A glass coffin carrying a wax likeness of Saint John Bosco and the remains of his right hand crossed the Thai-Cambodian border at Poipet yesterday on its way to Phnom Penh, where a special Catholic Mass was scheduled for today.
The 820-kg coffin is on a round-the-world voyage that has already brought it to many countries as an inspiration to the followers of the Italian saint’s teachings, according to Father John Visser, country director for the Don Bosco Foundation. The DBF provides early education funding to roughly 10,000 Cambodian children, and the brothers of the Salesian order, which St John Bosco founded, operate schools in Preah Sihanouk City, Poipet and Phnom Penh.
“This is a great happening for us all as we live in the spirit of Don Bosco and follow his system of education,” said Father Visser, adding that DBF’s predominantly Buddhist pupils would “be excited because they have learned about his great life.”
St John Bosco, who died in 1888, became famous for helping the children of early-industrial Italy by providing them with job training-a legacy Salesians in Cambodia say makes the order’s presence here particularly meaningful.
Last year St John Bosco’s coffin left the reliquary of an Italian basilica and began its peregrinations as the Salesian order celebrated its 150th anniversary. Father Visser says the coffin is transported by a custom-made Italian car that displays its contents, and that “the Interior Ministry was hesitant” about allowing into the country when the Salesians initially proposed a visit.
But according to Father Albeiro Rodas, the Salesian order’s country communications director, the Vatican has been forced to repeatedly negotiate the entrance of St John Bosco and his entourage into many countries.
“The Vatican made an official request to the prime minister, who had a meeting with the Council of Ministers and set the conditions of the visit and gave permission,” said Father Rodas.
Council of Ministers Spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday he had not heard of the saint’s arrival.
In 2007, the Ministry of Cults and Religions issued a proclamation banning Christians from door-to-door proselytizing, but Dork Narin, a secretary of state at the ministry, said yesterday he wasn’t bothered by the relic’s arrival.
“I am not worried that Christians will attract people because it is people’s right to choose their beliefs,” said Mr Narin.