Father François Ponchaud
Before 1970, of a population of six-and-a-half million people, approximately 65,000 were Catholic. When Pol Pot triumphantly entered the capital Phnom Penh in April 1975, only 16,000 Catholics remained. Sensing the approaching threat, the small community of faithful endeavoured to prepare by consecrating the first Khmer bishop, to ensure the survival of the country’s apostolic succession. The full persecution of all Cambodia’s citizens began with the founding of a new Democratic Kampuchea with the introduction of “Year Zero”. The Khmer Rouge closed schools, hospitals and factories, liquidated banks and money, criminalized religion and banned private property. The price of this bloody utopia was a country turned into a collective labor, re-education and death camp. Estimates put the number of people murdered, starved or deceased through illness during Pol Pot’s nearly four-year rule at just under two million Cambodian citizens; nearly a quarter of the country’s total population. The Catholic Church was practically annihilated. The first opening to the Church came in the 1990’s. The number of Catholics stood at 3000. Since that time missionary priests and nuns have slowly reached out to the faithful and today the Church stands at just over 8000.