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Battambang, Cambodia: Bishop Figaredo – Giraffe as Symbol of Christian Mission

Battambang (Agenzia Fides) – “We are here to build the common good, to build an inclusive society and bring the joy of life in Christ, everywhere, to every man and woman. As believers in the Resurrection, as men and women of hope, we are bearers of a positive vision, of hope, joy and happiness”. This how Bishop Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez SJ, Spanish Jesuit and Apostolic Prefect of Battambang, describes the mission of the Church in Cambodia. Mgr. Figaredo is known for his tireless commitment to humanitarian assistance to the most needy, destitute and vulnerable in Cambodia. Arrived as a missionary in Cambodia in 1985, appointed Apostolic Prefect of Battambang in 2000, Mgr. Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzales founded schools, hospitals and centers to help the marginalized in society, always paying the utmost attention in the field of education.

In 1991, in Phnom Penh, he founded “Banteay Prieb” (“The house of the dove”) for children maimed by landmines. They are accompanied on their growth journey and people with disabilities can build wheelchairs following the model used in the area of the Mekong (a wooden wheelchair with three wheels): which has earned Bishop Figaredo the nickname of “Bishop of wheelchairs”. In Battambang, where he leads a community of about 5,000 Catholics, he founded the “Arrupe Center” and promoted development throughout the diocese with educational projects, professional training for adults, infrastructure and humanitarian aid: “We have founded schools for disabled children , centers for vocational training for women, hospitals to assist the sick”, he reports

Joined in Battambang, on the occasion of the missionary month of October, by a team from the Australian Direction of the Pontifical Mission Societies (“Catholic Mission”), the Bishop, in the interview with Agenzia Fides talks about the evangelical work of “restoring dignity to mutilated children”, so that they can continue to live smiling. “In the future I want to be happy, one of them told me”, says Mgr. Figaredo. “And the secret of happiness, the young man told me, is that everyone takes care of the other, within the family, the village community. Brotherly love is the key to happiness. It is the testimony of faith that I receive from little ones and from the poor, who evangelize us every day”, he notes.

The Apostolic Prefect continues: “God told me that I can meet Him in people: the poor, the marginalized. He gives me the grace to see the sparks of His presence. It is truly enlightening for me to go and visit remote villages. An elder told me about their difficult life, but he spoke with a serene outlook on the future. We are together, he said, to build the future and we trust God. This is what I learn from them, this look of faith touches my heart”.

The Bishop takes the image of the giraffe to explain the mission of Christians in Cambodia: a gentle presence, not violent, but vigorous. “The giraffe has the biggest heart in the animal kingdom, even bigger than the elephant’s: it means for us a heart capable of love, strength, compassion. In addition, thanks to its size, it has a panoramic vision. it can look far away: a sign of spiritual vision and the gaze of faith on life. It lives peacefully in the savannah with many other different animals. For us, this means knowing how to remain in dialogue and pluralism, as a small Christian community in a predominantly Buddhist country, promoting peaceful coexistence between cultures, ethnicities, different faiths”.

The Catholic Church in Cambodia is a community of about 20,000 faithful, divided between the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh, the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang and the Apostolic Prefecture of Kompong Cham, out of about 16 million total inhabitants of the country. In 2005 she celebrated 450 years of the presence of the Catholic faith in the country, which arrived in 1555 with the first Dominican missionary Fr. Gaspar Da Cruz. (PA-MI) (Agenzia Fides, 22/10/2020)

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