Memories of a Great and Good Man: Father Pierre Ceyrac
By Nate Thayer
Amongst my myriad of youthful memories, I recall with a satisfied sense of quiet joy having spent some weeks getting to know two delightful, charming, adventurous and beautiful young French gals in the remote town of Aranyaprathet, Thailand, a deceptively sleepy border hub that was the covert control room of a raging war that brought both unspeakable misery and promised a long demanded and denied justice to millions of Cambodians.
The two women and I recently reconnected and, like I suspect is true for many thousands of others whose heart and soul Pierre improved so profoundly, our conversation quickly focused on Father Pierre Ceyrac, a good and great man.
Father Pierre gave—and still gives—me faith and hope.
While the two women, Olivia Guerbet and Isabelle Viellard, bring back very fond memories indeed, this story is about him—Father Pierre Ceyrac who died one year ago this month.
Father Pierre and Isabelle may 2012
Hello Nate ! what a nice surprise to have your email!
I was so happy remembering all those borders events!
One year ago I had the chance to visit Father Pierre (Ceyrac) with Isabelle just before he died and all the border memories came back to our minds; Those years are forever written in our hearts.
I wanted also to thank you after all these years for all the dreams you gave me.
Now I’m married with 4 children but my life is still full of the joy and the richness of those years in Aranyaprathet.
Do you know that Jean and Stephanie got married?
I wanted to thank you and Gary (Knight) for your friendship. I remember how welcoming you were each time we met you at Ploen’s (restaurant).
The first time you saw us , you thought we were from SIPA and Gary told us later that you were very surprised that they had sent 4 journalists to the border; Something must have been happening , but usually you were the first to know…and then you realized it was SIPAR; only French teachers…no scoops…
But you had always been very nice.
I remember that Father Pierre was very admiring of you, Nate.
Well happy birthday with some days late
So good to hear from you and the fond memories you and Isabelle both bring back to me from those times in Aranyaprathet.
And thank you so very much for the photographs of Father Pierre.
He is one of my all time hero’s among men and I miss him terribly.
You probably didn’t know this, but he married my brother and his wife in the 1980’s.
Please do keep in touch, my friend, and so glad to hear you are doing well. It was also so very nice to hear from Isabelle as well. You both seem as beautiful and charming as when we met so long ago.
How nice of you to answer me so quickly.
Here is a picture of him when he visited me in Grenoble where we live; he looks like when we met him, doesn’t he?
I hope you didn’t have a too big shock with the previous pictures I send you. The three of us looks much older….
Do you have a picture of the wedding of your brother! How incredible! Did Father Pierre go to the USA? I would LOVE if you could scan a picture of both of you at the wedding.
Do you still have contact with people from the border? I imagine you are still in touch with Gary?
Do you remember this conversation we had :
“How is your foot?”
“My foot is OK, I just got blown up on a landmine”
I know the incredible story of you meeting Pol Pot! I know how you had been all those year searching for answers to this so awful tragedy of genocide of Cambodia; It’s incredible that you could ask him exactly the questions everybody would have wished to ask him and hitler etc! (That is on purpose that I don’t use capital letters to write their names).
I heard also the terrible story of betrayal about the news of his death. You must have felt so blessed! It was so unfair! So disgusting!
What have you been doing since then, where have you lived, USA ? Asia? Do you see your family or are you a lonesome cowboy far away from home?
Oh girls!! they ask so many questions, that ‘s life!! Because, in my case, memories give to my life so much energy. Now I’m happy but it’s not so exciting you know! By chance my children (Amelie 18 years old, Clément 17, Eloi 13 and Félicité 9) are nice and are happy but thank God I had a life before getting married!
I married in blue. I had already two children; Gary (Knight) and Fiona came for the wedding! How nice of them.
Hoping that I don’t tire you with my words and I wish you a beautiful day, wherever you are now.
Thanks for the kind and thoughtful message. Pierre was one of God’s gifts and remains a big influence on me even after his death.
He married my brother and his wife (who both worked in Khao I Dang refugee camp) in the Philippines in 1986. Sadly, his wife died of cancer at 39 in 1997.
I never did meet anyone who didn’t love Father Pierre.
I used to go to his mass in Aran even though I am not Catholic!
I still have many contacts from the border days. I later moved to Phnom Penh and then later to Bangkok. I moved back to the U.S. in 2001 and still wrote and traveled, spent time in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, North Korea etc etc.
I moved back to Asia in 2010, but then back to where I am now in Washington D.C. last year. I write mainly about North Korea these days, but also quite a bit on Cambodia and other places.
And you and Isabelle and Pierre still all look as beautiful as the days I knew you.
I will try to find a picture of the wedding Pierre performed for my brother and send it to you.
I posted the two pictures you sent me on Facebook (where I stay in touch with many old border friends) and many of them commented on the picture.
My very best to both you and Isabelle.
with warm and fond wishes,
Are you up or not yet in bed? I’m sooooooooooo happy to read you already!
And the pictures already on face book!! I feel middle aged and you move at the speed of the light!!!
Well, I don’t have Facebook address. Is it possible to give you my daughter address, Amelie Guerbet so that I can see news about you?
Well all what you write touches me a lot.
What a pity the story of your sister in law; When people love each other it’s so sad to see the end of their life on earth…….
