Thursday, December 31, 2009
Someone asked me how we celebrate the solar New Year in Korea. The Koreans like many others in the Orient, if Catholic celebrate the New Year on three different occasions. The Catholics start the liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent. Then as a world citizen they celebrate the solar New Year and finally they celebrate the new year that really counts, the lunar New Year. There is no red letter day for Advent, only one red letter day for Jan. 1st but for the lunar New Year they get 3 red letter days. This year it falls on the 14 of Feb. which happens to be a Sunday.
Tomorrow we will celebrate the coming of the solar New Year with a Mass in the morning . Jan. 1st is the feast day of Mary, Mother of God and World Peace Day for the Catholics beginning the new year. The Koreans use the word 'Pok' (Blessing), very often during this time of the year and more so at the lunar New Year.
This is the year of the tiger even it doesn't start until Feb.14th, the lunar New Year. It will be the year of the white tiger or the metal tiger. In the Korean traditional Chinese calendar there is a cycle of 60 years which would be like our century. The name of each year has the name of one of the 12 animals and one of the 10 heavenly stems, in combination they give each year of the cycle a different name.
'Pok' is a word with much meaning and all good. It can be considered blessings of a material kind but also of a spiritual nature. The word that we used for blessing in our Korean New Testament in Ephesians 1:3 is 'pok': "Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens." We are asking as Christians to have others blessed in every way with our greetings at this time of year. The ideogram you have on the top left is the Chinese for blessing; on the left side of the character you have the heavens sending us blessings, one of our big material blessings is to have enough on our tables to eat: the right side is an open mouth and a field from which the food comes.
A Blessed New Year and many blessings during the days to come and always.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Before Christmas there was an interview in the Chosun Ilbo with Rev. David Yonggi Cho who is the pastor emeritus of the largest Church in the world , the "Pure Gospel Church" known in English as the Full Gospel Church. He is known as the pastor who started with a handful of Christians and raised the number to 780 thousand . He has consistently refused to be interviewed but he did accept this invitation and spoke passionately about his work.
He mentioned his early years of poverty and also his bout with tuberculosis. When he started his ministry he mentioned he was dealing with very poor people. The interviewer asked him, outside of the help of the Holy Spirit, what did he attribute his success; Rev. Cho thought it was hope. He did not talk about heaven or hell but emphasised courage and hope in their lives. These poor people were not able to go to church with the rich but they were able to receive courage and hope which encouraged Rev. Cho.
He mention that he was not conscious of the growth of the Church in the beginning. Many of the women area leaders were the ones who brought in the numbers. He was asked about the criticism he received about his ministry of healing and speaking in tongues. He has been criticised continually for 50 years for having heretical views, now that he is retired he is no longer troubled with the criticism. He has been personally criticized for moral lapses, for his son's problems, for the way he has run the Church, money matters and for his theology.He admits it was difficult but it has not stopped the growth of the Church.
He describes his life and that of Korea as a miracle: "This has been true of me and of Korea. I was diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis and was able to do what I did, Korea itself after the Korean War was in a primitive state of poverty and today we are doing very well."
Rev Cho has had many trials but never lost hope.
The Christians were looking at him and when he was tempted to lose hope he preached to himself to have courage and try to see things positively. He says after Billy Graham he has possibly traveled to more places to preach than anyone else.
There is no question that he is a very charismatic person and has been able to bring Jesus to many here in Korea. He has been criticised by many especially among the Protestants for his understanding of Christianity. The Catholics do not seem to be as vociferous in criticism but not because they are in sympathy with the teaching. He is preaching the gospel of health and prosperity; the cross and justice issues would not be transparent in the teaching. This is an easy sell and has been very successful, but we are dealing with a history of about 50 years, so the coming years without Rev. Cho at the helm will be very telling.
The Catholic Church in Korea changes pastors at least every 5 or 6 years. This doesn't give any one a chance to become too charismatic and become bigger than the diocese. It probably is a very wise way of dealing with pastoral assignments. The workers in the vineyard are not that important, their work is to lead others to Jesus. The priest, like all those working in pastoral situations, are in the words of St. John the Baptist to become less so the one for whom they are working becomes bigger. The work should never depend on one person no matter how charismatic or talented he may be, this is especially true working as a disciple of Jesus.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Read recently in the Catholic Times, where a group of grandmothers, without fail, would go daily to a large department store and meet at the tea room on the fifth floor. They would all arrive around 11:00 in the morning as if going to their place of work, eat together , drink their tea and spend the time talking until 4:00 at which time, return to their homes. They would be elegantly dressed and one would think they lived comfortable lives.
They talked about their families, daughter-in- laws, son- in- laws, the grandchildren, their dreams and other sundry topics but this eventually came to an end and the few that continued to show up would just stare intently at each other's face with no laughter or anger, in silence with nothing to say.
You would think that if they had nothing to say they would stop coming, but no they were happy just to stare at each other. The group, according to those that were familiar with the situation, started out with 7 but the numbers decreased until you only had two coming out and they would spend the time gazing at one another. The writer mentioned, in a way it was very sad, but also at the same time beautiful. They were all in their eighties and at that age it was not easy to keep active; it was probably an attempt to forget their pain.
The older one gets, it is a blessing to enjoy the company of others but for good health, it is also necessary to find some way to entertain oneself. She would recommend writing your own life story to leave with the family. It would not be important to have it well written but each page would be unique to you. It would also make the years ahead more significant and a great gift and example to the children.
In the retreats we make, on occasions, we are asked to write a 'life line' of important events that we remember from our earliest years. It would be in chronological order from the earliest memories that we have. For a religious person it is a way to see how we are being led by God. It can help to focus us on where we are now in the journey of life. To write an autobiography sounds intimidating but it would be a 'life line' with a lot of fill in, a great hobby and a wonderful gift to leave the family.
Monday, December 28, 2009
This following post is taken from the Korean Internet: how Koreans see themselves and think others see them.
A developed country that is not in the first ten and yet heaps abuses on other countries.
Death from cancer, the consummation of liquor, the import of Western liquors, traffic accidents, incidents of our young people smoking, all kinds of government debt, gets us listed in the first three places in world ranking and we can't move out.
The Korean potential for economic growth has made the Jews and the Japanese seem lazy.
The Korean students have been in the top of their classes in first class colleges of the world and have placed if not first in the World Skills Competition, 2nd or 3rd.
A country that enjoys a culture of eating hot spicy food.
Although a small country they have produced many talented people.
A country that doesn't known the names of their soccer players and yet had 700 thousand come out on to the streets.
Although we don't have the power or strength we are always ready to challenge.
A country that was able at the time of the IMF economic crisis to rebound within two years.
The offspring of nomadic people but are leading in the world of Information Technology and Communication.
The only country in the world that is divided.
One of the few countries in today's world with a monoculture.
A country that spends more money than any other country on the elements of English teaching and is the 1ooth in the ability to speak
A country that has children go to school at 7:40 am and stay to 10 pm and 11:00 pm for many years on end and can continue to do so.
