Thursday, June 21, 2018

Peace on the Peninsula

In a diocesan bulletin, a priest reviews the past Catholic contacts with North Korea and his hopes for the future. In March of 1988, the construction of the cathedral in Pyongyang and the Changchung church was completed on Oct. 9th.  

He visited China for the first time in 1998 and met with the believers of the Changchung Cathedral in Beijing. It was a meeting with the official approval of the Republic of Korea authorities but uncomfortable and awkward to be speaking to the North Koreans.

The North Koreans also found it difficult to speak to a stranger. Those who had been baptized before the take over of the Communist were accepted but those who come into the church after that date needed the approval of the government. Those who come into the church are likened to civil servants. After visiting China a number of times, in Oct of  2000, a few months after President Kim Dae Jung held a summit with Kim Jong Il in June, 12 priests and sisters were able to celebrate Mass at the Changchung Cathedral.

At that time over 150 North Korean believers came together after the Mass. They got over their embarrassment and hugging each other, cried at the long separation and situation they found themselves in.  

In Beijing, in 2018, he met the man who is now 64  and on his previous visit was the leader of the community,  similar to the administrator of a diocese in South Korea. Kang Paul who now is much older became the head of the committee of the Chosun Federation of Churches and the head of the North Korean Red Cross. This federation was made up of Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Chondogyo believers of North Korea. In South Korea, he would be considered to have made a  success of life, for he was a  cabinet minister. They talked and drank to late into the night.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Changchung Cathedral. The years have taken a toll on the building and needs repairs. Some time ago a couple of bishops came to Beijing to meet with North Korean believers and promised to help remodel the cathedral. Help to the Cathedral parish was continuing from dioceses in the South until the relationships between the North and South broke down.

The writer mentions in conclusion that the summit between the US President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues to make the news. The hope is to see an end to the war and declaration of Peace on the peninsula.

Catholics from the South desire to have Mass with those of the North and recieve the Eucharist, a sign of unity. With the grace of God and the intercession of the Blessed Mother we will see a new era in Korea, brothers and sisters living in peace.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Sexual Laws Against 'Hit and Run' Irresponsibility

An article in the Catholic Peace Weekly's series on sex education, written by an authority on the subject, considers the issue of 'hit and run prevention'. Recently women groups are petitioning to abrogate the present law which makes abortion illegal and was publicized by the press but little notice was given in the media to a petition which received, in a short period of time, 200,000 signatures. Consequently few are familiar with the movement within society. 

How long should a mother suffer from social prejudice and economic poverty because of the irresponsibility of the father? He presents the Hit and Run, Protection Act of Denmark. In Denmark, a monthly payment of about 600 dollars would be given to a single mother for child support. The father is responsible but if he doesn't give the child support the mother notifies the city and the support money will be given to the mother and the money will be taken from the father's income.

The only way to avoid the payment is to not get involved in the society or leave Denmark permanently.  If a man denies the paternity a DNA test is made to determine the father. In Denmark, men are more careful than women about remaining unmarried. If the 'hit and run' prevention law is implemented in Korea, men will be more responsible in their actions. This is the first step in preventing problems of this type in the country.

The writer mentions how the petition began. It was taken from an interview written up in a newspaper.  A 17-year high school student mentioned in her Twitter account that when she knew she was pregnant she notified her boyfriend who told her the relationship was dead. She had no choice but to have an abortion. She had just two lines and a picture which was picked up in cyberspace and was the motivation for the petition.

Even those women who were for the abrogation for the law against abortion have shown approval for the 'Hit and Run Protection Act'. Many so-called pro-choice were supportive of the Protection Act for common sense showed that protection of life against abortion was recognized as possible and not ethical coercion. Even though the mainstream media did not help and the movement did not use a great deal of the media many netizens were sympathetic with the purpose of the petition and joined the other 200,000.

