Kep City — Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh, gave the official welcoming to the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart during the Solemnity of Saint Mary of Guadalupe in Kep. “Sisters, we are rather a small Church here in Cambodia and most of priests and religious are foreigners. For this reason, we feel that we are together, sharing our own religious charisma, but being united as a single family for Christ and for the Cambodian people,” said Mgr. Olivier during the homily at the multipurpose hall of Don Bosco Technical School in Kep Province.

At the side of the picture of this Carmelite institute’s founder, Venerable Mother María Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, also called Mother Luisita, there was the photo of Saint John Bosco and that of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was a sign of an intercongregational experience in a missionary land like Cambodia. 

In 2014 Fr. Albeiro Rodas was looking for a group of sisters to help in the assistance of the children and female students of Don Bosco Technical School and Children Fund in Kep Province. After so many letters to different female religious institutes inside and outside Cambodia, the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart from Guadalajara, Mexico answered the call. The God’s instrument was other experiences of cooperation between the Carmelite sisters and Salesians in Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador. In Colombia, the sisters supported the work of Fr. Saverio de Nicolò (he died in 2016 after a full life dedicated to save Colombian street children), in one of his youth homes in the middle of the Chocó-Darien jungles of the South American country.

In 2016 Mother Superior María Elena Pacheco brought two sisters, Sr. Juanita Navel of Mexico and Sr. Milagros Ramírez of Peru, to help Fr. Albeiro as volunteers with the acceptance of Mgr. Olivier. The experience was an agreement for three years and the discernment of the sisters in opening a second presence in the Asian continent – the first is in Davao, Philippines. On May 2019 the Mother Superior sent a third Mexican sister, Sr. Maria Ramona Gutierrez. It was very soon that the three sisters filled the lack of Salesian personnel in Kep following their own skills and formation, while thriving with their Khmer studies: Sr. Juanita, a nurse, assumed the management of the local children fund, Sr. Maria became the accountant and Sr. Milagros leads the Kindergarten. 

Official Welcoming by Bishop Olivier 

Mgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler presided the Mass during the Solemnity of Saint Mary of Guadalupe in Don Bosco Kep, welcoming the Carmelite sisters into the Cambodian Catholic Church. The Carmelite Sisters of Sacred Heart from Guadalajara, Mexico, were accepted with a canonical community in cooperation with the Salesians of Don Bosco in Kep Province. 

“In this moment, millions of persons are attending the festivities of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, but here we are more than 300 persons, among them Buddhist and members of other faiths,” said Mgr. Olivier. “This is also a sign of universality, of this devotion of Virgin Mary that is not only for Mexicans, but for everybody that praise God as Lord of the Universe,” he appointed. He also remembered the story of Our Lady of River Mekong, when a fisherman near Phnom Penh found an image of the Virgin Mary floating on the waters. “It is a dear image, because it was due to the terrible wars in Cambodia, where all images were thrown away and many people persecuted. We already registered miracles attributed to Our Lady of the Mekong. We are happy of the presence of Mary in our Cambodian Catholic Church.”

Mgr. Olivier looked also to the Don Bosco image and noted: “Here we have our dear Saint John Bosco, near to the photo of Mother Luisita. It is good to see that two religious institutes work together. It is more meaningful here in Cambodia where we all work together for the Gospel.”

The Holy Mass was attended by the academic community of Don Bosco Kep, members of the Kampot Parish and 12 priests between Salesians and members of other institutes like Pime and the Colombian Missioners of Yarumal. There were also members of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (Philippines) and the Sisters of the Infant Jesus of Chauffaille (Japan).

The Don Bosco students had sports during the afternoon, the procession of the Immaculate during the evening and the Cambodian Cultural Night to end this day of grace and blessings for the Cambodian mission of Don Bosco.