A country that loves their children like no other.
The more expensive an item is the more they buy
The 88 Olympics and 2002 World Cup have made Korean known.
Those running the government cry we will be ruined , ruined, and we are not ruined thanks to the great endurance of the people.
A people who study English for 10 years and can't say a word in English to a foreigner.
A people who enjoy systematic violence in their movies
Rather than the development of cosmetics, cosmetic surgery is developed.
A dynamic country whose people feel that the next year will be better than the present year.
An egoistic people who feel they are the best.
Sexual crime cases are the worst in the world and the country does little to educate concerning sex.
A people that believes the person with the loudest voice wins.
This is not an objective sociological look at the Korean way of life and flawed in many ways. It was good for laughs, was a response. There are some facts listed but not many. I believe it was a response to an Internet question that made the rounds. The Koreans in this group at least could laugh at themselves.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Today is Holy Family Sunday; the chairman of the the bishops' committee for family life in his message for all the Catholics gave his attention to the Sacrament of Matrimony. The Korean Church has a week set aside for the sanctification of the family. It begins on Sunday the 27th and continues to Jan. 2nd.
Korea has arrived at point where we are following the rest of the Western world in areas that up to a few years ago the Korean culture was able to keep the family life strong and where Catholicism felt right at home. Today the young are delaying their marriages: they do not have the money, no steady employment, they have yet to find their place in society, and they have an easy, open way of looking at marriage. Artificial birth control puts off having children until they feel ready. There are many marriages between people of different cultures and the marriage between Catholics and non-Catholic is on the increase, sacramental marriages are decreasing.The thinking among many parents is that they want their children to decide for themselves on their religious beliefs after they grow up. Some even make this a question of human rights. Consequently, they do not feel a need to be overly concerned about their children's spiritual health.
With all these problems it is difficult to decide what to do. The editorial in the Catholic Times and Peace Weekly listed these problems. The need is to see the meaning of marriage in the Catholic context as a start in trying to find a remedy to the many problems facing family life.
What is the meaning of marriage for Catholics? Many enter marriage with no idea of what marriage means but only as a rite they have to pass through to get married. The eternal love of Christ for the Church is the symbol of the marriage covenant between husband and wife. That is why there is no divorce in Catholic thinking. It is impossible to see Christ separating from the Church and that is the same thinking that the husband and wife should have of their commitment to each other.
If the thinking now going around, in some parts of the community of believers, is to let the children decide what they want to believe, we have a sure sign that many are not fully convinced what they have is a good for the children or even of great value to themselves. Is it any wonder that those Catholics who marry are no different than the majority of the Koreans.
The bishop did make a plea to accept those who are marrying into a different culture to be kind and warm in greeting them when they come to the Church. The number of international marriages in Korea has topped the 10% line and of these over 11% end in divorce. They have their own problems to solve.
The bishop concluded: "When Christian spouses understand the proper meaning of marriage and do their duties on the basis of it, the anti-life culture which threatens the marriage and family can be overcome."
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The Cardinal of Seoul Cheong Jin-suk has just published his new book of essays on Catholic teaching: "From the Hill of Pouring Sunshine". The Seoul Cathedral is on a hill, Myong Dong, which over looks the city of Seoul. The Cardinal, besides being the Catholic Ordinary of Seoul, is a scholar and has written and translated many books during his years of priesthood.
He wrote his first book of essays in 1969: "Shepherd's Song", this second book, after 40 years, is to remember his mother's 100th year of birth. He has over the years published his books around his Christian name day, St. Nicholas' feast day, Dec. 6th. He hopes to be of some help to the Christian's spiritual life. In the introduction to the book he writes: "We see the rough outlines of truth as in a deep fog, my heart's wish is to be a friend in words, to help those who are interested in progressing in the search for a better understanding and clarity of these truths."
To those who feel that God is not listening to them in prayer he gives the example of a radio. "If we want to hear God's whispers we have to turn on our heart's radio receiver and raise the volume and be on the right frequency with the message of love being sent."
The Cardinal has been writing and translating since 1955 and turns out one or two books every year. It is one of his hobbies, it is difficult but he finds peace and quite devoting himself to the writing. He often gets up at around 3:30 or 4:00 am and writes before his work day begins.
This year the Cardinal in his Christmas Message wants us to reflect on making material goods the center of our lives. He said: "today our society's greatest single problem is being overcome by the centrality of the material; it is making all the other values powerless. Our life should be directed to the important values of the mind and spirit." This is a message that will be made in one way or another in most parts of the West.
Cardinal Cheong is now 78 years old and his year of retirement has past. By church law one is required to submit his resignation to the Holy Father at 75 but he does not step down until it is accepted by the pope. The Ordinary of a diocese has as his first duty one of teaching and Cardinal Cheong does this not only in the administrating of the Diocese but also in the teaching through books. May he have many more years of publishing before and after retirement.
Friday, December 25, 2009
The shepherds were the first to encounter our Lord. They were the the 'nobodies' of that society.Their life was not one of hope but pessimism, they saw no way of ridding themselves of their fate. They were led to the stable and meeting Jesus they received great joy and a new life. A new meaning to what they were doing.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. (Isaiah 9:1)
The second group who met our Lord where the Magi. They were in search of truth, the true light of life. They strived all their life to find it and were left with dryness.They were forever in search. One night they saw something they new was different and they followed it to find Jesus. They had difficulties on the journey in following the star. They went to the King for help, and with the help of the learned of that society they resumed their journey.The Star appeared again and led them to Jesus. With great joy they returned to their homeland.
The journey of the wise men is our journey. Some times we have the sparkle of light in our lives but it disappears.We have doubt and skepticism enter and we hesitate on our way. If we continue with others and make the effort, the star will again appear.
The next to meet our Lord were the two old people in the temple. Simeon and Anna. They were old and their bodies were giving them trouble. They did not have what they wanted they were also searching for the light. Simeon took the child Jesus in his arm: "Now , Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace; you have fulfilled your word. For my eyes have witnessed your saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see..." (Luke 2:29)
The Gospels have many stories of people in darkness meeting our Lord and leaving with great light and happiness. We try to reflect the light that we have received and make it shine on those that we come in contact, bringing joy into their lives, especially those on the fringes. A Blessed and grace filled Christmas.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Some years ago this Christmas story was retold by the pastor of the parish in which a grandmother named Martha gave the Christmas sermon. She was over seventy and lived most of her life as a farmer.What follows is an account of her Christmas sermon written up in the Pastoral News letter by the pastor of the parish.
Martha was married to a poor farmer. They lived in a rented room of a farm house. Martha was pregnant and coincidentally, so also was the woman of the house. They were both to give birth the same month. Superstitiously, if two babies were born in the same house it was believed that one would die so the owner of the house asked Martha to leave until the baby was born. It was the month of December and very cold. Her unfortunate circumstances were for her almost too hard to accept. Embarrassed, and not able to find another house she found a shabby stable and that is where the child was born without the help of a midwife. The labor pains were such that she lost consciousness.
