On October 6, 1997 the Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Fr. Juan Edmundo Vecchi, an Argentinian, visited Cambodia. It was just 6 years after the official opening of the first Don Bosco Technical School in Phnom Penh and the sign of the Cambodian Peace Agreement that put an end to three decades of war and bloody conflicts. The Salesians join the humanitarian service to the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand in 1988 at the side of the Jesuits, Caritas  and many other organizations. Br. Roberto Panetto and the Salesians from Thailand, opened then 6 technical schools, but in 1991 the Cambodian government and many past pupils from the refugee camps, asked Don Bosco to settle in the country to help in the reconstruction of this Southeast Asian kingdom.

Don Vecchi in Phnom Penh 1995 Group

Don Vecchi (d. 2002) was the 8th successor of Don Bosco in the governance of the Salesian Congregation. The nephew of Blessed Br. Artémides Zatti, he was a leader in youth pastoral. His visit was a meaningful importance for the new Salesian presence in Cambodia, because it put the will of Don Bosco to stay at the side of the suffering Cambodian people and their children and youth, in an impoverished country, but at the same time a nation where more than 70% of its population was younger than 25 years old at the time.

He gave a great attention to the development of the technical schools as an offering of better opportunities for the Cambodian youth in order to break their circle of poverty and give to them a better future and the establishing of the Don Bosco Children Fund to attend vulnerable children around the country.

After 20 years of the visit of Fr. Vecchi to Cambodia, the Salesian communities prepare to welcome the second Rector Major to step on Cambodian soil: Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, 10th successor of Don Bosco, an expression of the continuity of that Salesian mission at the side of the poorest.

Monday, 6 October 1997

Fr. Vecchi left Rome for a journey which hadas its principal objective a visit to the salesian work in Cambodia and China..

from Bangkok airport he left with Fr. Joaquim D’Souza for Phonm Penh. There he was met by the Provincial Fr. Joseph Prathan and other Salesians who accompanied him to the Salesian School ‘The Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia. This is a school for professional training with more than 400 pupils and a boarding section, built recently, for youngsters who are nearly all orphans or of poor families.

The Rector Major spoke with the confreres, visited the workshops, met the students during a spectacle of singing and dancing, and greeted the civil and religious authorities who had been invited to a cocktail party on the school premises in his honour. While in Phnom Penh he also visited the works of the FMA.

9 October. With the Regional and the Provincial he left PP and flew via Bangkok to Hong Kong, China Province headquarters (Acts of the General Council, n. 362 (Jan-March 1998) p. 51-52)

Don Vecchi in Phnom Penh 1995 Mass
Fr. Vecchi presiding the Eucharist at the side of Fr. Valter Brigolin and Fr. John Visser at the Salesian Chapel of Don Bosco Phnom Penh in 1995.