Samdech Patriarch Oum Sum, one of the nation’s top monks, died Saturday at the age of 82 after a long illness.
Oum Sum, the head of Wat Mahomontrei, was admired as much for his erudition as for his spirituality, according to Mann Yan, the wat’s deputy commission chief.
Mann Yan said Sunday that Oum Sum was one of Cambodia’s oldest scholars. In 1969, he said, Oum Sum served on the commission updating the first Khmer dictionary, first compiled by Supreme Patriarch Chourn Nat in 1938.
“I love him as much as my life,’’ Mann Yan said, his voice choked with tears. “I am so very sad to lose him.’’
Oum Sum was the second-highest ranking monk of the Mohaniky sect, one of the two dominant branches of Buddhism in Cambodia.
The Cambodian People’s Party central committee praised him for playing a key role in reviving Buddhism after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, which attempted to wipe out the state religion.
“He contributed to the revival and development of Buddhism …after Jan 7, 1979,” the party said in its statement, referring to the date the party annually celebrates as the end of Pot Pot’s rule.
In his 1997 book, “Views on Buddhism,” Oum Sum wrote that the Khmer Rouge had forced him to give up Buddhism but, in his heart, he never did. He said he continued to pray in secret, refusing to eat evening meals or to marry despite the regime’s pressure.
Prime Minister Hun Sen eulogized Oum Sum as “a leading intellectual” who had selflessly devoted his life to Buddhism and extended his condolences to his family and fellow monks.
“On behalf of the government, I would like to express my deep gratitude toward him” for his efforts in restoring and improving Buddhist schools, the prime minister wrote in a Saturday statement.
Chea Sim, the CPP President and acting head of state, praised Oum Sum for setting high standards of social morality.
Mann Yan said Oum Sum suffered from heart and lung problems, as well as diabetes, and had been treated at Calmette Hospital for a month prior to his death.
Chea Kean, Chea Sim’s adviser on religion, said the monk’s body will lie in state at the wat, in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, until July 13.
Scores of mourners paid their respects Sunday at Wat Mohamontrei. Among them was Prok Krem, 62, a monk from Kompong Cham who had been ordained by Oum Sum in 1995. “He taught me a lot,” he said. “I am so sad to lose him.”
Many lay people were among the mourners, including Yeay Thon, 64, of Phnom Penh. “Samdech Patriarch Oum Sum instructed us to do good,” she said. “I came here to pay my respects.”