After some time,when she regained control of her senses, she felt something leaning on her and turned around to see an ox. She pushed the ox away but it came back leaning on Martha's back, and giving her heat. Martha thought that the ox was commiserating with her condition. The baby not able to overcome the cold seemed to be dead and she blamed her poverty. She took the baby and went back to her rented room. The heat of the house was enough to bring the baby back to consciousness. This is the story that Martha gave on that Christmas Evening. (This account happened after the Korean War when life was quite different from the Korea of today)
The baby grew up and has become a mother she is the director of the parish kindergarten. She sang that evening in the choir. Her daughter, Martha's grand daughter, was the accompanist and her grandson, the altar boy at Mass.
The priest mentioned in the recounting of the Christmas Story he doesn't feel moved by the events of the first Christmas because of the rich life style that we are living. Poverty is hard to understand unless you have lived it. The story of Martha was helpful in seeing the first Christmas in a new light. Yes, Jesus was born in a stable 2000 years ago.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
A large part of the Catholic Church in Korea is on record in being against the Four River Project that has been started by the government. There is a great deal of controversy and the country is lining up in camps for and against.
The project got started last month, an attempt to remake the four longest rivers in Korea: the Han, Nakdong, Yeongsan and the Geum. The project is to control flooding and improve quality and supply of water and build new tourist attractions along the waterways besides giving work to many for years to come.
The project will cost $ 19.2 billion dollars. Those who are opposed see it is an ecological disaster. The Catholic movement against the project sees many problems and does not believe it is well conceived. The government did have a plan to build a canal to Pusan that was dropped because of the opposition of the people and many feel the Four River project is a copy of this canal project.
The editorial in the Peace Weekly mentions what the government is saying about the project is not straightforward, verification of the feasibility studies are not known, the opinion of those opposed to the project have not been studied, and the basic itemized cost is not known by the public.
The Church has made clear they are not opposed to human development and good use of natural resources but desire the use of God's creation in a mutually benefiting way, resulting in harmony in the development. Human greed and the principle of economics first, without sufficient reflection, is not in harmony with the Creator and his Providence.
The editorial ends mentioning that one of the reasons for the controversy over the Four River Project is distrust of the government. If this project was truly for the good of the people and the country as the government stated, then even though it would take time, an attempt should have been made to persuade public opinion for the project and get the citizenry on board.
The Bishops of Korea have made this point a number of times before. The government does little in considering the people as educated and entitled to know why a project is deemed necessary and helpful to them and the country. It is top down.The government knows best and goes its merry way. This can also be the way in many other areas of Korean life and is not infrequently found in the Church.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The editorial in the Catholic Peace Weekly lamented what the Korean Health and Family Welfare Department found in its 2009 report. In 2005, unmarried men who said they plan to get married was 82.5% in 2009, it went down to 75.7%; for women it was 73.5% and went down to 73.1%.
The average age of men marrying in 2005 was 31.8, in 2009 it was 32.1; for women in 2005 it was 29.7 and in 2009 it was 30.6. The men in 2005 who said children were important 54.2%, it went down to 24.3% in 2009; women went from 42.1% to 24%. Only one in four want children.
What was evidenced in the survey was that the families with the larger monthly income have less of a desire for children. It was suggested that they want to educate their children well and the expense is too much for their income, and so the desire to forgo children.
To change this trend means there has to be a movement against avoiding marriage and marrying late. The editorial stressed the understanding of family life has to change . The young people have to understand the importance of family life.
This is a strange development in Korean life in a very short period of time. The editorial ends with a quote from Pope John Paul's Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio #14: "Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother."
Monday, December 21, 2009
Democracy is new to Korea and they have come a long way in a very short time. The interest in government and what is going on is minimal: interest is on what will benefit the individual, family or the area? The idea of the common good is still not part of the vocabulary.
There was an opinion piece in the Chosun Ilbo where the writer expressed his dismay on the many disputes on projects that have been started by the government and the lack of ethical standards and moral sensitivity on these issues.
There is the usual deploring of problems: North and South, East and West, black and white, left and right, men and women... and no way out of the impasse. The writer says Germany was able to find a third way of acting. They were able to find a way to unite. He blames the Koreans for not understanding the problems they have and failure to come to some understanding of them in their own minds.They keep on looking at the government to solve the problems and do not see where their responsibilities are in these matters.
He concluded much is made about the inequality of educational opportunities but those who speak this way continue to send their children to private schools and overseas for graduate studies. This he feels is speaking out of two sides of the mouth: it is lying and phony.
What one can not do is asked of another. To criticize another for lack of virtue that one doesn't have, is cowardice. In a word he sees hypocrisy at work and this is doing damage to one's true self.
My reading of the article was that he was hoping Korea would come to a way of acting the Germans have made their own, thanks to Hegel. He would see differences evolve to a third way, after discussion and compromise. It is a dream that worked in Germany which he feels was a polarized country.
The article doesn't add much to the discussion on how to get people to agree. There are too many who are interested in their own personal needs and find it difficult to break out of this self imposed confinement. Much of the blame should be with the past and present governments. This is a reason the bishops and many priests have difficulty with some of the recent activities of the government: the government's interest in material development at the expense of the poor, without any efforts to persuade the citizens of the rightness of their projects.
In a recent editorial in the Catholic Times: "starting from the president there has to be an openness to the country and the people. The very meaning of the word 'president' signifies a chairperson, one who works to unify and balance the different opinions and claims. We have learned from our history, without communication, let alone harmony we will never proceed even one step forward. This is the time to humbly listen to the wishes of the people and with a humbler attitude to walk with the citizens."
Sunday, December 20, 2009
It is known that in the invasion of Korea in 1592 the Japanese brought back to Japan many Koreans some of whom entered the Catholic Church. Totus Tuus websiste has a good introduction to this period.
In 1862, 26 Japanese martyrs were canonized, in 1867, 205 martyrs who died during the years 1597 to 1637 were beatified. In 1981, 16 martyrs were beatified and in 1987 were canonized, just last year 2008, 188 companion martyrs were beatified in Japan.
In the years from 1597 to 1637 there were known to be 13 Koreans who died as martyrs in Japan and now they have discovered two more to add to the list. According to some documents in 1594 there were about 2000 Korean Christians in Japan. In 1610 the Koreans had a Korean Church in Nagasaki.
The Peace Weekly had an article on the finding of two more Koreans in the list of Japanese martyrs by a Korean Sister who is working in Nagasaki. She received help from many to help her work with the documents and gave the results to the the archbishop of Nagasaki who told her to make the results known to the bishops of each country. Those who know some of the history of the Korean Catholicism in Japan feel that there are more to be discovered in the coming years.
