Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Korean Comfort Women Issue

Received this letter in the mail this morning telling me about an article in the Korean Times.

In the Sunday edition of the Korean Times for May 24, i.e. the Saturday-Sunday combined edition, there was an interesting article on comfort woman and their history of fighting exploitation. This mirrors very much an article in Mission in the South”…. Check it out here

The Maryknoll Sisters were always active in the plight of these women. The reference is Sharing House, their abode since the 1990s is what I reported in the book."

The following is a paraphrasing of the article from the Book, Mission in the South by Rev. Robert Martin Lilly,M.M. on the comfort woman.

Solidarity with former Comfort Women

The term comfort woman is a euphemism for the Asian women who were forced to become sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army. Battlefront brothels were common in China and Southeast Asia in the 1930s and throughout the Pacific War areas in the 1940s. In April 1988, the issue surfaced in Korea when a Protestant group called Church women United denounced the current sex tourism phenomena saying it was a modern equivalent of comfort women.

In 1990 an elderly Filipina went public with her story. In 1991 women from Korea came forth when as young girls they were forced to serve as sexual objects for Japanese soldiers. Since then the movement for support has gained momentum. Maryknoll Sisters were instrumental in helping the Association of Major Superiors realize that sisters as churchwomen would do well to support the comfort women- which they did.

.A number of organizations Christian and non-Christian are involved in the overall effort. Programs have included an international gathering in Seoul in 1999 and the movie, Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women, produced by a Korean American.

The ninety-minute film traced the abuse and maltreatment the women suffered upon their return home, surprisingly not from Japanese perpetrators but at the hands of their own family, local community and government. It also points up the nonchalance for the the issue on the part of scholars. It was shown in Korea and on PBS in the US in May 2000. This was the first time anything dealing with it appeared on nationwide TV.

In the fall of 2000 there was an international tribunal in Tokyo on the issue.As always the key point was the demand for an official apology from the Japanese Government with financial recompense.

Ecumenicism in Korea

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year was the combined work of the different Churches in Korea. This material was used throughout the world.

The Catholic Church in Korea, is not a leader in this Ecumenical Movement but it does participate and this year the 9th annual forum was held at the Franciscan Education Center on May 14 with the guest speaker Jurgen Moltmann the renowned Protestant theologian.

The Catholic paper said Moltmann introduced a different direction from the polemics of the past. He proposed that we work together not only about life issues but with the problems that we face in globalization and to work together in a common effort to remedy the situation.

Moltmann felt that following the methods of the past in ecumenical dialogue we are not getting any closer to one another and suggested that we in the future not remain trying to directly get the unity of the separated Churches but work together against the dehumanization in our society, destruction of the environment, and the polarization in our society. He felt that this would enable us with God to grow closer and this is the meaning of the unity we seek.

My reading of the article was that there was not unanimity on what was said. One participant made a good point, I thought, when he said the whole idea of the work for unity is not just the work of the specialist but of all the Christians. In Korea it is mostly the work of the leaders in the movement. It will have to get down to the level of the ordinary Christians. It is here in their lives , works and sharing their faith experiences with others, that we will see change.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Catholic Education of our Young People

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday and Youth Sunday in Korea. The Church has been concerned for many years now on the decrease in the number of our young people who have stopped going to Church. It is a dark cloud over the future of the Church in Korea.

The Seoul dioceses report on the state of the problem is that there has been a decrease in the number of children attending catechism classes comparing to what it was 10 years ago. Only about 10% of the young who have graduated from high school attend Sunday Mass. This also holds steady for the number of 30 and 40 year old Catholics who have stopped going to Church. Only 5% of the youth are involved in Church activities.

The Church will have the second youth day next year trying to put some life into the youth movement in Korea. The influence of the mass media on the education of our children is something that we all acknowledge but can do little about. There are few of our young people that find a joy in their religious practices and what it means to be Catholic. There is an effort to make discipleship more of an experience; to feel and not only know the presence of God in our lives but how this to be done is the question.

