesuit Peace Cafe where the Acoustic Jam was held, many watched video clips of people in Manila struggling with the flood waters.
A table of Maryknoll people
Maryknoll in Cambodia has many links with the Filipino community here and came out in force for the performance today.

Wednesday at Maryknoll

Praying in the middle of the week

8 August 2012

Wednesday gathering at Maryknoll


On Wednesdays, the Maryknoll community, the CMT or Cambodia Mission Team, meet for a business meeting about their projects or to reflect together. After the meeting there is a 5:00 PM liturgy and occasionally visitors will join us for our prayer and then a simple dinner afterwards. The CMT moved to its new office in early June and now there is more room for the group of people who come together in the middle of the week to pray.

Fr. Kevin Corrigan

A Friend at LaValla

4 August 2012

Fr. Kevin Corrigan


Fr. Kevin Corrigan is a diocesan priest from Australia. He made a first trip to Cambodia almost two years ago, was captured by what he saw, and asked his bishop if he could come to stay a year here. He has been residing and working at the LaValla School with the Marist Brothers, making a valuable contribution as a warm and caring gentleman who helped to affirm the identity and self-worth of the students with disabilities through his presence and interactions with them. Now his time is finished and he is returning to Australia but I suspect he'll be back.

A Workshop of Social Communications

Media the Church Needs to Learn to Use

3 August 2012

Mr. Samson Irudayam

Today the Catholic Social Communications Center in Phnom Penh held an all-day workshop led by Mr. Samson Irudayam, a media professional from Malaysia. He outlined the church's documents on social communications over the last 70 years, pointing out their emphases and noting how the church has responded to media in different ways at different times. Then he focused on today's multi-media world with smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and talked about how the church needs to make use of the new media.

Graduation Day at LaValla School

2 August 2012

The Australian Marist Brothers have a wonderful school for children with significant physical disabilities. Most have not been able to attend school before but at LaValla they can finish six grade levels in three years to catch them up to their age-appropriate grade in the public school system. In addition they gain identity and confidence to face a rather harsh and unsupportive world in Cambodia.

LaValla School Graduation

Welcoming the graduates with a khrama
About twenty students finished Grade 6 this year and participated in the graduation. At the beginning of the ceremony, each was given a khrama and a flower.
The assembly area
The school has a large covered area used as an assembly hall. The whole campus is one level to make it accessible for the many wheelchairs and students using crutches.
Two students giving a reflection
The students learn a great of respect and self-confidence along with academic knowledge while at LaValla. They will need it when they leave this school and face classes in the government schools or life back in the village.

Phnom Penh Wat

23 July 2012

A Phnom Penh wat




A Buddhist wat or pagoda on a bright Sunday morning.

Palestinian Refugees

22 July 2012

Map of Palestinian land

This graphic was on the platform of the MetroNorth Railroad in Ossining, New York. It certainly dramatically indicates the plight of the Palestinians who have been dislocated from their land.

The changing seasons...

...you know which by the fruits on sale

9 June 2012

Vendor selling pineapple



Cambodia doesn't have dramatic seasonal shifts, e.g., from hot summers to snowy winters, and it doesn't have sports seasons to mark different times of the year. The weather stays about the same all year round and there are no real national sports leagues so one of the few ways to know the season of the year is to watch what kinds of fruits the street vendors are selling. Here a bicycle vendor cuts and pares a fresh pineapple for two young women who were driving by on a motorcycle.

Moving Day--and How! (Part three)

Moving the Maryknoll Office

7 June 2012

When we got thrown out of the Russian Cultural Center, a quick search for a new Maryknoll Cambodia office and classrooms and living quarters and an office for the church ensued. A house in the same general neighborhood was found and, in one of our quicker decisions, we decided to rent the place and we moved in on June 2nd.