The martyrs of Japan are considered to have been killed in the cruelest possible ways and some would say crueler than the early Christians and the martyrs who were killed in Korea. We do have martyrs in this age but at least its seems some of the cruelty has been mitigated. Possibly a sign that we have been sensitized in some way to the dignity of humanity.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
capsicum (an extract from peppers) plaster (PAS) treatment for medical problems. They gave me a demonstration of the possibilities for treatment putting a very small half inch square patch of capsaicin on different parts of my arms and face. The thinking of those who use acupuncture is that in our bodies there is the flow of energy (Ki) and if the Yin and Yang is not in balance things will not be right. Working with these points that relate with different organs they try to get the (Ki) to flow correctly. These women were using the same points used for acupuncture but with the small patches at these points.
In Korea acupuncture was in the past the first method of treatment for many ailments. There was a development to hand acupuncture (needles in the acupoints of the hand), moxibustion (heat in these same points ), acupressure ( pressing these points), and now according to these woman a non invasive way with no bad side effects by using hot PAS patches on the meridian points.
It is very inexpensive for with a package of PAS, cut up into small one half inch squares, you have enough small patches to last you for over a year. I have seen these small patches on the hands of many of our Catholics but now I know what they signify. If I knew the meridian points that relate to the different organs of the body I would know what ails them.
There are many alternative ways of dealing with medical problems in Korea. Some of them are harmless but the medical profession would see some of them as harmful for they keep the person from going to a doctor when something could be done and medical remedies prescribed.
Despite all the years I have been in Korea not once have I been treated with acupuncture. I do not like anything which I think is invasive. When you get sick and are in a doctor's care that thinking is forgotten. The ladies left me a package of capsicum PAS and the next time I get a plugged nose I will be using a couple of those patches.With this kind of treatment for a head cold there is little that I would find objectionable. Before they left they did mention that I have to believe in the effectiveness of the procedure; acting on that suggestion if there is good results, I will never know if it is the hot patch or the placebo effect.
Friday, December 18, 2009
The word 'inculturation' has been used for many years in what is seen as trying to adapt the Church to the culture. The word used in Korea is made with the characters: becoming like the earth- to indigenize, to adapt to the culture. This is a very difficult subject, how much and where, are questions that are are not easily dealt with; there are many problems and disagreements on what is acceptable.
The Catholic Times in an articles on academic awards had some interesting opinions expressed by the recipients. The Sister who received the primary award said that when she entered her community she had in her bag along with the Scriptures , the Analects, Lao Tzu, and the Book of Changes. The Sister said that her dream was to graft onto Christianity the spirituality of the East that would enrich both of them.
After graduating from Harvard, receiving a doctorate in Comparative Religions, she assumed a teaching role and continued the study of inculturation. She has written much on Christian understanding of the Analects of Confucius and Lao Tju's teachings. She is now working on the Book of Changes. She received much strength and insight from these three classics and has expressed this in her writings.
She believes that the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu is a rough sketch for spirituality of the 21st century. "We should take from the area of abundance and add it to the place of need," this she feels goes right along with the central teaching of the Social Encyclicals. She reflects on the three treasures from Lao Tzu if we want the blessings of heaven: love, simplicity and humility; this she says is the same as the teachings of Christ which were the foundation of the first community.
In Korea because of the plurality of traditional customs and variety of religions we have a fertile soil allowing us to adapt our evangelization and helping us in our dialogue with other religions. She hopes that with this climate in Korea there will be many theologians who will produce original and beautiful works from the intellectual fertile soil that we have in Korea.
This word inculturation is considered a religious word used much in Catholicism. Jesus in his incarnation came to live with us and is an example par excellence for its meaning. We do not find it easy to inculturate the teachings of Jesus to the many different cultures in which the Church has taken root but it is a work that continues.
The bishop who was present at the ceremonies and gave his impression said that when he was in Rome studying he was asked about the inculturation of the Church in Korea, but all that he had to say was he was " more Roman than the Romans." Embarrassed he he did not know more of his own culture. He thanked Sister for her work in this area.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Is there any National flag that has as much to say as the Korean flag? It has the mysticism of the East and its philosophy in symbols, easily understood with little explanation.
The Korean Flag has the Yin Yang symbol in the Center. The red is the yang and the blue is the yin. A harmony of opposites making one circle. The Yang is the masculine the Yin the feminine, positive and negative, hot and cold, day and night, the harmony of opposites; the Sun seen on the sunny side of the mountain, the shade on the other side. You need both for the whole. They react with each other for harmony and wholeness.
The flag is called 'Tae Keuk Ki" the Tae Keuk means the ultimate, the cause of all things,the Great Absolute in Chinese Philosophy, the source of the yin and yang. The 'Ki' means flag. Christians have no difficulty in seeing this as God.
The trigram on the top left of the flag (3 unbroken lines) symbolize heaven- creativity, firmness. (6 lines on the opposite bottom right) earth- yielding,receptive. (4 lines bottom left) water -profound,meaningful. (5 lines top right ) fire-illumination, intelligence. These trigrams come from the Book of Change.
The white background of the flag is Korea's traditional color. In my first parish I decided to paint the upper part of the walls of the Church a red color that I thought would be a good attempt at inculturation ( becoming more like the Koreans). Well, after painting the Church a dark red I got a lot of bad feedback. They did not like the red it reminded them of a Buddhist temple. So I had to paint the upper wall a brown which they accepted but they would have been pleased if it stayed the plaster white that it was.
Red was not a color that Koreans were attracted to in the past. It is a Favorite of the Chinese and since the Koreans have taken the yin yang thinking from China and the Taoists, it was only right that they accepted their colors; however it was not the color that the Christians wanted on the wall of their church. My familiarity with what I thought was their culture was not that of my Christians.
Korea has a preference for white. In the old days you would see many in white clothes, men and woman, white rice paper for windows and white interiors. The Korean flag has the simple white clean background with which the Koreans can identify easily.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Just recently there was a report in both Catholic papers that the last letter of Saint Anthony Daveluy to the Christians before his death was found.
There were 10 French Bishops and priests who are listed in the Korean list of 103 saints and one of them is Saint Anthony Daveluy. Below is the letter that he wrote to the Christians . It is believed to be a copy and considered to have been censored by those guarding him: the reason for being disjointed and brief.
My beloved brothers and sisters!
I am leaving you now, I ask you to receive with a good heart these words of our Lord in admonition and carry them out earnestly.
Although Iam leaving you I will be thinking of you and miss you dearly, and continually pray for you, be concerned for your spiritual good. Even at a distance I will be with you like a grace in your midst, think of me and do what duty calls for.
After these misfortunes have passed it will be easy to forget, in the midst of these difficulties do not be frightened don't give up hope, do not trust in human help but only trust and plead to God. What you are suffering is for God, God knows it, wait and believe only in his benevolence.
From of old, misfortunes were the spread of Holy Church.
Also Jesus has left us with many words if we think of those words how can it be that we are overcome with worry?
Also in the words to St. Peter, if we for the name of Jesus are abused he told us we will be blessed.