I haven’t been to bed because I am working on Asian time on a North Korea story. Of course you can use your daughters address. Just go on FB and ‘friend’ me and you will see the pics and other stuff
I will write you more later but “à table!!!”‘
It’s time to go for lunch; You know in France we eat all together around the table..
Please accept Amelie’s contact so I can know more about you. Except if you judge that she’s too young.
Olivia’s children and Pierre
Eat well. I accepted Amelie’s FB request already. Talk soon. And tell Isabelle I posted her pic with Fr Pierre too
Thank you for accepting the facebook request; it is very kind of you.
I will write you on email for it is easier.
Last year I suddenly decided to visit Father Pierre; I hadn’t seen him for 6 years.
He had always been writing to me, but the last years we just talked by phone.
I live in the mountains and now I’m not the adventurous girl I used to be. I don’t move much, visiting sometimes my family in Paris but that’s all.
But last year suddenly when I heard that Father Pierre was really in a very bad, bad shape and in a quite desperate mood, I suddenly decided to go to India.
You are used to moving around the world, but, for me, it was so new, so wonderful to have this feeling of irresistible freedom and attraction.
His niece told me he would be quite alone during May and she was worried because it’s the really hot season then there.
The minute after, I called Isabelle and within five minutes she agreed and we both decided to go to India to see Father Ceyrac.
We arrived in Madras in May.
Well, it was a big surprise to find Father Ceyrac standing up in quite good shape. I was sure I would arrive to put a flower on his tomb.
What a surprise to find him having lunch in the dining room all well dressed and combed.
We had one marvelous week with him. We shared a lot. He was a real gourmet! And he appreciated chocolats saucisson, foie gras and Pinot des charentes.
He was always taking care of us. “Are you OK?” “It is not too hot for you?”
He was so nice, so tender.
When I left him it was quite hard because I knew it was for the last time. But we were so happy to leave him in such a good condition.
Back to France and one week later exactly I received a call from Sabelle telling me that Father Pierre had died during the night.
His last night he had some of the goodies we had brought: pâté and pineau.
Two friends kissed him goodnight.
They asked for a blessing.
During the night he stood up and had a little walk as he always had to pray as he had done throughout his life.
And in the morning they found him in his bed.
You cannot imagine how blessed I felt!!!
Even more because we knew he had finally finished his life “standing up” and he was not sad at all.
Sorry, but I could talk and talk and talk about him because he had such a great impact on my life.
He was like a fairy for me—you know the light by the sea that shows you the way. How do you say this in English?
Olivia and Pierre Madras, India May 2012
What a beautiful story. I loved Pierre like perhaps I have loved no other. He gave me faith in man. Thanks so much for sharing. I would like to share your story on my FB page as there are many, many friends of mine who loved him like you and I did and would be very moved to hear your story. My FB page is not a public page–just for friends who I keep in touch with who have moved to different parts of the world, as happens in life. With your permission, I would like to share your story.
Even when I think of Pierre tears come to my eyes
Au cours de nos pérégrinations alors que je disais au Père Pierre à quel point il reflétait la lumière de Dieu il me répondit avec humilité : « On reflète tous la lumière de Dieu ».
Un autre jour il nous as redit comme il aurait pu faire davantage , comme il aurait dû faire davantage…
Il nous as aussi parlé de l’importance des jeunes qui sont « l’avenir du monde » « c’est important les jeunes , dis-leur de beaucoup étudier pour après aider les pauvres ;il faut beaucoup aimer et aider les pauvres » .
Il nous a parlé des couples et de l’attention et la gentillesse qu’il est important que les époux se témoignent et de l’importance de la prière. Il faut prier l’un pour l’autre
As I was telling him how much, for me, he reflected the light of God and he answered: “We all reflect the light of God.”
He said how he could and he should have done more.
He told us the importance of young people who are the future of the world.
“Young people are really important people, tell them to study a lot in order to serve and help poor people.”
“Tell them that we have to love, and to help a lot, the poor people.
He told us about couples and “how attention and kindness are so important between lovers.”
And he told us “the importance of praying for each other”
Dear you, I am very sensitive to the fact that my words could touch your heart.
I tell you again how much Father Ceyrac was proud to know you! You were also his hero.
He loved to talk about this time when there had been shelling and landmines exploded and that you had gone back to carry somebody wounded, despite of the danger.
I’m sure he’s very happy that I tell you this and he sees now and that ‘s what put those tears in your eyes.
How often I did cry with him.
He has always been so faithful.
I knew he was there somewhere thinking of me.
Of course, like you, he knew so many people; but each person was important when he met them. We were all unique .
When he was talking to you, you were THE most important in the world.
And so also could feel all refugees who felt, each one, to be the favorite.
That ‘s the way I think God loves us but it’s really incredible to realize with our little brains because there have been so many men.
But when you have had the chance to have met Father Pierre, you have felt this love, this love which tells you your value, even though you are a “pauv type”, as he used to say about himself;
About the mail I send you before ,I’m very touched that you could feel like telling the story on your FB. Do what you want but please correct the English so that it’s not too hard to understand.
Thank you for your care
Love (can I write that in English or is-it too strong for friendship?)
Thank you Olivia:
It is all so very touching and so easily understandable when talking about Pierre.
And of course you can write love in English or any other language. Everyone wishes more people would both be loving, say so and act so. Like Pierre did in his very special way
Much love to you as well my friend,