July 7, 2020

Buddhist monks worry over food supply amid virus pandemic

The Ministry of Cults and Religion yesterday noted a decline in the number of Buddhists who offer food and alms at pagodas since the coronavirus pandemic began. Cults and Religion Ministry spokesman Seng Somony told Khmer Times yesterday: “The number of Buddhist followers who give food offerings to monks is less compared to before the outbreak began. This has led to dwindling food supplies for monks. Fortunately, the monks still have enough food to support them for the time being.” Despite a possible food shortage in the future, Mr Somony said should the government declare a state of emergency to curb coronavirus risks, they will abide by the mandate and prohibit people from gathering in pagodas. Venerable Moeun Sopheak, a monk at the capital’s Saravoan Pagoda, echoed the sentiment saying monks are feeling the effect of the pandemic as followers no longer dare to gather at pagodas due to fear of contracting the virus. He said while people depend on their wages to support their daily living, the monks could only rely on devotees who come to offer food and alms to them in exchange of prayers. If people stop coming, the monks will surely face a food shortage, said Ven Sopheak. “Most of them no longer dare go outside. Although some Buddhist followers still brave the pandemic to give offerings, it is such a small number compared to before,” he said. Venerable Moeun Sopheak. KT/Pann Rachanna A report from the Cults and Religion Ministry revealed there are 4,985 pagodas throughout the country, which house more than 70,000 monks. On Wednesday, Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun brought alms and food to 21 pagodas along National Road 4. In a Facebook post, the governor said the supplies were meant to replenish the resources of the monks. “Some monks do not want to risk going outside to get food. Likewise, Buddhist followers have refrained from visiting the pagodas,” wrote Mr Chamroeun. On March 23, all pagodas across the Kingdom held concurrent ceremonies to pray for blessing and protection as countries globally grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. In conjunction with the ceremonies, Venerable Khim Sorn, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal monks, said faith must be followed with action as he called on the people to maintain good hygiene and follow the instructions of the Ministry of Health to prevent further spread of the virus.

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