Moving Maryknoll Cambodia

The new Maryknoll office
While Charlie Dittmeier was using the crane to empty his fourth-floor rooms on St. 494, another crew of Maryknoll motorcycle taxi drivers was transporting the furnishings from the Maryknoll office on St 123 to the new office on St. 320. It is what the Cambodians call a villa, a big--usually ornate--house which has a lot of unusable space. This one was a bit different in having five bedrooms and other rooms that can be used for meeting and class rooms.
New Maryknoll office
Before Charlie's stuff even arrived from his old house, the work crew had moved the entire Maryknoll office to the new location and the workers were waiting when Charlie's truck arrived. Almost everything was physically moved from the old sites to the new one by lunch time. Then came the hard part of unpacking and rearranging everything.
Broken water pipe
Saturday night after the move, when the evening mass was finished, Charlie came home to the new living quarters for the first time--and was locked out. A guard let him into the yard but there was no one home and no keys. No one had made copies of the necessary keys that day. Then the second night this water pipe split and we had to turn the water off for about twelve hours until it could be repaired.

A Visitor from Home

Charlie's Cousin Visits Cambodia

5 June 2012

The Dittmeier family is a large one and there are lots of cousins! Currently one of Charlie Dittmeier's cousins, Emily Graehler, is in Cambodia as a volunteer in a local hospital. She and her fellow university nursing students and two teachers have been in Cambodia about a week and will be here another two weeks serving and learning at the Center of Hope Hospital in Phnom Penh.

Moving Day--and How!

Moving Charlie Dittmeier's room

4 June 2012

Maryknoll Cambodia has been using the Russian Cultural Center for our religious education classes for several years, but suddenly last month they said we had to stop. That initiated a quick search for three classrooms. We have been thinking of setting up a Catholic church office for the English-speaking Catholic community so we went looking for a building with enough rooms. We found one not too far away, a villa (a large private residence) that had enough rooms and would be affordable if those of us who lived outside the center house now moved back to it and added our rent to the common monthly payment. Thus my fate was sealed and I packed up and moved from my fourth-floor room to the new office on the same day we moved the old office there.

Moving Charlie Dittmeier's Room

Maria Montello helping Charlie move The big move was on Saturday morning so Friday afternoon, Maria Montello, a new lay missioner in Cambodia, came to Charlie's room to help pack up his stuff.
Charlie preparing to lower a bookcase
Maria and Charlie decided to go ahead and lower some of the furniture, especially the lighter pieces, to the ground on Friday and let it set in the building's carport and hope no one would steal it overnight. Here Charlie uses one of his Boy Scout knots on a rattan bookcase.
Lowering things on ropes
Saturday morning, a crew of the Maryknoll motorcycle drivers came to Charlie's house and started lowering more furniture, the small stuff, before the crane truck arrived.
Moving boxes the hard way
Some of the boxes had to be carried down from the fourth floor the old-fashioned way.
Gathering stuff on the ground Soon the ground floor area--where cars are normally parked--was filled with boxes and furniture awaiting transfer to a truck. The blue bottles are five gallons of drinking water which is bought because the tap water is not safe to drink.
Setting up the crane truck The crane truck was late but finally was set up. We had to use the neighbor's yard for the truck so that its boom could get around the wires that run across the front of the property.
Using the crane on a wardrobe
The crane truck had only the operator and two helpers who tied up furniture with belts so it was good that we had plenty of Maryknoll help on site to arrange things in the truck once they were lowered to the ground.
Nearly empty room Finally Charlie's room was nearly empty, a stark contrast from the piles of stuff the day before. When Charlie had lived with Ed McGovern and then John Barth each of them had bought furniture, filing cabinets, etc., but then they moved back to the United States and Charlie ended up moving three people's stuff.
Filling the crane truck When the work with the crane was finished, the truck moved to the front of the house and a load of the light rattan furniture was piled on top.
Loading a small truck the crane truck wasn't big enough to carry everything so a call was made to the Maryknoll office--where they had finished the move from the old office already--and the Maryknoll pickup truck was sent over and loaded with the remaining items.
Arriving at the Maryknoll office Then it was a quick trip to the new Maryknoll office where Charlie's stuff was added to the mounds of other furnishing brought in from the old office and now waiting for distribution throughout the new facility. The crane couldn't be used on this end because of the wires so even the heavy stuff had to be manhandled off the truck.
(More to come)

Lay Mission in Cambodia

A gathering of lay missioners from many countries

3 June 2012

Lay mission gathering

Today we had our regular monthly meeting of the lay missioners from various mission groups working in Cambodia. We had an especially good turnout and a very energizing meeting. Three of the longer-term missioners talked about the changes they have seen in Cambodia during their time here.