Raise up your hearts, accept all with a sweet a disposition, do not separate from each other, with wise words in action with the virtue of love for God and all persons, even those who are punishing us, let us pray to God for their forgiveness. Do not carry a grudge against the King and his attendants rather accept and serve them. If we do this we will be Jesus' true disciples.
I hope that you will accept these admonitions as given, I will give you all my blessing.
These words in the world that we are living in, seem strange and for some even vulgar. Something has happened to the way we look at evil. I am not sure that the way we see evil is the best way to overcome it.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
In sermons it would be difficult to give credit to all those who have helped in their composition. It is a good thing we need not fear being called a plagiarist. Scripture is the basis but to try to explain it properly there is no religion, philosophy or idea that is out of bounds.
In Korea many ideas have been imported from China and changed by the Korean mores. You have Shamanism , Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity. Many ideas would have been spread by means of books among the educated classes, working their way down to the ordinary citizens by the culture that resulted. Our thinking is formed by innumerable 'downloaded' information.
It is difficult to keep all these movements separated for they have cross fertilized each other over the centuries. Even the scholars agree that some of the Chinese classics attributed to an author are probably anthologies, put together by followers of the different movements.
Catholicism in Korea is considered to have been introduced in the last part of the 18th century by some books that came in from China. It is difficult to reconstruct what happened in the past for each history is written with each historian's personal history.
Confucianism was part of the reason for the quick growth of Catholicism for the belief of an older son or a father would be the means of spreading it to the other members of the extended family. The parts of Catholicism that were egalitarian where attractive to many and aroused an interest in Catholicism, a ferment that preceded the introduction of the Church in 1784.
Catholicism started with scholars and went from there to the poor because of the hope that Catholicism gave them. The books by Matteo Ricci were already known in Korea before 1784 and helped to transmit western ideas. These ideas were in circulation and began to influence the society and culture. The seed had been sown and Koreans were being changed. For a Catholic, the revelation that came with Christ does not change but the way we teach and explain it, can and does. Cardinal Newman said: "To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often." Korea was being changed and continues to change; grace hopefully will be there to help.
Monday, December 14, 2009
There are in the world today, many dioceses, religious orders, lay movements and Catholics, involved in one of the largest networks of hospices, orphanages, clinics for the care of those sick with AIDS. The Catholic Church of Korea is also very much involved in the care of HIV/AID patients. In all there are seven different places in Korea operated by the Church for rest and rehabilitation of those with the disease. The Church is working in a climate not sympathetic to the disease. There are children, young people, women , men, heterosexual and homosexual with the disease, received by sexual contact, by blood transfusions and by needles from drug use.
The editorial in the Peace Weekly mentioned ignorance and misunderstanding, causes a deep rooted prejudice in Korean society, making it impossible even for a person diagnosed as HIV (a person with the virus but not AIDS) to function in society. This means that it remains hidden and does not get the care that will prevent more cases. The facts are a person with the disease, with periodic check ups, and treatment can function in society; that is not the case today in Korea.
For ten years now the Church has with little publicity been involved in the care of AIDS patients. It started when there was a great deal of fear with anything to do with AIDS. There is still a great deal of misunderstanding about AIDS. This is the reason that the Church had difficulty publicising the work with the sick. It is estimated that there are about 6000 people infected with the disease in Korea.
The Church will now take a more active part in trying to change the climate that surrounds the word AIDS. Someone has been put in charge of the Red Ribbon Movement which will incorporate the present works of the Church and look for government help in the future. Korea has a great deal to overcome for the proper understanding of what AIDS is all about but has made big changes in its approach. The Church also will be more involved in educational programs , publicity and helping those who have the virus to function in society. The number of those committing suicide on knowledge of having the virus is extremely high and the reason is that they are treated like those with leprosy in the time of Jesus. There is a hope that the efforts of the Church will be successful.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Cardinal Stephen Kim the archbishop of Seoul died in February, and donated his eyes to help those who can't see. This was picked up by the different media and there was a big jump in the number of those that expressed a wish to donate their organs. It was an increase of 2.4 times what it was last year. A government agency said that so far this year there has been 177,063 donations.
The understanding of Confucianism in Korea in the treatment of the dead is one of the reasons for hesitancy to donate organs. Korea has not kept up with the other developed countries in this area but this is now beginning to change. In the past few years it was only about 80,000 donations a year; this year we have seen the big increase.
The Cardinal's donation and the efforts of religious groups and the government brought about a great leap forward. There has also been a great increase in donations for welfare programs in Korea. The daily newspapers have reported on this recently. Today in all the Sunday Masses we will be taking up a collection for the needy- being Almsgiving Sunday .
One-body One-spirit Movement in Korea arose out of preparations for the 44th International Eucharistic Congress in Seoul in 1989. The movement started with about 3,700 Catholics, including the late Cardinal Kim and his priests, promising to donate their eyes and other organs upon death. This was the first "mass movement" for such donations. This has been a work in progress and has since spread to all the dioceses in the country.
To go to the English web site of the One-body and One -spirit movement click here.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Ahn Jung-geun's assassination of the first Japanese resident-general of Korea, Hirobumi Ito, on Oct. 26, 1909, in China.There is an exhibition in Seoul commemorating the 100th anniversary of Korean patriot Ahn's death.
The works of calligraphy patriot Ahn has left us have been collected and are being exhibited. They show the spirit and the spirituality of a man who loved his country and his God. This is reflected in the topics that he selected for his calligraphy and show why he did what he did. I will list below the English translations of a few that are being exhibited. The first one listed is the translation of the calligraphy on the left.
If I do not read every day I will have thorns in my mouth
If poor not to flatter, if rich not to be proud
A mature person even facing death his heart will be strong as iron, a just person in danger will have the strength of clouds.
One has nothing to discuss with a person who is embarrassed about the rough cloths he wears and the poor food he eats,
Loneliness comes from pride
Be a person of much reading and control the body with proper conduct
Without vision it will be difficult to do great things.
It is the duty of a soldier to give his life for his country
Do not pass your time idly your youthful years will not return
Love yourself like a precious jewel
Be concerned and anxious about the nation and its security
The joy of heaven is forever
The flowers of the field stay the same every year but we change
We have peace in the home with the practice of continual patience
Having all the money in the world is not worth having one disciple
If we do not accept what heaven is giving us we will be open to misfortunes
The ideas contained in the above sayings are part of the wisdom of the East which became part of Ahn's Catholicism. God speaks to us in many different ways and many cultures. "...the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." (Catechism of Catholic Church #36) Confucianism was a great preparation for Catholicism in Korea.
The translation of the above are free translations of the writings; translators often can be considered traitors to the intention of the writers but hopefully these do not deviate that much.
Friday, December 11, 2009
While studying Korean at the Maryknoll House many years ago we received a visit from a political figure. I remember the one word he used with his driver:
'가' (go) without any amenities. It was on the spot experience, hearing a verb form I hadn't heard in speech until then.
