Home>October 2021>A place of healing and hope

A place of healing and hope

Sr Denise Coghlan RSM

Seventy years after its inception in 1951, Jesuit Mission’s legacy is sowing healing and hope in Cambodia, a region once decimated by the protracted Vietnam War and the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Witness to this evolution is Mercy Sister Denise Coghlan, who moved from her hometown, Brisbane, to the Thai-Cambodia border in 1988 to work with Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees. Two years later, she relocated to Cambodia.

“To promote reconciliation, peace and justice, we felt we needed to be on both sides of the border, and making friends with Cambodians from all the warring factions. I was part of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), recruited by Mercy Refugee Service,” she explains.

From the outset, this Cambodian ministry had strong links with the Australian Jesuits; the one-time provincial Fr Mark Raper SJ had been instrumental in establishing JRS in Cambodia.

The team of Sr Ath Long, Br Noel Oliver SJ, Fr Jub Phokthavi SJ and Sr Denise initially focused on reconciliation and the creation of an integrated rural development project and a vocational training school, Banteay Prieb, for people physically and psychologically wounded by war.

“It was a place where people learnt a skill and also had a community which helped heal hearts. Many, many poor people now have a wheelchair or a better quality of life because of the Australian Jesuit Mission.”

The ministry swiftly spread to the towns of Siem Reap, Sisophon, Battambang and the areas surrounding Phnom Penh, where, with the help of Jesuit Mission, JRS built more than 40 schools and assisted communities with infrastructure, agriculture and income-generation projects.

In 1997 a special moment of joy occurred when one of the team members, Tun “Reth” Channareth, who had lost his legs to a landmine in 1982, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The Metta Karuna program helps people living with disabilities through livelihood training, wheelchairs, houses and more.    

Today, he inspires visitors to the Jesuit ministry’s Metta Karuna Reflection Centre in Siem Reap with his passionate advocacy for people living with disabilities.

Here, visitors can also learn about “the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth” by engaging with refugees and other displaced people, and assisting in construction and income-generation projects in remote villages.

“What began with Australians helping Jesuits in Hazaribag has flourished anew in Cambodia, a place that had been ravaged by war and genocide, a place where wounded hearts and bodies needed healing and hope,” Sr Denise says.

“We invite you dear friends to come and visit and share the joy you have given to so many others.”

You may remember five-year old Rami from Siem Reap Cambodia, who bravely overcame life threatening heart surgery, with your support and the support from Sr Denise's team.

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