Bishop visits JRS amputees in Cambodia

Bishop-elect of Salford, John Arnold, has visited Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) staff in Cambodia in his role as Chairman of CAFOD. The Auxiliary Bishop in Westminster visited the country to observe how CAFOD’s partners are working to improve the lives of those affected by poverty. He says he experienced a country which is still recovering from Pol Pot’s oppressive regime of the 1970s and where the work of CAFOD and its partners has become so important in helping people work towards a better quality of life for themselves and their communities.

During his week there, Bishop John visited Phnom Penh and Siem Reap near the Thailand border and met political and religious officials. His meetings with CAFOD partners, organisations and individuals such as JRS, included a visit to the JRS Centre for Reflection and Development Partnership in Action (DPA).

In his daily diary, which can be read on the Westminster Diocesan website, Bishop John recorded his encounter with Red, who now works with the Jesuit Refugee Service for amputees and disabled people. “Red … is a man who lost both legs from an anti-personnel device, a land mine,” wrote the bishop. “He was in the military when it happened in 1982. He is now 53 and the Khmer Rouge left mine fields in vast numbers. Thirty five years on, a mere 101 people have lost limbs to undetected mines this year. In the 1980s, that number was in the thousands each year." 

Red invited Bishop John to meet three families in the militarised zone at the Thai border. In each case, the man of the household had been injured by a land mine while serving in the military. One of the men lost both legs; another had lost an eye. The military have offered no compensation and no pension and they live with their families in poverty. “The houses were amongst the worst I have seen, and almost empty spaces,” said the bishop. “Red's work is to supply toilets and wheelchairs and to help them, in whatever way he can, to develop a livelihood. One of the men we met works with Red and is paid by the NGO. Another has developed a poultry farm. The third man has lost his job and his wife is eight months pregnant. This man lost both legs and he is looking for any job which will use his hands. It was clear that he also suffers from depression but there is no help to be had for that.”


The JRS Reconciliation Centre at Siem Reap, Cambodia

Before leaving Cambodia, Bishop John also visited the Jesuit Refugee Service's Centre for Reflection. “This is Red's work base and he is clearly very proud of it - and so he should be,” he wrote. ”It is a wonderful campus of buildings, used by conferences and groups for every aspect of reconciliation, peace-building and interfaith understanding. There were several little 'shrines' where statues depict biblical scenes and invite thought and discussion.” He says the image he found most moving was the figure of Christ kneeling before an amputee who is saying ‘I have no foot for you to wash’.

“Given what I have seen today, it took my breath away,” wrote Bishop John in his daily diary. “Sister Denise (an Australian Mercy nun who has worked at the Centre since it was founded in 1989) showed me all around and it is clear that her work is slowing transforming relations between faiths and political factions. Today, a Malaysian general is running a workshop which includes peace workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. The little chapel was full of rich symbolism and the little altar, a highly-polished single piece of wood, was made by a Khmer Rouge soldier and presented as his way of apologising for his actions.”

Main photo: JRS-Cambodia worker Red (right) with an amputee and his family. Credit: Bishop John Arnold