Not qualified to speak about the Korean language in any authoritative way I will simplistically express some thoughts on what I feel is going on when Koreans speak to me. Most will use the honorific ending of a verb when they speak . There is an informal or casual verb ending, which was used by women in Seoul, no longer the case. There is also the root of the verb which would be the informal, intimate or familiar, called in Korean pan mal.
Have heard from many quarters it is not polite to use the root of the verb when we address older people: we should use the honorific. In Korea we have the conflict in the eyes of many between your position in society and the respect we should have for others. Social class would allow one form while polite society would expect another: democratization of Korean Society is still in the making.
Our teacher told us to stay away from using the root of the verb, for the intonation that we give it as foreigners, may come across as being rude and arrogant. She recommended the middle form, which is formal (informal) polite in all cases. For a Korean to use the root of the verb with family , friends and children is taken for granted and is expected, very intimate and familiar. However, when someone addresses me with the root of a verb- pan mal, I cringe. Most of the time I suspect it is a sign that they want to be familiar but I am not Korean enough to accept it in that way.
There are many times when someone will tell me to lower by speech since I am using the honorific, I never do. For me the most difficult to relate to, are children, in a group less so than when I am dealing with one or two. In that case they would expect me to speak in pan mal but I can't manoeuvre with that form with any confidence. The politician mentioned in the beginning was using pan mal and the driver had no difficulty with it. Even today pan mal comes as an unpleasant sound to my ears, because I came to the language late in life.
Language is an important part of whom we are. Many of the problems that we have as missioners have to do with language: the intonation is not quite right, meanings not expressed properly, the non-verbal doesn't fit the words used. Koreans are quick to grasp the situation. This makes our life always interesting and gives us plenty of material to reflect on during our prayer life.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Changes in society also bring changes in the way we do mission. In previous times in Korea a missioner came to die before his time. The first years of mission were not welcoming and many joined their Christians in dying a martyr. In recent years we heard the life of a missioner is temporary, flexible and mobile. Here in Korea all the Catholic foreign missioners could leave tomorrow and all would be well. A change in the way we looked at mission was required.
The efforts of foreign missioners is acknowledged and appreciated; the Korean Church will now repay by sending their own missioners to different parts of the world: a sign they can see beyond their own borders.
Looking back on the years of getting acquainted with the culture and the language there are many things I wish I had done. In the beginning there was much work to be done, churches to build, parishes to staff, work was tiring and many didn't find the time necessary for continued study.
During the period of study I wish someone would have made it clear that it would be good to say the breviary in Korean. I suppose using daily prayer as a way of study was not considered proper. Looking back I think that the effort to say the prayers in Korean would have been appreciated by God and the effort blessed. We spend about an hour a day with the breviary and to have worked on that during the period of language study would have been a lesson continued every day of our lives. The words in the psalms would have come into our preaching and we would have a better feel for the books of the Bible.
There are many areas of our life that would have been helped by the input from those that preceded us. Gathering the missionary wisdom of the past would be a great help to those that will follow. In this postmodern age it seems all want to discover for themselves what was discovered in the past. In the formation of those going to another culture as Catholic missioners a 'Great Book' list would help many from repeating the mistakes of the past, overcoming cultural shock, and fill their life with joy. This list of books should be required reading matter for all the Koreans that will be going to other mission countries.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Received two e-mails this past week that gave a teaching lesson from the 'way' of water. One has roots in Lao tzu, embellished by Korea and the other was taken from a Korean poster.
Although water has great strength it is humble and soft and from that we can learn.
Water is adaptable. If we put it in a square container it takes that shape, in a triangular shaped container it will become triangular. In every case it doesn't change its nature but adapts to the situation.
Water has great strength. Depending where it goes: it can make rice grow or slack the thirst of a deer. But it can also on its course break rocks and demolish mountains.
Water always flows from the higher to lower ending up in the wide ocean. Like water, when sociable, adaptable, and accepting, not hesitating but acting bravely before justice, like a rice plant that lowers its head when ripe, we will live with wisdom.
A child in kindergarten on a picnic, asked her teacher: "Why does the stream make a noise when it flows?"
The teacher gave her attention to the stream listening intently, and agreed that the stream was making a noise.
The teacher on her return starting looking at all kinds of books to find an answer. She found that it was the uneven stones in the stream that was causing the beautiful sound.
A beautiful and mature personality also will have the gift of beautiful music with the 'stones' of adversity present in life.
Hopefully, this is the way we will see difficulties.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
In the early days of discovery in Korea someone asked me for my zodiac sign and began counting on his fingers, telling me how old I was. I found this intriguing but didn't have enough language to ask how he did it. In time I did learn he was locating my zodiac sign within the list of twelve and making a calculated guess of my age, which was correct.
The counting starts on the ring finger where the finger joins the hand. It starts with the sign of the rat. From there you move to the middle finger where it joins the hand for ox, the index finger for tiger, on the index finger one goes to the first joint for rabbit, the second joint for dragon, and top of the of the index finger for snake, move to the top of the middle finger for horse, the top of ring finger for ram, the top of the little finger is monkey, the first joint going down is rooster, the second joint dog and where the little finger joins the hand you have pig.
Depending on the year you were born you have a 'Tee'. It repeats itself every 12 years; 2009 is the year of the Ox. It is a 60 year cycle, 10 celestial components are added to each of the 12 signs for a period of 10 years and since you have only 10 celestial signs you begin again with the the last celestial sign again in sequence until you reach the 60th year. In Korea the 6oth year, the hwangap, was an important birthday, few lived to make their 60th year.
When you see the list of the animals and remember your 'Tee' it is not difficult to surmise in some way what some would judge to be compatible and not compatible in marriage and in dealings with others and your relationship with the present sign of the Zodiac.They are quite different from western zodiac signs, easier to figure out and more fun to play with. The ram and ox do appear in the western zodiac, the only place they coincide.
How much of this influences the Koreans is difficult to know, but certainly it is an underpinning of the culture. You see the horoscopes in the daily paper as you do in the West, probably as important or not important as in the West. Christianity in time should be changing this dependence for many.
Monday, December 7, 2009
A 13- year-old Korean girl recently made news for getting a perfect score on the Internet-based T.O.E.F.L (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Reports headlined that the 7th grader at a Seoul middle school studied at home and had never attended "hagwan" (English teaching institutes)
The second place winner is equally remarkable, Chun Hye Kang, a student at Yeongnam International Middle School in Taegu took that prize, It was the first time that a student from a school outside the Seoul capitol city area was so recognized. It heartened English language students, heretofore, seemingly overlooked in national competitions, everywhere.
Chun, who had lived in England from the age of 5 and attended primary grades at a public school there scored full marks in each of the four sections of the T.O.E.F.L: listening, reading, speaking and writing. The youth returned to Korea in 2000 and found himself a stranger. Today he is more comfortable when he thinks in English, which he translates into Korean in his mind.He gives much credit to his school for his success.
The Yeongnam International Middle School where he studies is a Seventh Day Adventist private religious school with a history of educational assistance to Korea. It recognizes that English language teaching must evolve and offers a globalized approach to language education.