Moving Day--and How!

The way NOT to move...

31 May 2012

Recently the other half of the building used for our Deaf Development Programme office became available for rent. We had been waiting for that because we need more space, and we signed a lease acquiring that property also. Then Maryknoll Cambodia decided to move its office to a larger location. And part of that plan was to bring all the priests together in the same house again which required me to move my house. It turns out that all three moves—the deaf office, the Maryknoll office, and my home--are taking place at the same time, and it is really chaotic for me!

Renovating the deaf office Moving the Deaf Office

We started the moves first at the deaf office because we had to tear down a wall separating the two entrance ways and create a barber training shop in the sheltered area right on the street where the passing traffic could be aware of our barber school.

Things waiting to be sorted While Charlie Dittmeier was gone to a meeting, four deaf men hired as movers moved Charlie's office from the A building to the B building, but not knowing where things were supposed to go, they left everything on the floor. There's still more work to be done!
Moving the Social Services office the moves had to be done in sequence. First, our accountant and Sign Language Project moved to the B building and that freed up two rooms in the A building where Social Services moved from the fourth floor to the second floor. Here Tay Vannarith, the Social Work Project manager, works with a technician to reconnect computers and the network in the new location.
Moving a massive sofa Cambodian people love massive, extremely heavy furniture made from luxury hardwoods from the north of the country. The new B building had this wooden sofa, weighing probably 800 pounds and costing $1,000, in the room to be used by the Sign Language Project where it was in the way. The landlord agreed to move it and he had a crew of ten men to lift it over this dividing wall between the two buildings and then lower it to the ground and take it to the reception area.
(More to come)


Cambodia's Newest Maryknoll Lay Missioner

28 May 2012

Steve arriving in Cambodia



Today Steve arrived in Phnom Penh to become the newest Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Cambodia. Steve formerly served in East Timor but is now joining the Cambodia Mission Team. Here Sami Scott rushes to help Steve with his luggage and guitar. Steve is an accomplished pastoral musician.

Pentecost Sunday

Letting the Spirit go free

27 May 2012

Releasing doves on Pentecost


On this Pentecost Sunday, the Korean, English, and French communities--all of which meet at St. Joseph Church, in different halls, on a normal Sunday—canceled their morning masses and we had one combined service late in the afternoon, together with the Khmer-speaking community. In addition to the symbolic gathering of the different communities all speaking of God in different languages, after mass white doves were released.

Confirmation Celebration

26 May 2012

Confirmation celebration



This evening we had the sacrament of confirmation for a group of young people and two adults at our 5:00 PM liturgy. Afterwards, Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler gathered with some of the families for a small reception.

Dusk on a construction site

A time to reflect

22 May 2012

Dusk on a construction site

Tonight I arrived home when the last light of the day had almost disappeared. (The super sensitive sensor in a modern digital camera--more sensitive than a human eye--makes it seem like mid afternoon.) The construction site behind my house was almost in darkness but on the third and four floors I could make out the figures of two construction workers, each alone on his floor and in his reverie, just sitting and reflecting after a hard day's manual labor. I was pleased that these two young men could take time to appreciate something more than just the drudgery of their work, although it also occurred to me that they may be sitting alone aloft, while their colleagues build cooking fires below, because they had no money and could not afford to eat--not an unlikely scenario.

Feast of the Ascension

And First Communion Sunday

20 May 2012

Reception after First Communion mass

Today was the Solemnity of the Ascension but it was also the day for First Communions in the English-speaking Catholic parish. Twelve children received their first communion and then afterwards we had a really informal reception outside and downstairs. Everything is complicated by the fact that we don't have even running water and toilets in the building but people seemed happy and enjoyed the opportunity to socialize for a half hour after mass.

