THE MISSIONS OF ASIA
A bimonthly missionary letter to
foster prayers for Asia
- History of the Asian Missions - Catholicism in Cambodia-Part
For the Missions of Asia: One Million Hail
– History of the Asian Mission
in Cambodia – Part I
first European contacts with Cambodia can be traced back to 1511
A.D.. By 1527 A.D., it appeared on Portuguese naval maps under
the name of “Cambuxa”. The Catholic traders, as it happened in
so many other countries, were the first to reveal to the natives
the existence of the Catholic religion. Subsequent to their conversations
with King Ang Chan, the latter requested some priests. The very
first one to arrive at the royal court of Longvek in 1555 A.D.
was a Dominican, Fr. Gaspar de Cruz. He had been formed at the
school of Fr. Dominique de Souza, a friend a confidant of Albuquerque,
(then the viceroy of Portuguese India), and, since he came to
Cambodia from malacca, most likely would have met St. Frncis Xavier,
who had left Malacca at about the same time (1548 A.D.) for Japan.
Gaspar only spent one year in Cambodia. He was followed by many
others, mostly Dominicans and Franciscans, who were subjected
to the various moods of the subsequent kings: sometimes the missionaries
were given freedom or tolerated, sometimes after campaigns of
defamation, they were put into jail.
the beginning of the XVIIth century, in spite of the numerous
missionary efforts, often tied to the Portuguese and Spanish powers,
only a tiny Catholic community remained in Cambodia, mostly composed
of Portuguese living near the royal court of Longvek. The evangelization
of the Khmer people itself had practically not started.
the early 1600’s, the Vietnamese began to immigrate into Cambodia;
first secretly then commercially. Many of these pioneers were
in fact farming soldiers. What resulted from their presence was
that the fate of Cambodia became unfortunately very obvious:
it was caught between two powers in full expansion, Vietnam and
Siam (now , Thailand). When a Cambodain King died, usually a
brotherly war erupted with the disputed succession; one brother
appealing to the Siamese armies for help, the other to the Vietnamese
(or Annamites) troops.
Simultaneously, Holland was mooring its commercial
fleet in the Cambodian harbours, trying at the same time to disqualify
the Catholic Portuguese traders.
was in that regional and international context that many foreign
groups of Catholics sought refuge on the Cambodian territory.
These groups comprised about 300 Japanese who had escapedin the
1630’s from the bloody persecution raging in Japan, a persecution
that made many martyrs (see For the Missions of Asia, No.2).
Another group was that of the 400 Portuguese who in the 1660’s
had fled from the Dutch Calvinists at work in Indonesia. It was
this group of Portuguese whose descendants would form the core
of the Catholic community of Cambodia, even to this day. Of course,
with the persecution showing its bloody teeth in the neighboring
country of Vietnam, many of the Catholic Vietnamese found refuge