The interaction between student and teacher, which is the basis of formation builds in areas beyond rote memorization and contributes to a learning environment.
Chun Hye Kang excels at regional language test competition. Last week on November 25 he again captured 1st place in the Taegu-North Kyeong Sang yearly Provincial English test.
For the future he is interested in all aspects of science and hopes to achieve a place in the nation's scientific future.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
The second Sunday of Advent is the 28th Human Rights Sunday in Korea. Since we are made in the image of God we should have respect for each other and show this in the way we live.
It is an absolute value and sadly to say the Catholic Times editorial says the Church in Korea has at times diluted its meaning.
The editorial mentions the many ways Korean society has trampled on these God given rights. The bishops' Justice and Peace Committee mentioned the indiscriminate plans for development, the Yongsan tragedy, discrimination in the work place, the 4 river development plans: few of the many ways of casting doubt on the dignity of the human person.
Not in an obvious manner, there is an individualism in our society that does not have concern for the weak and searches for its own good. The respect that we have for the weaker members of our society is a good yard stick of our maturity.
Catholics have an obligation to get involved when we see the human rights of the weak being trampled on.
Because human rights are relational, they can come into conflict. One person's right to work could interfere with another's right to a healthy environment. One person's right to private property could clash with another's right to food or shelter. Three (3) principles of Catholic social teaching should govern public decisions in such situations.
1. The needs of the poor take priority over the wants of the rich
2. The freedom of the dominated takes priority over the liberty of the powerful
3. The participation of marginalized groups takes priority over the preservation of a political order which excludes them
The above are taken from Catholic Social teaching. In Korea the ordinary layperson would not have the sensitivity to the plight of the weak and alienated. This is possibly the failure of those in pastoral work to teach but it is also in many cases not an area where the Catholics feel their Catholicism needs to be activated. We have many priests who are active but not all our parishioners look upon that activism with a benevolent eye. It may be a question of degree but the Catholics are not too upset with the problems of our society. After Vatican II, the theologians were discussing whether human rights were essential, constitutive, integral, or a fundamental part of our belief . A great deal of time and effort was expended but what ever name we give it, clearly it is an important part of Jesus' teaching.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Yesterday a beloved Sister poet who is fighting cancer had an essay in the Chosun Ilbo dealing with her plans for the future. She is Sister Claudia Hae-in Lee, a member of the Olivetan Benedictine Sisters of Busan. She finished her chemotherapy and X-ray therapy and hopefully will return to health.
She is a best selling poet and admired by many in and outside the Catholic Church. Having gone through the difficulties of cancer treatment she sees life differently. It was not only her body that hurt but also her spirit. She meant to fight the cancer with a light heart but the spirit was not willing to follow; she was depressed and lonely. " She wants to live like the person who died yesterday, would have desired the next day." With this thought in her head although in pain , all seemed to change. She was beginning to live the first day of her new life. The following 4 paragraphs are the changes she hopes to make.
First, she will have more prayers of thanksgiving for what she has been given than prayers of petition. She will see more things to be thankful for in the time ahead. She will be more conscious of those sicker than she is and correspond and visit with them. Although she will not be of much help she will be able to read their hearts and share this for much personal happiness.
Second, she will see the ordinary things in life as miracles, she will train herself to be surprised, and wonder at all she sees. Every moment of every day is one to be celebrated. She will want to dance.
Third, she will work to have the presence of mind not to be embarrassed at her mistakes and faults and admit them freely. She will also be forgiving of those same mistakes in others and forgive.
Fourth, when angry and hurt she will try not to be agitated and remember that all will pass; accept all with a gentle and a calm mind. With difficult relationships she will remember she is a pilgrim made for eternity. What is it that I can't forgive, I can't understand? With this new outlook the darkness will disappear and her spirit will become bright, peace will embrace her.
This is a brief summary of the essay. I hope it is faithful to Sister's intention. It was a fruitful meditation for me and one I will return to many times in the future.
Friday, December 4, 2009
The new head of Jogye Order, the biggest Buddhist group in Korea with 2,501 temples and 13,860 monks is Ven Jaseung. He has stated that he will work for a revival of Buddhism, the times need and the citizens will support: "make the order more open to the Buddhist community, make plans for providing care for aging monks and nuns, and to increase the scope and awareness of Korean Buddhism in Korea
The day before he was installed as the head of the order he visited St. Joseph's Hospital to give financial assistance. The hospital is administered by the Catholic Church taking care of street people and sick travelers. He made the visit as a sign of willingness to dialogue with other religions and to see what he can learn from them. He envied the work that was being done and will be visiting some of the Buddhist facilities to serve in some capacity.
He mentioned the problems that the Buddhist had with the government last year. Buddhist- like, he said the government did not realize how detrimental their position was to Buddhism. He distinguished civil servants from the government saying the civil servants did not know what trouble they were causing by their favoritism.
He won the election with 91% of the votes. The largest in the history of the order.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
A priest from the diocese of Kwangju has written a dissertation for a master's degree on the happenings in Naju: 'miracles' and 'private revelations' of Kim Julia, written up in this week's Catholic Times. The movement in Naju is still going strong even after the bishop has made it clear that Kim Julia is automatically excommunicated. The shrine is still getting visitors and strange happenings continue. This was the first time in Korean Catholic history that we had an excommunication promulgated by a bishop of a diocese. It is now being spread to non- believers by the proponents of Naju. There are also bishops and priests who continue to be attracted by Naju.
In his dissertation the priest makes clear it is not miracles and healings that constitute Christianity, but through the Cross we search for faith and love in our lives. The priest is the first to write a dissertation on Naju, academically searching for the truth. His keyword was to discern, giving attention to the Scriptures and Church teaching. Catholic Faith is not only a personal stance but public, when we stress our personal experiences and beliefs they have to be judged by the community that is Church.
The phenomena of Naju have never been approved by the Church. Even after the decision of the bishop they have decided to go their own way. They cling to the miracles and private revelations, attached to the sensible and external. He feels it is not only a problem with Naju but with the Korean Church and Catholics.
The efforts to make Catholicism part of the culture gives birth to these abnormalities, irritations that are experienced. The Church has to make an effort to get the followers to come back. He treats the subject of Naju with gentleness.
Naju should not be an incident that we forget or just pass over but a teaching moment for the Church. We should have a white paper on the incident and see it from many different angles with study and debate.
Scripture tells us you can tell the tree by the fruit- the external test of authenticity: is it in harmony with the Church's constant teaching? Are we dealing with maturity, sincerity, obedience and humility? Thirdly, whether the fruits of the Spirit follow- do we see love?
We the Church have to deepen our Faith by getting closer to Jesus and his word instead of looking for external phenomena to deepen faith. The bishops indicated that what we see externally as Catholicism today may not be a true sign of maturity. Externals are not easy to read, and not a good sign of where we are spiritually.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
In Korea the topic was taboo, left for the underground and areas of society that we like to believe do not exist. This is changing with the media giving it attention in recent years and activists who are trying to change the thinking of society to an inclusive and non-discriminatory one. The Catholic Church in Korea does not know yet, how to deal with sexual minorities.