11 May 2012

The Cambodia Mission Team has been talking about the possibility of moving to a new office for the past week or so, ever since the Russian Cultural Center decided, for some unknown reason, not to allow us to continue to use their rooms for religious education classes. We thought perhaps we could find a big house where the priests could live and there could be the Maryknoll office plus rooms for religious ed. Today at 11:45 AM an SMS went out to the team members that we should gather to check out a possible house. We quickly gathered on this street corner, looking something like a flash mob. Maryknollers gathering on a street corner
We had looked at several houses and even tried to rent a couple, but they were always taken by someone else by the time we returned with a decision. We liked this house today, on Street 420, so a decision was made immediately to rent it. Another Maryknoll move is in prospect.... Exploring the new house

Two interesting articles from the Livingston County News in Geneseo, New York this month:

15 April 2012

Livingston County News
Mixed Messages from the Pope
Why Does War Get Bigger Headlines than Peace?

Goodbye to Susan Sporl

Finishing her contract with Maryknoll

4 April 2012

Susan Sporl opening a giftToday at our weekly meeting and liturgy together, we said goodbye officially to Susan Sporl, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner who will be returning to life in the United States. Susan did a fantastic job of developing the new Social Work Project at the Deaf Development Programme into a group that serves the deaf population in ways we could not have dreamed of three years ago. At the mass tonight, Susan received a gift from the Cambodia Mission Team.

Early-morning commerce...

2 April 2012

Early morning conference




It's six o'clock in the morning and the sun is still a half hour away from rising but these women are on the street at a busy market, starting the day's trading, just like every other morning.

Chrism Mass

And Spiritual Reflection for the Priests

1 April 2012

After the Chrism Mass
Every year, as part of the Holy Week celebrations, each Catholic diocese has a Chrism Mass in which are blessed the holy oils to be used in baptism, confirmation, and the anointing of the sick. In Cambodia, the ceremony is held earlier so that the priests from other parts of the country can more easily attend because this mass is also a celebration of priesthood and a time for the priests to renew their promises. After the chrism mass the custom in Cambodia is that many of the people who attended offer a gift of flowers to all the priests as a sign of their respect and appreciation.
Fr. Son at reflection
After the Chrism Mass, held this year on 28 March, the priests had a simple breakfast together, and then the rest of the morning was spent in a spiritual reflection. This year the reflection was led by Fr. Son.

Kitchen Crew

30 March 2012

Preparing lunch for priests group


Every two months all the priests of the Phnom Penh diocese have a meeting. This week we gathered for the Chrism Mass and then a spiritual reflection afterwards, and that was followed by lunch. Here a group of young women prepare the food for the lunch.

25 March 2012

Brother Darryl Slater
Memorial Service for Brother Darryl Slater Click here for pictures of a 100-day memorial service for Brother Darryl Slater at the LaValla School in Takhmau.

Christmas Tree in March?

23 March 2012

Christmas tree in March



It's hard to see because of the reflections on the glass of this display window in Bangkok, but if you look closely you can see two mannequins in the white uniforms that high ranking government officials and members of parliament wear in Thailand, and in front of them is a Christmas tree decorated with small Santa Clauses and gifts around its base. Apparently the shop owner felt it would be good to acknowledge the commercial aspects of Christmas, but then not being Christian or western, taking down the tree is a low priority.

Eating in Bangkok

Not as cheap as Phnom Penh

21 March 2012

Bangkok fast food

This morning I went to an orthopedic doctor at BNH Hospital in Bangkok and he decided not to do surgery on my finger but to start another program of daily therapy to try to recover the full range of motion in that finger. By the time I was finished in the hospital, it was lunch time and I went to my favorite Bangkok eating place, the Subway near BNH. They have a half sub on sale every day, with the contents changing with the day of the week. You notice that various western food chains are established in Thailand.


Panthip Plaza

Because I did not need to return to the hospital in the afternoon, I made a trip to Panthip Plaza, a computer geek's dream. There are five floors of every possible model of computer along with stall after stall of all the accessories such as hard drives, memory chips, keyboards, cables, flashdrives, USB ports, and just about any other part a computer enthusiast could want. I was looking for a headset with microphone—with an unusual plug--to use on my netbook computer when on the road. I finally found an affordable one up on the top floor, in the low-rent area where the vendors just spread their wares in boxes on the floor.

