A new column called “Living Mission” debuts this week. Its author is Father Charlie Dittmeier, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville who has served for more than three decades as a Maryknoll Associate Priest.
Father Dittmeier has served with Maryknoll since 1987, first in Hong Kong for 13 years and then in Cambodia since 2000. His ministry focuses on people who are deaf and he has helped develop sign language for Cambodian people.
With his new column, Father Dittmeier hopes to share some of his life as a missioner with people in his hometown and archdiocese.
“So often I get asked, ‘What is Cambodia like?’ ” he noted in a recent interview by email. “This is a chance to explain a little about the Kingdom of Wonder, as the tourist promotion describes it.
“I think I would like to offer also little insights into how things are different here, especially how some common experiences of daily life and how ways of doing ordinary things can be so different from what most people would be used to,” he said. “We need to understand other peoples and cultures and learn to respect and appreciate their different ways of doing things if we are ever to have peace in the world.”
Father Dittmeier said he also hopes to bring the notion of missionary discipleship closer to the consciousness of Catholics in central Kentucky.
“Pope Francis is constantly talking about how we are all missionaries and must be missionary disciples, but does that really mean anything to the average Catholic in Louisville or is it just a phrase that we hear or read without its influencing us?” he asked.
He hopes to help make that meaningful.
While the term “missionary” can have a negative connotation to some people — connecting it to proselytizing — Father Dittmeier clarified what it means to be a Catholic missioner today.
It’s about “offering the Good News to needy peoples, offering them whatever it is they need to live full and decent lives as children of God.”
For the people he serves in Cambodia, that means developing a language for people who had no official language at the end of the last century.
As the co-director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Program, Father Dittmeier has helped develop Cambodian Sign Language, an official language akin to American Sign Language.
He is also pastor of the English-speaking parish in Cambodia, the country’s second-largest parish with about 900 parishioners.
“Living Mission” will appear every other month with new stories about life in Cambodia. You can also follow Father Dittmeier’s journey on his website, parish-without-borders.org.