Mission Notebook

Random ideas, comments, reflections, and information on mission and life in a mission country.

2000-2001   2002   2003   2004   2005    2006   2007

An old friend from Hong Kong

visiting Phnom Penh

31 December 2007

Peggy Fung

When I was working with the Catholic deaf group in Hong Kong, we had a group of faithful volunteers who supported the group in many ways. One of the most involved then--and now--was Peggy Fung Pui Kay. When I moved to Cambodia, she spoke of coming to visit but it didn't happen until the Hong Kong Catholic Lay Mission group recently arranged an exposure trip. Eleven people came from Hong Kong and had an eye-opening trip through several provinces of Cambodia, even staying overnight in a village. The group went home yesterday but Peggy stayed on to visit with the deaf group here. She had her first motorcycle ride today, maybe one of the more memorable events of this trip considering the lack of traffic rules in Cambodia.

Life and Death in Cambodia

Tanya loses the struggle

23 December 2007

Last Monday Tanya came into the world two months premature by a caesarean delivery after complications developed. The surgery was done at a maternity clinic in Phnom Penh, but immediately the baby was taken to Kantha Bophal Hospital, better equipped for a premature infant. Finally this morning her father came to my house at 5:30 AM and said that the baby was not doing well so I went and baptized her and she died twenty minutes later. Then we had to arrange for a burial, which is unusual here where everyone is cremated. It was a long story and a long day. I'll write it up as a glimpse into life and death in Cambodia, if I can do so and still protect the privacy of the family.

Christmas Decorating at the Maryknoll Sisters'

...an honored tradition

22 December 2007

Decorating Christmas cookies








Every year the Maryknoll Sisters invite the Maryknoll community to their house to put up their Christmas decorations and enjoy pizza together afterwards. Click here for a glimpse of Christmas 2007.

Christmas in Cambodia

Salesian Girls School Drama

21 December 2007

Salesian Girls School drama

Every year the Salesian Sisters Technical School for Girls puts on a Christmas drama. The past few years, the plays have been written and directed by Kathy Morefield, a Maryknoll Affiliate, and this year she adapted the 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life" for this small stage. Most of the students participate in one way or another. Here a group sing "Silent Night" before the performance.  Click here for a glimpse of Christmas 2007.

The DDP Office Isn't So Bad

But Parts of the Neighborhood Aren't So Good

14 December 2007

DDP guard and two students at office

This is a picture of the DDP guard and two of our students outside the DDP office. The neighboring houses aren't all this bad--our office is the best building we've had yet--but these squatters and others have taken over the street and built a little enclave of rickety houses like this.

Seminarians of Cambodia

Future Church leaders

11 December 2007

Seminarians at Maryknoll

There are only five Cambodian priests in all of Cambodia. Their predecessors were wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. But Fr. Bruno Cosme (right, white shirt) is the rector of a seminary program preparing new priests for the future. Tonight he and the three seminarians (of four in the country) came to Maryknoll to visit and have supper with the Maryknoll priests.

Human Rights Day 2007

Human rights and natural law

10 December 2007



Today is Human Rights Day, a public holiday in Cambodia. Here is a good comment by Pope Benedict XVI on the connection between human rights and natural law and Catholic Social Teaching.

Celebration for Adel

50 years on Earth, 1 year in Cambodia

9 December 2007

Adel O'Regan


Today the Maryknoll community celebrated with Adel O'Regan for her 50th birthday. Click here for photos of the gala event!

8 December 2007

Catholic Community at World Vision

The English-speaking Catholic community has a liturgy every Saturday night at 5:00 PM, the only English liturgy of the weekend. These services are held in the auditorium of World Vision where Fr. Kevin Conroy is seen presiding. We recently moved the altar from the stage in the front to the side wall of the auditorium so that we might add more seats to the configuration and bring people closer to the altar.

Lux Camera Repair Shop

A lucky find

11 November 2007

Lux Camera Repair

The buttons on my Olympus camera slowly stopped working, first the one that turned on the self-timer, then the one that changed the flash settings, then others, until finally the power button failed to work. At that point I decided I needed to repair the camera, but tasks like that can be difficult in a country like Cambodia. People kept telling me to try around Central Market and I rode my bicycle around the market square but didn't see any camera shops. Then I thought of the Yellow Pages. We don't have a regular phone directory but we do have a Yellow Pages because someone can make money from that. I found two camera repair shops listed, both of them on side streets near Central Market.