Eating at the airport

The cheaper way to do it

21 March 2012

Food vendor at the airport

Tonight I had to fly to Bangkok to have an orthopedic surgeon look at my mis-diagnosed and mistreated broken and dislocated little finger. I'll see the doctor tomorrow but took the last flight out of Phnom Penh tonight. It was at 7:30 PM and after I checked in, I walked out to the street in front of the airport to eat supper. From the motorcycle cart on the left I got some fried noodles with a fried egg on top ($1.00) and from the cart on the right I got a can of Coke (67 cents). That sure beats the prices I would have paid if I ate at one of the eateries inside the airport!

Wat Sonsom Kosal

The crematorium

15 March 2012



Traditionally the biggest wats or pagodas in Cambodia have had crematoriums connected with them, but in the last several years the city of Phnom Penh has been closing the smaller, less efficient crematoriums and moving all the burning of bodies to four newly built facilities on the outskirts of town. A major reason was the air pollution. It was not unusual for a thin layer of gray human ash to settle over the houses, streets, cars, and other objects in the area around a pagoda. This is the crematorium at Wat Sonsom Kosal which is just beyond the border of the city of Phnom Penh and so still allowed to operate. On Saturday i have the funeral of a young man who died in an accident this week and he will be cremated here. I took the picture to show his family--who came from another country at the news of his death--so that they would be prepared for what they will see that day.

Ash Wednesday

A first, successful service

22 February 2012

Distributing ashes

Today was Ash Wednesday and for the first time we had a liturgy and distributed ashes on Ash Wednesday itself. Very little takes place after dark in Phnom Penh because of past and present security concerns, but this year the Liturgy Committee decided to have a service on Ash Wednesday itself, at 6:00 PM, instead of delaying the distribution of ashes until the First Sunday of Lent. The liturgy today was a resounding success. We had a very large crowd so now we know we can plan more such services in the future.

Celebrating the Sacrament of Marriage

Learning the basic rules of the church

21 February 2012

Workshop on church marriage law

Cambodia is undeveloped in many ways, and the Catholic church in the country suffers from that, too. The Catholic Church is quite careful about preparing couples for marriage, celebrating the sacrament, and keeping records, but the diocese here hasn't had much structure since it was restarted after the Khmer Rouge. Today we had a session for all the priests to go over some of the church's basic marriage law. The instructor was a priest from Thailand who teaches canon law in the seminary there.

Maryknoll Lay Missioners Leadership in Cambodia

28 January 2012

MKLM group, January 2012After the meetings in Hua Hin, Thailand, Sam Stanton, the executive director of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, came to Cambodia with those members assigned here and spent nine days learning about our work, living situations, etc. On his last day, we had more extended meetings with Sam and then took this picture with him before he departed for the airport.

Maryknoll Lay Missioners to the rescue!

6 January 2012

Charlie's dislocated finger

I just got back from Koh Kong, the island on Cambodia's southern coast where we had a three-day staff retreat for the Deaf Development Programme.  It turned out well overall although it pointed out to me the downside of delegation....things just aren't going to be done always the way I would prefer.

Today was more a play day.  We only had the morning before we headed back to Phnom Penh and we went on small boats up a river straight out of Apocalypse Now to a waterfall where people can wade or swim or climb.  Most of the staff were jumping into the water and I joined them, but it was really slippery and I went under sooner than I had expected. I caught myself with my right hand and when I got up I noticed my little finger was at an odd angle.  It didn't hurt that much then but I couldn't bring it next to my other fingers so I figured I had dislocated it.

We were eight hours from getting back to Phnom Penh and a doctor so I asked if anyone knew anything about setting a dislocated finger.  One of our Maryknoll lay missioners, Susan Sporl, who works with me said she had never done it but would be willing to try. I put great faith in wise old mothers who have seen everything with their kids so I said "Let's do it" and she did.  I braced my arm, she firmly pulled my finger, and pop, pop and it was back in place.   Now almost ten hours later it is starting to turn a bit black and it's certainly swollen and stiff but I'll see how it looks over the weekend before I do anything else.

I'm surprised that I can type. I thought that was going to be impossible but the typing angles are not a problem at all.  The most painful activity so far is washing my hands!  And I now have a speech defect in sign language!

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