In the States we do have the Dignity Coalition, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics and their families, who seek the church's acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. The Church says no, and proposes Courage International.
In Society today we have the break down of the traditional way of looking at sexuality. Courage International a Christian ministry, ministers to those with same-sex attractions. They are asked to abstain from acting on their sexual desires and to live chastely according to the the teachings of the Church on homosexuality. This is an area that the Church in Korea should take a lead, for the issues will not disappear and those with this orientation should be helped by the Church to live their lives joyfully and with knowledge that chastity is possible. The sexual part of our nature is not all that we are, but only a small part; joy and a full life may be had by living and loving chastely all our sisters and brothers.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Gyodong is an island with a potential for greatness. A bridge is being built that will connect the island with Gangwha and plans have been made to build the world’s largest tidal powered electric plant. When the plant becomes operational –planned for 2015, a 8.3 km long dam will connect four islands: Ganghwa, Gyodong, Seokmo and Seogeom.
Environment groups are opposed for not being useful, and in the process destroying the sand bars. Those in charge of the project agree, there will be some destruction of the environment, but in the long run greenhouse gases will be reduced, the level of the sea will be raised, helping to prevent further destruction of the tidal flats.
Gyodong is the home of many who fled North Korea for freedom during the Korean War. Gyodong their home is only swimming distance away from North Korea, when the tide is out.
This morning a photographer and reporter from the Catholic Peace Broadcasting Station and Newspaper were here to interview members of the congregation, refugees, who have made their home in Gyodong. Each gave an account of their history, with many tears; many pictures were taken. After the discussion, the group went out to a point overlooking North Korea, where a monument was erected with the names of many who left their homes, most from Hwanghaedo. More pictures were taken and more remembrances of their long lost homeland.
This influx of refugees from North Korea has developed the island, the 14th largest island in Korea. In the old days they said the rice produced in Gyodong could feed the whole of Incheon for 5 years. The islanders have suffered a great deal, forced to leave their homes and making Gyodong their second home. The future will be materially prosperous, there will no doubt be a change in the simple ways of the inhabitants and great development, hopefully not all detrimental to the old Gyodong life. Adversity has made them strong and independent, it has been a blessing to work with the Catholics as their pastor.
Monday, November 30, 2009
The Bishops of Korea published their pastoral letters for the new liturgical year. The editorial in the Peace Weekly mentioned the Church has much to be thankful. The Church reached the 5 million mark- from 1995 an increase of 75.4 %, while the other religions have stayed the same or have decreased. This is plenty of reason to take pride in what has been accomplished. A survey taken recently by a Protestant group mentioned that the confidence in the Catholic Church was the highest at 32%.
The editorial mentioned that this may be only our perception and not the actual condition of the Church. This concern is shown in many different areas of Catholic life. The numbers of those active in the Church has not increased, the number of baptisms is down, the religious education programs are not doing well, we are getting older and the participation in society has decreased. The increase of materialism is influencing the Church.
The Bishops see that being immersed in the Scriptures is the way to overcome the onslaughts and challenges coming from globalization. There are many movements in different parts of the Church encouraging and instructing us to live with the Scriptures but this has to be a movement within the whole Korean Church.
There is the possibility of being concerned more with efforts to grow exteriorly, with more and bigger buildings, more activities, better and more successful programs for evangelizing, but if this is not accomplished with a similar efforts at deepening our commitment to Jesus and the life of the Spirit then we will not grow as a community of disciples that will change the world.
The acknowledgment of the possibilities of a fault line in our very quick growth in numbers is a very healthy reminder for more introspection, and efforts to deepen our personal spirituality, parish and home life in the years ahead.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
On the first Sunday of Advent, some years ago, the religious sister working in the parish decorated the front of the altar with a large feed trough used for cows. Up until that day, I did not realize,that the manger we talk about in the Scriptures, is not a stable but a feed box for animals. The word manger for me meant stable in which animals were kept. I understood the whole for the part and was blind to the symbolism that Luke wanted us to see in his retelling of the first Christmas.
From that day, all the parishes where I have been, start off Advent with a big unadorned feed trough in front of the altar. It was embarrassing to have to admit that I did not know that manger means feeding trough. We use the word crib, creche, stable, manger and adorn it in such a way that people like myself do forget what Luke was getting at with the use of the word manger. It was an eye opener to me who should have known better, but I didn't, until sister gave me a Scripture lesson I will not forget.
Luke uses the word manger three times in the retelling of the Nativity; for us Catholics a very telling word for it reminds us that Jesus came to be our food both in Word and Eucharist. From Luke's telling we have as the center of the nativity scene this feed trough and nothing else. It is important to his message and some of us forget the central message distracted with all the other elements that we have added to the Nativity scene. That feed trough draws our attention to the Mass - liturgy of the Word and Eucharist: a symbol of great meaning for us during Advent.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Advertising is a great way to sway public opinion. It works, that is why companies, of all types, spend thousands of dollars to put their products before the eyes of the public. From 1962 the Korean government started convincing the Koreans that there are too many of them in the southern part of the peninsular. The results were spectacular!
After the Korean War in the 1950s the birth rate was 6.5. In 1962 the government with new laws, started pushing to reduce the births. In the old Korea many births were considered a virtuous social act. The government started giving out contraceptive tools and pills at the public health centers, subsidies for vasectomies, permitting abortions even though illegal, benefits for those who participated in the birth control programs with wage benefits, housing privileges and respect from the public. Posters, radio, television electronic signs and every possible public media was in use without much vocal opposition by the general public and churches.
In the '70s it went down to 4.53 per woman. The slogan was: 'irrespective of boy or girl raise two well'. The preferring of son to a daughter began to break down, the birth control mothers group pushed for a 'no birth year' in 1974. In 1978 another drop to 2.83 and in 1980 the slogan was changed: 'two is too many raise one well'. In 1994 the birthrate was 1.59. And the government decides to shift gears and stops giving our free condoms and contraceptive pills but the birthrate continued to drop until Korea has now the lowest birthrate of of 193 countries with 1.2. It was a well organized movement with results that exceeded expectations.
It is sad to see how successful the program was among Catholics, understood to be against artificial birth control.The program to lower the birth rate has over reached its goal and now the government, private groups, churches and even gynecologists are beginning to work together to raise the birthrate.The good life even though it demands the work of two parents has become the goal of many . If this demands fewer children so be it. We have made a society that to raise and educate children demands economic wealth. Will socialism be the answer? Some will not be interested in being taxed to support another person's child. Will the efforts expended increase the numbers? Economics is important and with technology we wont need the numbers and the fewer will make for an easier life it should be an interesting experiment. How much of this thrust will be compatible with Christian thinking remains to be seen but the prospects are not good. The whole movement on the part of the government seems to be motivated by economics, until we start changing the way we understand the meaning of the 'good life' change will not come easy.