Phnom Penh --- The former bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Mgr. Emile Destombes, 80, passed away today at 12:30 PM, local time, in his residence in the capital minutes after he received the Holy Eucharist by Mgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler. "Please pray for the rest in Peace of Our dearest Bishop Emile who serve our church in Cambodia with zeal and much love", wrote Mgr. Olivier in his email to all the Cambodian Catholic Church. Mgr. Destombes was a very good friend of Don Bosco in this Southeast Asian kingdom before and after his election as Bishop of Phnom Penh on October 5, 1997.
The funerals will take place at the Saint Joseph parish in Phnom Penh, according to the information provided by Mgr. Olivier:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,Our beloved Bishop Emile DESTOMBES, MEP (bishop emeritus of Phnom Penh Vicariate - 1997-2010) rejoined our Father in Heaven at 12.30 pm today.1. From late evening on Thursday 28 January to early morning Saturday 30 January, you are invited to come praying for the eternal peaceful rest of our dear Bishop Emile at Saint Joseph chapel where his body will be exposed.2. The funerals will be celebrated on Saturday 30 January 2016 at 9.00am at Saint Joseph parish and followed by inhumation in the CheyDey.
Mgr. Emile Destombes was born on August 15, 1935 in Roncq, France and was ordained as a priest for the Paris Foreign Missions on December 21, 1961. He became a missionary in Cambodia since March 10, 1965, where he dedicated the rest of life, giving special attention to the learning of Khmer language at the Chrui Changvar school. He became also a teacher of philosophy at the Descartes College in Phnom Penh at the time.
In 1966 he decided to spend one full year of Khmer language immersion in the community of Chomnour in Battambang, west of the country, returning in 1967 as a teacher of philosophy in the small Cambodian seminary until 1970. During the difficult years of 1970-1975, when General Lon Nol ruled the country after a coup d'etat, making Cambodia entering a time of war, then Father Destombes was director of Caritas in the country and also directing a residence for Catholic students in the capital.
1975 was a year of great sadness for the country, when the Khmer Rouge took the power and set an extreme communist regime with the suspension of freedom of religion and the beginning of a bloody regimen that would make disappear 1 million 700 persons, one quarter of the national population. Every foreign missionary was expelled from the country and Cambodian Catholic priests and an unknown number of lay people, were killed or expelled.
In 1990 he returned to Cambodia as nominal representative of Caritas International and his first worry was to look for his communities then dispersed in years of terror and forced migrations. On April 14, 1997 he was nominated coadjutor bishop of Phnom Penh to Mgr. Yves Ramousse, another great missionary apostole of Cambodia. In 1997 he took his place as Apostolic Bishop until his retirement in October 2010, giving his place to current Bishop Olivier. He stayed in Phnom Penh, living his last years in humbleness and though his sickness. In his last minutes of life, he celebrated the Mass with Mgr. Olivier and one young missionary, Fr. Vincent Senecal.
Mgr. Destombes was very near to the Salesian works in Cambodia. He was very much in favor of the presence of Don Bosco in a time of reconstruction for a country that was just leaving the time of wars and violence. As a Bishop, he celebrated several times the Holy Eucharist with the Salesians and Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, encouraging always the mission in favor of young people and children at the style of Don Bosco. He was a man of charity and mercy, who stayed with the Cambodian people, Catholics or not, to the end of his last breath.
The Cambodian Salesian communities pray for his soul and thanks God for the gift of the good model of a missionary, who departed for the House of the Father during this Year of Mercy.