On Saturday I went looking for the first and closest, Lux Camera Repair at #119 on Street 154. Finding a number on Phnom Penh's streets is usually difficult--because people just pick numbers and they usually aren't in sequence or are repeated on the same street--and this one proved nearly impossible. I had given up and was heading for the second camera shop when I thought that maybe the "Lux" in the name meant the shop was near the Lux Theatre nearby. It turned out it is right beside the theatre. The man spoke English, a real bonus, and I explained what was wrong and he said he could fix it. It would cost $25. Then apologetically he asked if tomorrow (Sunday) would be soon enough! He said 4:00 PM on Sunday but then this morning he called me at 10:00 AM to say it was ready! And the camera works! I'm delighted to have found a real camera repair shop and will certainly be recommending it to everyone.


meets the ponytail

1 November 2007

Khmer mythological figureConcrete statues of animals and mythological figures are common in Cambodian towns. Many of them have their own specific statue which gives them something of an identity, especially for deaf people who describe a town or location by the statue located there. This statue of a woman holding her flowing hair in an early version of the ponytail is prominent in several small towns I've visited. I would like to know the story behind the woman, her hair, and the crocodile.

30 October 2007

John Hoffman and Charlie Dittmeier

John Hoffman and Charlie Dittmeier at a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  John came to Cambodia as part of a two-week tour of Cambodia and Vietnam where he served during the "American War," as it is known in Southeast Asia.  Charlie took a bus up from Phnom Penh to meet John before his group began their tours of the various monuments and temples in the Angkor Wat complex near Siem Reap.

Social Outreach

Unusual for Buddhism

23 October 2007

ILO workshop

Buddhism by its nature looks inward rather than outward. Its intent is to help the believer achieve nirvana or a state of inner peace and harmony by freeing oneself from desires and concerns about the external world. There is little sense of social outreach as a movement within Buddhism although the Buddhist value of compassion causes the monks to welcome the poor and displaced into their pagodas in time of trouble.

It is somewhat rare to see Buddhist monks, particularly as a group, participating in a development program. Today, however, this monk (left) and seven of his colleagues participated in a workshop sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to report on its pilot project of poverty reduction by peer-to-peer training of poor people working in small businesses. This group of monks has formed an NGO that is implementing this strategy in one of the provinces.

Living on the street

17 October 2007

Family living on the street

Phnom Penh is home to many poor people. Urban areas around the world attract those living on the edges of poverty in their home country, and Phnom Penh is no exception. Many people find their way to the capital city hoping to find work. Some do. Many end up on the streets like this family. At least they have a cart they can use for collecting trash to sell.

Charlie and Ed's House

Ground level entrance

8 October 2007

Ground level of Charlie's house

When we rented this house, I thought perhaps we could use this ground-level entry way as a little meeting area or a covered outside sitting area. It's actually what would be used for a garage if we had a car. It's open on the sides at the top but covered overhead with a metal roof. The metal roof is what makes the space unusable, though. The sun hits the roof directly and makes it really hot here so that I can park my bicycle there and Ed can hang his plants but it's not good for much else. The door leads to a small room with a toilet, built for a live-in guard which we don't have.

Burma's Oppression Linked to China

Is it time to consider a boycott of the Beijing Olympics?

3 October 2007

Boycott Beijing Olympics

We are very close to the situation developing in Burma, not just geographically but through friends and colleagues who are working there. The oppression by the military in Burma could not continue without the support of China. China is Burma's biggest trading partner because China wants Burma's natural resources and also a land corridor to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean.

Several groups have spoken out in favor of a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 for a variety of reasons. One such organization is Reporters without Borders which monitors the restraints on journalism in China and the arrest and imprisonment of reporters there.

Perhaps it is time for other groups to push for a Beijing boycott to put pressure on China to live up to its international obligations and stop support for tyranny and oppression in Burma.

Today is the first day of the new school year...

...but not for this little girl

1 October 2007

Selling sugar cane

Today was the first day of the new school year for the students in the areas of Cambodia where the school buildings are not flooded (it's still the rainy season). Traffic was terrible this morning in Phnom Penh as tens of thousands of students donned their blue and white uniforms and headed off to school. For this little girl, though, there was no excitement about school but just another day of work to look forward to, selling pieces of sugar cane with her father.

Ignorance is not bliss

Not enough is done to foster international understanding

24 August 2007

Millions of people are caught up in armed conflict around the world and find their lives at risk daily. Economic, political, and religious differences threaten new hostilities, but not enough is done to foster international understanding. Greater respect for other people and their values could help resolve some of the tensions and conflicts in Asia and the Middle East.