The response to the petition from the government left much to be desired according to the writer. They were responding positively to the support and raising the money given but seemed to ignore the law similar to one in Denmark. The petition was to hold the father of the child responsible by law and this was not responded to. The staff took a welfare approach towards the issue and was not seen as a justice issue. The 17 National Assembly discussed the issue but here against it was support of the unmarried mother and failed to pass.

Can we eradicate other sexual violence, ignoring the responsibility a man has to the girl or women they have made a mother? Sexual violence will not be solved without this issue being solved. It is a brutal violence, betrayal of a woman and passing the pain on to the children.

He concludes the article by asking women's organization to actively participate in the enactment of laws against sexual irresponsibility. The different political parties and women organization have not made much of the petition for the 'hit and run' prevention law. In the situation where abortion is forced due to socioeconomic reason, this law would help greatly. If women are to have genuine self-determination women's group should get behind the enactment of the 'hit and run law'.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Priest Who Reads

A parish priest writing in the Catholic Times tells the readers of a dinner he had with a group of parish leaders. One was a physician who worked in the radiology department of a large hospital. He told the group of a strong desire to make a presentation the next day in a seminar but wasn't able to bring his thoughts together in his mind. The priest hearing the words remembered a book  "Nagasaki's  Song" (2005) in which  Dr. Nagai Takashi appeared. He was a doctor who worked in the radiology department of a Nagasaki hospital in Japan at the time of World War II. He suffered from leukemia as a result of his exposure to radiation.

He was a Catholic who contributed to world peace by writing to many people while living as a victim of the bombing. The parish leader hearing the story of Takashi was pleased and thought it a  good item for the seminar and said he would buy the book.

One of the priest's roles is to teach through the liturgy, scriptures, and encounters and to be attentive to the signs of the times. A fundamental part of learning is reading. A good leader is a good reader.  A priest who reads will give the joy and enlightenment of the faith gained from his reading to the  Christians.

Recently there is an increase in the number of parishes that regularly introduce devotional books to the believers through the parish bulletin. Believers are very receptive to books recommended by the parish priest. The writer mentions that he recommends a book to the parish every two months thru the parish bulletin.

Rather than just asking the individual to read he will every Thursday morning at the Mass cover the contents of a book in his sermon at the Mass. Not only those who have read the book but the others are able to understand have the  same feelings that he had in reading the book.

A more important reason for reading is the current crisis in the Korean Catholic Church. The church has had a remarkable quantitative growth with 5,813,770 believers—11 percent of the population. However, sacramental and group activities and religious education are decreasing along with secularization and middle-class orientation of the church. It is a time for a new evangelization and spiritual maturity of the faithful.

Efforts to expand the spiritual reading culture within the church will help many believers to fill their spiritual emptiness and dryness and to taste the oasis of grace and lead the church members to a path of repentance and renewal.

Priests have a great influence on believers and should play a leading role in spreading a spiritual reading culture among the Christians. The patron saint for parish priests is John Marie Vianney who was a spiritual book reader leading him to deep reflection,  contemplation, and prayer. He has been criticized for his appearance and ignorance but he was not an ignorant priest. He knew the saints, used this knowledge in his sermons and teaching and made up for his lack of theological knowledge with his reading. 

If a layperson doesn't know what to give a priest as a gift, don't hesitate to give him a book, after prayers, it would be the best gift that you can give him.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A World Without Masks

In recent years the air we breathe has been a concern for many. You walk the streets of any big city and you will see citizens wearing masks. The problem is the fine dust and yellow sand which pollutes the air. Alerts for dangerous air conditions are made frequently. 

When the children complain of itchy eyes and runny noses parents are concerned. The government is also concerned but the efforts are little and results scarce. Education authorities have started some independent policies, ordering the students to wear masks and keeping them inside when the dust particles exceed the dangerous level. Parents and experts are to keep an eye on dust levels and to install purifiers in classrooms.

For many years the problem seemed to be mostly from China with the yellow dust from the Gobi desert and pollution coming in from the Chinese cities. Recently, however, the expert opinion says a great deal of the pollution seems to be homegrown. 

