Kevin Meese, Catholic Mission
In parishes and schools across the State, opportunities to give freely to others in October captures the spirit of Mission. The Gospel reading for World Mission Sunday this year is one which shines a light on the dual responsibilities and some inherent tensions between Church and State. In an attempt to corner Jesus, we have the famous response which is to ‘give to Caesar’, but also to ‘give to God’.
In thinking of what we have to offer God, a focus on the missionary dimension of our faith is helpful. In truth, we have so much to offer. Our model is the person of Christ, who saves all through love. A life of love, then, is that great gift which we give to God.
As we approach World Mission Sunday this year, Catholic Mission focuses on the story of Chen, a landmine survivor in Cambodia whose experience has led him to believe he is living a new life. His story inspires us all to celebrate the gift of life and share this gift with others.
Chen grew up in the rural community of Pailin, in Cambodia’s north-west. His mother and father are farmers, growing vegetable crops on their land for consumption and for sale to earn an income, and he has two younger brothers. Financial pressures influenced Chen’s decision to leave school after Year 8 and help his parents on the farm.
One day, at the age of 16 his world changed forever. He and his two brothers were out searching for bamboo shoots up the hill that borders their land. Although Chen knew there was a risk of encountering landmines, he had walked through this area many times before. It was to be the last time he would walk in his life.
Having lost both his legs, Chen’s life was at a crossroads. Thanks to the support of Catholic Mission, he had the opportunity to turn this tragic event into a positive outcome.
The Arrupe Centre in the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang is in north-western Cambodia. It is here that Chen was offered opportunities for rehabilitation and vocational training. The Centre was established by Bishop Enrique ‘Kike’ Figaredo Alvargonzalez in 2001. It has evolved over the past twenty years from a short-term rehabilitation centre to a full-time home for children with disability, whether it be from landmine accidents or from illnesses such as polio.
As Bishop Kike says, ‘We are here for the common good; to be a more inclusive society and to bring also the joy of life everywhere….we look with a positive vision and, I would say, with hope and joy and happiness’. The Arrupe Centre strives to show the love of God through caring for and empowering those in need.
Still today, landmine accidents are prevalent in Cambodia, a cruel reminder of the country’s troubled past, even for those who were not yet born during the tumultuous years of the Khmer Rouge regime and civil conflicts that followed. Indeed, the problem is widespread. It is estimated that there are 110 million land mines in the ground right now. Even if no new mines are laid, it will still take 1,100 years to get rid of all the world’s active land mines, at the current rate of clearance.
Catholic Mission urgently needs support to continue providing young people like Chen with opportunities so they can live a full and dignified life. Our focus on this issue reminds us all that the threat of landmines has not diminished.
Now 26 years old, Chen has finished high school – something he originally feared would never happen. Thanks to the Arrupe Centre, he is currently studying IT programming at university, while working at the La Paloma textile centre, alongside many other men and women with a disability. These stories of determination are celebrated within the community. There is still a realization, however, that the immediate economy of the family is put under pressure when children are forced through circumstances to leave the farm.
The Arrupe Centre Outreach Program provides resources for families like Chen’s, offering support in practical ways like the provision of rice, micro-loans, repairs to homes and scholarships for siblings. Of the Arrupe Centre, Chen says it has given him the chance to dream again. He says, ‘It is like I have a new life’.
When the Church celebrates Mission Month this October, there are many ways to support and join the work of Catholic Mission – even though social distancing rules throw up all sorts of challenges.
A donation to Catholic Mission is also as easy as texting the word ‘GIVE’ to a dedicated phone number: 0488 854 436.