...At a time when the U.S. is needed to play a more constructive international role, the country seems instead to be caught in an isolationist mode. While the public needs to be better informed, major U.S. newspapers have been closing their foreign bureaus and drastically reducing the number of foreign correspondents. And while the U.S. needs to better communicate with other countries and cultures, only nine percent of U.S. college students are studying a foreign language.

From the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns NewsNotes

Global Warming Floods Bangladesh

Flooding Is Annual and Normal in Cambodia

21 August 2007

Flooding along the Mekong River

The rainy season starts at the end of May in Cambodia, and by August much of the country is flooded with water that will not recede until the end of September. Here an aerial photo (taken when I flew back today from Hong Kong) shows flooding extending almost to the horizon along the Mekong River. The Cambodian people just take the flooding for granted and adapt their lifestyle accordingly, for example, bringing all their dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, pigs, etc., up into their houses built on stilts, to share the living space with the humans.

Air Asia

Maybe not a scam but definitely a ripoff

7 August 2007

Air Asia banner

I had a really bad experience with Air Asia on the last leg of my return flight from Louisville, Kentucky to Phnom Penh.

Ed McGovern's Birthday Celebration

3 August 2007

Megan and Brennan


Click here for pictures of Ed's birthday party

Philippines Catholic Lay Missioners

New arrivals to work with Maryknoll

2 July 2007

New PCLM members of Maryknoll

The Philippines Catholic Lay Mission group was begun with the assistance of Maryknoll 25 years ago, and there has been an on-going relationship between the two groups.  For the past three years Maryknoll Cambodia has been blessed with three PCLMers working with us in Maryknoll projects.  Now Ayan has finished her contract and returned to the Philippines, but today Doy Castro returned after a renewal time, and two new PCLM members--Alice and Meding--arrived to start their new ministries.  Welcome, Alice and Meding!

The Cambodian Lexus Economy

and the Ox Cart Economy

24 June 2007

Oxcart with pottery from the provinces

Cambodia probably has the highest percentage of Lexus vehicles in world. Few government and military officials would want to be seen in anything else. But the rest of the country travels differently. Hundreds of thousands of under-powered motorbikes putter around the cities with unbelievable loads. And then there are these ox carts coming in from the provinces with handmade clay pots and cooking utensils.

More banner than ban

22 June 2007

Anti-Child Labor banner

Cambodia doesn't have many children working in the formal industries, e.g., in the shoe and garment factories, but the non-formal economy is a huge employer of children. Those are the children who supplement the family income by scavenging for recyclable materials, helping on the family charcoal wagon, helping mom or dad sell coconuts from a cart, or sitting at the little stand in front of the house that sells instant noodles or fresh vegetables. It could be that there are more children not in school than in school.

Taize Prayer Service

Preparation for Confirmation

17 June 2007

Taize prayer service

This weekend we were in Kampong Som for a retreat with a group from the English-speaking Catholic community in Cambodia. The retreat center where we stayed also serves as the parish for that part of the country, and this morning a group of new Catholics, baptized at Easter, received the sacrament of confirmation. Last night they had a prayer service outside the church, a quiet, reflective service centered on the Taize chants, a type of simple, repetitive musical settings that support reflection.

Priests Retreat 2007

Annual gathering at Sihanoukville

6 June 2007

Bishop Tagle and Fr. Gerald

All the priests of Cambodia (about 50 now) are invited to a priests retreat each year. It is held at the Catholic Center in the southern coastal town of Sihanoukville. This year 37 priests attended. Here Fr. Gerald Vogin from France (r) speaks with the retreat leader Bishop Luis Tagle from the Philippines. More pictures will follow.

First Communion in Cambodia

2 June 2007

Photographs after the First Communion

Our community of English- speaking Catholics is not a formal parish but we have most of the liturgical activities a normal parish would have, including First Communions. Today thirteen of our young members received the eucharist for the first time. Reflecting our international community, they came from seven or eight different countries. Here happy families are taking pictures after the ceremony.

Cambodia Mission Team

Maryknoll in Cambodia

1 June 2007

Cambodia Mission Team--May, 2007

Maryknollers in Cambodia are known as the Cambodia Mission Team. Lisa Pirie is heading back to the US for a leadership meeting and needed a group photo so we took this one after our regular Wednesday meeting.