An article in a diocesan bulletin adds a few particulars to the problem of the air we breathe. A university professor tells the readers that in his classroom almost half the students are wearing masks and some wear hats. This makes it difficult to recognize the students.

In the recent past when a student wore a mask he thought it was a sign of a cold the wearer was fighting and showing concern for others but he realized those with colds were few. Also when the alert was not high the number wearing masks stayed the same. He learned many of the students were busy with their studies, had part-time work, tired and were resting from cosmetic concerns by wearing the masks.

Everybody likes to give a good impression to others with their appearance. However would it not be a great blessing if we could face others as we are without any discomfort? Eye to eye contact with a smile on our face wouldn't that bring happiness to our lives? Wearing a mask at times not only covers our face but our hearts.

The writer would like to have a society without masks except for serious colds and dangerous air pollution,  otherwise to live without masks. 

Masks, as we know, can metaphorically speaking be produced from the insides. These kinds of masks are more harmful to our mental health. With time these masks are harder to remove and make us inauthentic, and concerned with unnecessary matters. Transparency is a great gift—openness to others as we are to God. A great blessing we can dream to one day possess.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Elders Need Not be a Burden

An article in the Peace Weekly by one of the reporters reminds the readers that the senior members of our society are not a burden but give strength and goes ahead to give examples.

A month ago a member of a public agency asked who will become the new Korean amateur singing contest host after the present one leaves. Since the board of directors was changed many thought there would be change. Some names were considered but at the end, they decided to continue with the man who has been the host for 38 years.

Mr. Song was born in 1927, is 91 years old and most of his contemporaries have either died or are in nursing homes. In Korea, they say even mountains and rivers change in ten years during his time they have changed four times. He still continues singing and dancing with the young people all over the country.

Professor Kim was born in 1920 and is now 98 years old and still active as an honorary professor at Yonsei University in the philosophy department. In a recent interview, he said that he gave 165 lectures in 2017. It is not easy for a young man to lecture this often but the professor who is close to a hundred still travels around the country giving lectures almost every two days. He continues to write and publish his books and has an extraordinary memory.

This is not of course only true of Korea. Just last month at 92 Mahathir in Malaysia was elected the world's oldest sitting head of government. Even more surprising is the drive and determination of Prime Minister Mahathir. Not long ago he said he would review the East Coast Railway project which was part of China's silk road business. He intends to prevent the Chinese influence from growing excessively.

These three men are all over 90 years old, an entertainer, a professor, and politician. All three men are not living in the past but the present and looking forward to the future. Those who are in their eighties who exercise and those who don't we see a big difference says Professor Kim, who is famous for telling those in their sixties to exercise.

In Korea, the number of elders keeps on increasing and poverty is a problem with many of the elderly. Confucianism still remains a strong influence and respect for the elderly is a strong value in society, however, they are often put on a pedestal, respected but want them to stay there. Young people feel more so than in the past that the elders are taking their jobs and they will be responsible for their health care and pensions. 

A society where seniors would not be a burden but strength is something to be strongly desired. When we see the vitality and exuberance of both the young and old that should give us joy and when the ways of the world seem to fan the negativity and frustrations of life we should be embarrassed.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Singapore Summit on June 12

War has stopped on the peninsula but peace has not begun. The sound of the cannon isn't heard but they have not been removed. We still have infiltrations, attacks and sunken ships that have continued for many decades. With these words a journalist for the  Catholic Peace weekly expresses his hope for the  June 12 summit.

Calm presently in the trenches, we do not call it peace but a point between war and peace. The ceasefire is not the end of the war but a period of rest. If one side feels the need we have a flare up, consequently, always on the watch and strengthening each's capabilities. Nuclear weapons and missiles, fighter planes and underground operations continue, the arms competition is another war.

However, even with these conditions flowers continue to bloom. Birds still fly over the rusty barbed wire. The children who played in the alley grew up without knowledge of the history of the truce and they are now in their sixties.

