Tahen is a village near Battambang in the North West of Cambodia. Last year, a young man from Tahen spent three months in Taizé. During our journey in Cambodia we wanted to visit him and the other young people in the village, and to join together in an evening prayer. When we arrived, we realised very quickly that this was a very special day for the people of Tahen. Everything was decorated for the feast, many people were wearing traditional costumes, coloured flags were out along the streets of the village, the parish kitchen was in full activity and tables and chairs were set out for a great dinner. This was Monday 19 March. The Catholic parish of Tahen were celebrating the feast of Saint Joseph, patron saint of the church. For us it was something quite unique to be able to celebrate this day with all of them.
The parish is alive today, thanks to a courageous woman. During the dictatorship of the Khmer Rouges in Cambodia, the Christians were harshly persecuted. The woman prayed with her children and in this way transmitted the faith, which continued in the village. Now she is very old and can no longer come to church. We started the festival with a short prayer at her home so that she could take part.
During the celebration, dances with brightly coloured traditional costumes continued in the church, again and again, even during the Our Father. It was a very special moment. The young people danced the Our Father and some of them were in wheel chairs and joined in the circle with the others. Many of them are victims of the land mines; this is a major problem in Cambodia. Each year there are 300 victims. During the dance of the Our Father it was quite clear that we are all children of the one Father, each one with his or her own gifts and capacities.
Following the festive dinner in front of the church, the evening prayer began in the church with songs from Taizé translated into Khmer, the national language of Cambodia. Groups of young people from other places came to join in the prayer, until finally the church was too small. Many prayed outside in the covered courtyard of the church.
On our way, we first of all passed through the neighbourhood of Kompong Cham and the village of Chomlak. There, the church is decorated with frescos representing the life of Jesus. Before the prayer began, we looked at the paintings with the young people. They also present scenes from daily life in Cambodia. Jesus and the disciples are wearing every day garments of Cambodia so that we can quickly understand that the message of Jesus touches each one of us and that he wants to transform our lives by his presence. For some of the young people there the Gospel is quite new and who are preparing for baptism. Adults from the parish and young people from other places had been invited to take part in the prayer. By the narrow road that goes through the village, jeeps, minibuses and trucks arrived from all sides, laden with young people waving their hands before running joyfully into the church. The church soon was filled to overflowing like in Chomlak, and many took part outside in front of the church.
To the South of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, we went to Kampong Som for an evening prayer, and in Phnom Penh itself, in the parishes of Svay Pak, Champa and Pshar Touch. Everywhere we went we were received warmly and with great joy. The young people had prepared everything well, often setting up a small choir or orchestra for the evening. They were joined by musicians of the Evangelical Church.
During our journey we met the widest possible variety of people: children and young people who take an active part in the life of Christian communities, disabled people and their friends who are committed to each other so that everyone can live in dignity and joy.; the old lady at Tahen and others who continue to live their faith in very difficult conditions; people whose curiosity has been awakened by the witness of Christians and who are now preparing for baptism, to become part of the community of the Church; and many others besides who make the Church a place of joy, hope and community for everyone.
Full of gratitude for all of this, we look forward with joy to the visit of the young Cambodians to Taizé this summer; they will certainly speak of this joy and hope to many others.