Seated (l-r): Celina Campas, Regina Pellicore, Bernadette Duggan, Mary Little. Standing: Charlie Dittmeier, Bill Burns, Helene O'Sullivan, Lisa Pirie, Myriam Frys, Jean-François Frys, Bong Ang, Adel O'Regan, Jim Noonan, Luise Ahrens, Bob Wynne. Missing: Doy Castro, Kevin Conroy, Ed McGovern, Jim and Roberta McLaughlin.

Creative Learning

Not the Cambodian way

17 May 2007

DDP students in classroom

These are students at the Maryknoll Deaf Development Program engaged in a board game with their teacher (in yellow). These boys and girls may be deaf but in one way they are lucky to have the opportunity to have innovative teachers and an opportunity to learn in creative ways for the two years they will be part of the basic education program of DDP. In government schools the fifty to sixty students crowded into a room with no lights--no electricity!--will only sit in regimented rows, three to a long desk, and memorize and repeat what is written on the board. Probably not once in their school career which, for the majority will end in the sixth grade, will they have the opportunity to experience learning through play like this.

Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples

Promoting human rights in Asia

20 April 2007

Logo of ACPP

The Asian Center for Progress of Peoples is an independent rights organization, based in Hong Kong, with an Asian focus. It was founded in 1979 when groups and individuals of the Church committed to Justice and Peace work in Hong Kong saw beyond the needs of the Territory and realized the urgency of an Asian-level involvement. They were inspired by Pope Paul VI's Encyclical letter "Progress of Peoples".

I have been a board member of ACPP for about ten years but have been much less active after my move to Cambodia. In a recent phone call with Linda Noche, the executive director of ACPP, about my role, I said that I would like either to resign from the board or to use my interest and location in Cambodia to make a stronger contribution. We decided to try the latter. This will fit in well with my desire and design to rework this website and to amplify the section on peace and justice.

As a first step in this process, I invite you to visit the website of the Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples, see what they do, and respond to the Urgent Appeals and other requests for people around the world to support those suffering from injustice.

Easter Week

...meant to be celebrated!

10 April 2007

Icon of the Resurrection

After Vatican II, the first document on the liturgy set out the plan for reform of the Roman rites, offering significant insights into what we believe and how we should express it. It gave special emphasis to Easter, the central event of salvation history, to help us enter more fully into our understanding of the Paschal mystery.

The instruction made a rather surprising declaration. It said that the eight days after Easter--and that includes the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday--were to be celebrated as solemnities of the Lord. That means all these weekdays after Easter are to be celebrated at the same liturgical level as Christmas, the Ascension, and Pentecost. Only the celebration of Easter itself is more important. That is unique for weekdays but it shows the significance of the Resurrection in our theology and our lives.

The challenge for us is to really celebrate Easter this week. Some priests--and maybe some daily mass-goers--might anticipate doing the minimum this week after all the major celebrations of Holy Week, but actually the liturgy these days calls for the Gloria, Alleluias, joyful song, even incense. If Easter is as important as we say it is, then one day or even one weekend cannot capture the fullness of the mystery.

Easter Sunday Dinner

..and two birthdays!

8 April 2007

Easter Sunday dinner

Christian religious holidays in a Buddhist country lose a lot of their impact, but Easter Sunday today was an enjoyable occasion for the Maryknoll community. In the evening we gathered for a potluck dinner at the home of Jean-François and Myriam Frys. It was basically a Maryknoll gathering, but the newly arrived Marist Brothers, who have come to work in Cambodia, were invited also. More pictures to come about this!

Surprise phone call

...from Bremen, Germany

7 April 2007

Easter card from Jan FreyThis morning right before noon, I was working on preparations for the Easter Vigil service this evening when I received a telephone call. I noticed the number that appeared on the mobile phone dial was 007, which meant that it was an international call, and I couldn't figure out who it would be. It turned out that Jan Frey was calling me from Bremen, Germany. Jan and I have linked to each other's websites and he had found my phone number somewhere on my website and decided to call and wish me a Happy Easter! It was delightful to be able to speak to Jan after corresponding through e-mail. Actually I had just received the link to his latest Daily Groove article last night, along with this Easter greeting. He commented on the phone that the article had been particularly difficult to translate into English because it repeated several advertising slogans which are not straightforward German text.

