Building a Church of hope in Cambodia

Visitors to the General Curia are still rare. But recently we had the chance to meet Msgr. Enrique Figaredo - better known simply as Kike. He is the “Apostolic Prefect” of the prefecture of Battambang in Cambodia. He granted us an interview from which emerges a vitality and a sense of service that transcends all the trials that the Cambodian people have experienced and are still experiencing since the genocide of the Khmer Rouge era (1975-1979.) His testimony is an inspiration for all. So let’s let him speak.

What brought you to Cambodia?

It was the issue of refugees. As a Jesuit, I presented my dream of working with refugees and the Provincial sent me to JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service.) There, I was assigned to Southeast Asia and, in Cambodia, I was asked to help disabled people, victims of antipersonnel mines, and to live with them in refugee camps. I fell in love with these people. Later I helped to open the Jesuit mission in Cambodia. And here I am still, for 35 years, happy to share my life with the people over there.

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You are an “Apostolic Prefect?”

In Cambodia, the Church is still in its infancy, one might say. There are three ecclesiastical divisions here, which are three mission territories: a Vicariate and two Prefectures. I am a kind of “upgraded priest”: I have the responsibility of a bishop of a diocese, but in a jurisdiction that does not have this status: the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang. My job is to help the Lord’s presence to be perceived more clearly through service, attention to the Christian communities and to the whole population. Because, in fact, I consider myself Apostolic Prefect of all, not only of Catholics.

Your pectoral cross is somewhat eye-catching...

My pectoral cross is a little different from many others. The Christ I have is a mutilated Christ, which tells us three things. This Christ is missing a leg because it tells us about the landmines that have destroyed the legs of so many people. This means that Jesus Christ, our Lord, identifies with the suffering of disabled people. We also want to show with this Christ that the suffering of the disabled is united with the suffering of Christ to save the world. And the third meaning is that the Mystical Body of the Lord is incomplete, because it lacks something, it lacks a leg because of the lack of understanding, because of the lack of knowledge of the love of God. Our mission is to complete this mutilated Christ.

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What can you say about the Cambodian people?

The suffering of the Cambodian people, since the time of the genocide, is still there. This suffering is passed on from generation to generation. There are many elderly people who have been psychologically affected and this has been passed on to their children, to their relatives. Thank God, Cambodia’s youth are already looking to the future with hopeful eyes and a sense of progress and justice. But the traces of the suffering of the Pol Pot regime is a very delicate subject that we must take into account when we work, when we accompany. We have to develop our pastoral projects with special sensitivity, because we are working with wounded people, and their wounds are not yet healed.

What kind of presence do Jesuits have in this country?

We are about 25 Jesuits of nine nationalities, mostly Asians: Koreans, Indians, Filipinos, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Thais... and myself, a Spaniard. They are young and very involved, very dynamic, very close to the people. Our ministries take us close to the people. The context of Cambodia is very simple in the sense that the poor are present everywhere and it is not difficult to go and meet them. So we have educational projects; we work a lot in the field of education, both popular education and education for people with mental and physical disabilities. We also have agricultural production projects as well as projects that have an important Laudato Si’ dimension, the care of creation.

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In my prefecture of Battambang, we also have health and hygiene projects, including medical missions in the countryside, which are very valuable. For young people, we have programmes for values support, spiritual development and leadership. We are looking to foster grassroots leadership, simple leadership of involvement in the communities. This is what we offer to young people.

Where do you find the energy for your long-term missionary commitment?

First of all, the feeling that we are witnesses to the life of the Lord in the midst of his simple people; being with him and serving him. But also, we are very inspired by Pope Francis who encourages us to be creative and dynamic in going out to the people, bringing them the loving presence of Christ and the Church. There is also the synodal character of the Church that the Pope advocates and that supports paradigms that support our way of building the Church in Cambodia and gives us hope. And then, from the Jesuit point of view, the Universal Apostolic Preferences stimulate us: they are ways of seeing and doing that we can implement in all our ministries.

This is where we are, in this little corner of the world, trying to make the presence of the Lord manifest; the Lord who cares for us constantly and says to us: “Go forth!”

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles public relations.

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