- Fr. François Ponchaud returned to his native France after 56 years in Cambodia.
- He was the first person to denounce the Khmer Rouge abuses to the international community.
- Fr. Ponchaud makes a great contribution to the Cambodian society in education, culture and social development.
- He has translated several documents in Khmer Language.
PHNOM PENH — French priest of the Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP), Fr. François Ponchaud, became one of the most iconic Catholic missionaries of the modern Cambodian history during 56 years living with the Cambodian people. He is also regarded as a master in the Khmer language, leading not only methodic courses of Khmer teaching to hundreds of foreign missionaries and volunteers during decades, but undertaking an extraordinary body of translations of thousands of pages of religious documents extending from Holy Scriptures to the Magistery of the Catholic Church.
Like any living Cambodian of today with more than 80 years of age (he was born in 1939), Puk Ponchaud witnessed the amazing passing of historical seasons in Cambodia since his early years of a young missionary arriving to the Southeast Asian kingdom in 1965 (he was 26 years old.) His enthusiastic years of a new ordained priest learning Khmer language and the culture inside the Catholic Church, were broken with the tragic events after 1970, when Cambodia entered officially the II Indochina War. Expelled by the bloody regime of Pol Pot in April 1975 with many other foreign missionaries, Ponçhaud remained with the displaced Cambodian people in the refugee camps mainly in Thailand and got the testimonies of horrors of the Cambodian holocaust by the radical communist rule.
In February 1976, Puk Ponçhaud made the first mention of the systematic abuses of the Khmer Rouge in an editorial of Le Monde and it was the introduction to the book that became the first open denounce on the nightmare of the Cambodian people: “Cambodia: Year Zero” (1977). The book caused in the beginning incredulity from many Western intellectuals that were rather satisfied with the geopolitical scenario of an American defeat in the Indochina peninsula. However, Ponçhaud was not a paid journalist or an ideological titan, but a simple missionary with his heart in his dear Cambodian families left behind in the middle of horror. British writer and commentator William Shawcross said about the Ponçhaud’s book that it is “the best account of Khmer Rouge rule” (Podhoretz 2010, p. 344.)
After the Peace Agreement of 1991, the Cambodian Catholic Church began a new epoque of reconstruction along the country and its peoples. A long journey of reconstructions beyond physically destructions, but of Faith and commitment to preserve the Christian values and to keep the dialog with the ancestral traditions and religions of the Khmer people. In all that journey, the figure of Puk Ponçhaud played a meaningful role, especially in the way that the Catholic Church assumes itself in the middle of the country.
“I came to Cambodia not to convert people but to help Cambodian people understand the value of their own religion. The main aim is helping people to understand clearly what Buddha taught and what Jesus said in the gospels, helping them to live together and love one another. Our life is valuable even if we are poor. We can walk together. This is the good news we proclaim in Cambodia today,” he said.UCA News.