The hot weather is upon us

Even the locals are complaining

3 April 2007

The time now is 8:17 PM and the official temperature is 90ºF. Given the conditions of wind and humidity, AccuWeather says it feels like 101º. It certainly feels like that to me! April and May are the hottest months in Cambodia, and this year the heat began to build about two weeks ago. The discouraging thing is that we're already miserable and it's still a month to the hottest period! The humidity is only 70% but the slightest exertion gets a person wringing wet. Three different people pointed out to me today that the back of my shirt was totally wet. The worst part of the day is at night, trying to sleep with the fan blasting away to fend off the mosquitoes and give enough cooling effect to doze off. The best part of the day is getting home at 6:00 PM and taking a shower! All the Cambodian people--who take off from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM--take a shower at lunch time also and then change clothes, and I can understand why.

Ayan Matutina

The CMT says farewell

28 March 2007

Jim Noonan thanks Ayan

Ayan Matutina (fourth from right) listens as Jim Noonan bids her farewell from the Cambodia Mission Team at our weekly meeting. Ayan is a member of the Philippine Lay Mission Community who has worked with Maryknoll.

Ayan opens a gift

Ayan, here opening a gift, has been in Cambodia for 3 1/2 years, and has done wonderful work with youth affected by AIDS, usually through the deaths of their parents. Now she is returning to the Philippines to continue her mission there.

The Vatican and Cambodia

Nuncio meets Prime Minister

27 March 2007

Papal Nuncio Salvatore Pennacchio

A Vatican ambassador is called a papal nuncio, and the nuncio for Southeast Asia, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, recently met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in a courtesy call. The nuncio thanked Hun Sen for the religious tolerance that is present in Cambodia. This week the nuncio will return to officiate at the opening of a pediatric wing at a hospital in the province of Takeo. Maryknoll was largely responsible for funding the wing. (This picture was taken with a group of Maryknollers at the bishop's house.)

A new tree

..and a privacy screen

12 March 2007


Click here to see the arrival of a new tree at Ed McGovern's and Charlie Dittmeier's house

Celebrating Ayan's Departure

Mass at Ed and Charlie's House

2 March 2007

Ayan Matutina and friends

Ayan Matutina (front, blue shirt) is a Philippine Catholic Lay Missioner who is finishing her time in Cambodia and preparing to return to the Philippines. There was an earlier gathering of friends in her honor but tonight there was a second, a home mass at the house of Ed McGovern and Charlie Dittmeier. About thirty people came to wish Ayan goodbye. This group meets for mass every first Friday at the house on St 334.

Celebrating a birthday

...and a new house

18 February 2007

Friends at a new house

A group of Maryknollers gathered for the birthday of Celina Campus (standing, second left) and also for a mass and blessing of the new house Celina shares with Adel O'Regan (standing, third left). Afterwards everyone posed for a photo together.

14 February 2007

On February 2nd, thirty US Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Cambodia. This is the first time the Peace Corps has worked in Cambodia in its 45-year history. The volunteers will primarily be teaching English. They will first spend several months learning Khmer language and teaching techniques, and then will move into the provinces. A US Embassy spokesman said that the program hopes to find other ways also to involve the Peace Corps in development projects in Cambodia.

First the pizza

...then a movie

11 February 2007

Pizza dinner

The Maryknoll community in Cambodia tries to organize itself so that we're together not only for work. On Saturday night after the usual weekend mass for the English-speaking community, all the Cambodia Mission Team were invited to Ed McGovern and Charlie Dittmeier's house for pizza and a movie (Dream Girls) on DVD. Almost everyone was able to come and it seemed to be a great success!

Another first....

...I actually felt cool!

29 January 2007

Yesterday afternoon it was hot but not as hot as usual. That means it was only in the high 80ºs. And last night was really pleasant sleeping because I was able to keep my windows open. Normally because the neighborhood people start moving around and yelling and screaming (literally) about 5:20 AM or 5:30 AM, I keep all the windows closed so that I can try to sleep till about 6:00 AM. It gets really hot in the room with just the fan, but the half hour of sleep is worth it. This morning I had to get up at 5:25 AM to go across town to have mass for the Carmelite Sisters so I just left my bedroom windows open. I ride a motorcycle taxi to the Carmelites, and today, leaving about 20 minutes before sunrise (6:17 AM), I actually felt uncomfortably cool while we were riding! That is the first time I've been bothered by being cool in the seven years I've been here. Walking along wouldn't have been a problem, but the 73º temperature plus the wind chill factor made it a bit too brisk. I wasn't cold, but I was too cool, another first for my time in Cambodia!

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