One of the most brutal modern genocides took place in Cambodia, 40 years ago. The Khmer Rouge murdered one out of three men, one quarter of the population. In four years, Pol Pot’s madness claimed the lives of 1.7 million people. The dictator established a medieval regime of terror and restlessly hunted Christians.
Msgr. Enrique Figaredo, Bishop of Battambang (Cambodia): “The war, Pol Pot’s revolution sweeped everyone away. Bishops, religious women, and catechists were killed. The community was razed to virtually nothing. Many of the surviving Catholics never had any hope for peace in their country, and they had to emigrate to the United States, France, Europe, and Japan. Very few people stayed behind.”
Enrique Figaredo arrived in Cambodia a few years later, when the country was still torn after such brutality.
In the 70’s, before the war, there were 170,000 Christians in Cambodia. After the conflict and the dictatorship, only a few thousands remained.
Msgr. Enrique Figaredo, Bishop of Battambang (Cambodia): “When we arrived, the community was completely dispersed. In the refugee camps a lot of pastoral work has already been done, very good work, but after the return of many, we created new communities with the refugees that came back. When I was named apostolic prefect we had 14 communities. Now we have 28, and they are larger and more active than before.”
The Church is slowly recovering, as are many Cambodians that were victims of the regime, who are recovering from the wounds in mind and body. The Christian community grows slowly but steadily, proving that the Church, after persecution and martyrdom, is able to rise again from its own ashes.