A trip to Cambodia that changed me - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Sunrise at Angkor Wat. From left: Joseph and Michael Lynch, Lindsay Doucette, Elizabeth and Machele Lynch, James Havey, Jennifer DeVault and Mary Voight.

In August, I took a trip with Friends Across Borders to Cambodia. This is the type of trip I would definitely recommend to others because we lived in Cambodia as guests who care, guests who are willing to share our resources and to partner with people if needed.

Lay missioner Maria Montello with Machele and Elizabeth Lynch and two of Maria’s university students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, discussing the best route to take for the tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) scavenger hunt Maria developed.

We were not remote tourists or clinical observers. We didn’t judge or pity our fellow human beings. I also wasn’t in museums just skimming the highlights of the country but was able to be—and really enjoyed being—with Cambodian people and learning about their lives and their hopes.

Seeing Cambodia with our guides Lindsay Doucette (a returned Maryknoll lay missioner) and James Havey (a current lay missioner) and meeting Maryknoll Sisters Regina Pellicore and Helene O’Sullivan, Mercy Sister Denise Coghlan as well as Maryknoll lay missioner Maria Montello, gave me a window into the day-to-day life and unique human experiences in Cambodia.

Both at LaValla School, where lay missioner Kylene Fremling provides physical therapy to students with physical disabilities, and at the Deaf Development Programme, where Russ Brine and Father Charlie Dittmeier serve, students were all working and engaged. I saw no self pity; clearly, each student had been treated with dignity and love.

The humble work of the Catholic sisters and priests in Cambodia since 1975 really touched my heart, especially their powerful example of genuinely being with people rather than doing things for them.

The choir at Child Jesus Catholic Church in Phnom Penh.

Often the word sacrifice has negative connotations. However, the willingness of Maryknoll missioners to share in people’s lives and to “sacrifice” is not negative at all. It has instead brought many blessings and goodwill for each of us.

The Catholic faith of the Maryknoll community gives us a shared mission. They don’t preach or demand dogmatic obedience. Instead, Maryknoll sisters, priests and lay missioners live shoulder to shoulder with the Cambodian people, sharing their reality.

I am different now because of the witness of Maryknoll, which has made me demand more from myself and work to deepen my Catholic faith and my actions.

Photos by James Havey and Lindsay Doucette

This story is from the Fall-Winter 2019 issue of Voices of Compassion.





The Friends Across Borders participants wandering the vast terraces of Angkor Wat outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Mary C. Voight
Mary C. Voight is a retired Mandarin Chinese teacher, who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.