Is peace finally coming to Korea? The two leaders of the two Koreas professed in the 'Panmunjom Declaration' that there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula, and a new era of peace has opened to the 80 million people of Korea and the world. Only the wind knows what transpired on that day in the demilitarized zone but it gives the nation hope during this springtime. Will peace come to the land?

The road will not be easy. It has been a series of reversals and deviations, excitement and disappointments, shock and relief. One step forward and two steps backward. The road ahead is still long and not over until the end. There are reefs and ambushes all over the way to peace. Meeting is easy, agreement is difficult; carrying it out still more difficult.

Declaring the end of the war is one thing, guaranteeing the peace is another. We desire friendship and cooperation—laying down the weapons and finding a way for mutual prosperity and well being. "They will hammer their swords into plowshares, their spears into sickles" (Isaiah 2:4). This is true peace.

Violence and oppression are also possible in achieving order. Control by force can also maintain order over disputes, however, living with this kind of threat is not peace. With fear and insecurity, we have a false peace a lie that will quickly break down.

Peace is not just the absence of war, not a balance between hostile forces nor the results of total domination. Peace is the result of justice. Strategy and tactics do not lead to peace. Shaking hands with unjust power is not peace. True peace comes from the heart. Without trust, peace cannot be rooted. 

Self-righteousness and rejection harm peace. Therefore peace is always imperfect and scarce in the world. True peace is a grace, it comes with prayer. Without a commitment to humanity and the common good, peace does not come. Peace is love, justice, and goodness.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Middle Class Lifestyle

What do we mean by the middle class? The dictionary says the middle class is the group generally considered  between the upper 20 percent and the lower 20 percent. Some define the middle class by income, others by lifestyle and others say it is a  state of mind. In Korea the present thinking would be a family with an apartment of about 30 square meters, without debt, a person making about 5 thousand dollars a month, a bank balance of about  100,000 dollars and a medium-sized automobile so begins an article in the Catholic Times on social issues by a priest.

There is in fact no absolute standard for the middle class. Hearing the above most of us  will feel very much not part of the middle class; is it not only a material  understanding of  middle class? It's the attitude of the person that's important—socially and culturally comfortable with the situation in which they find themselves.

Other countries have a different understanding of middle class. By American standards one should feel comfortable in society, able to help the weak, resisting illegal and unjust practices, able to receive criticism on a regular basis. England in addition to the above, fair play and not acting selfishly. In France it is another language besides your own, possessing a musical instrument, participating in sports and eating a variety of food. The meaning of middle class is different from the Korean understanding. Why is that? It emphasizes more than money, social participation and a way of life.

Young Koreans are more and more resembling the middle class of other countries. Money is not  everything. How much money is enough?  How much money is necessary to be rich? At one time it was a million now it may be a billion. Rich is good, right? Everybody wants to be rich. In the old days a rich man was one who had a thousand bags of rice or the greater rich person with 10,000 bags of rice.

In the Scriptures we hear that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. It would be unfair if one could not go to heaven because of wealth. We are not talking about money made with crime but those who use their heads and work hard to make what they possess. We know it is not the material goods that are the problem but the way we possess them. If they possess us we are closing the door to what God wants to give and that is a tragedy. All is possible with God.

The disciples who heard these words of Jesus were confused and embarrassed. They were after all following Jesus hoping to do well for themselves in a material way. It was only later that their eyes were opened. Their motivation for following Jesus was not in the beginning altruistic which was the reason for the confusion from the words heard. Who can be saved? They questioned.

Salvation is not something that is bought with money nor power. It is only possible with God's love. The writer expands the meaning of the passage to include all those who interfere with God's plans for humanity. 

Not long ago a Research Institute published a report on the rich in Korea. According to the report a rich person was one who possessed over a million dollars in cash that he could use at will and his net worth was over 11 million dollars. Most of us are not rich but that doesn't prevent us from living the good life which is not dependent on the number of material goods but on the quality of our life.