A recent editorial on this problem wondered whether our programs have a lot more to do with dealing with the stress of our children than with educating them. We have to put feeling into what we teach. In our diocese we had a very strong YCS movement going for many years. The Young Catholic Student movement had the principle of See, Judge and Act and was an attempt to get the Children involved not only with the head but with the heart and body. It discussed problems within society and putting Christian principles to work in trying to solve the problems. It was to develop leaders and to help change society. It was a strong program but the parents did not like to see the time taken away from the students studies and the program eventually died.

The editorial ended with a rather gloomy forecast : “If the family or school is not able to educate than the Church should do it. It is a gigantic job and if the individuals involved are not equipped to benefit by the education it will be an attempt ending in frustration.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Funeral of Korea's 16th President

The funeral service for the late former President Roh Moo-hyun took place today at 11 a.m. at Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul. There was also yesterday a Mass at the Cathedral in Seoul for President Roh offered by the the priests of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice.

President Roh came up from poverty to the highest position in his country. He did not have a college education but with determination and confidence in his ability was able to pass the necessary exams and work as a human rights lawyer, helping the poor. He showed a desire to benefit the underprivileged of our Society. How much of what is said about him after leaving the Presidency and his involvement in bribery will be the job of history to determine. How much of the publicity concerning the scandal was politically motivated is also a question for history but that politics was part of it is very difficult to deny.

The Catholic Paper's editorial mentioned over and over the intensity in which he did everything and even the way he chose to die. The editorial went on to say our desires were not considered when entering this world and we should not take control of the way we leave it. There is a sadness in that the late President Roh died in the way he decided. By doing so he cast a shadow on the intensity of his life, its meaning and values that he lived. This makes the grief and regret over his death all the harder to bear.

The Mass at the Cathedral was celebrated by Monsignor Kim Pyong-sang as the main celebrant. He mentioned that he was disappointed in that the bishops were not the ones saying the Mass. Although the President was baptized he never lived the life of a Catholic but the monsignor mentioned that he tried to live the contents of the Encyclical of the Holy Father, Deus Caritas Est.(God is Love ) He was a man who took seriously chapter 25 of Mathew, and monsignor felt that few would deny this.

We can all pray for him, the family and the country; pray also that the different political camps do not use his death as a ploy to further their own political ends at the expense of the unity that we should strive to achieve in these difficult times.

Second Part - Visit to Cardinal Kim

Stephen Cardinal Kim was a work of art.
He was like a lake that reflects the sky, and the light and the scenery around it.
You can't be awe-struck by a lake.
It demands nothing for itself, but enhances everything around it,
Allows us to contemplate beauty.

In April, 1974 I spend 40 minutes in his quarters talking to him alone.
How I wish I could remember more of what he said.
I was very wound up about false arrests and torture
And am sure I did most of the talking, especially as he was such a good attentive listener.I had knocked at his door and began to apologize to him for the impertinent letter I'd written about the lack of Catholic reaction to worsening repression.

`But before I'd gotten a few words out of my mouth, he ushered me in, seated me while
saying, and waving his hand:
"No, no no! These are daily problems of my heart."

In the 35 years since that April day I have often repeated those words of his to me and I usually tear up and sometimes choke up, too, when I say them.

Just like I tear up and choke up seeing shots on TV of the long lines of people waiting to spend a few seconds before his body in the cathedral.

One day in 1969 or 70, soon after taking office, he came to Maryknoll and spoke to us, asking a favor of us as citizens of a culture that was by nature more tolerant of
differences than most.

"Our Korean Catholics would die to protect the Church, but they are not trained to care for the rights of others," he told us, and asked, "Teach them to do so in your parishes."

I filed that away, remembering it only years later, after that unfair letter I'd written him, unaware as I was of the "daily problems of his heart"

The cathedral he was buried from became what he wanted it to be, the center of more
than Roman Catholic worship. Those 400,000 mourners proved that to be true, By
providing sanctuary behind its wall he broke down walls, and by being the person he was, he led the Church out of its own walls.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Adoption in Korea

Many years ago I was asked if there was a possibility to adopt a Korean baby by one of the Catholics

Many years ago I was asked if there was a possibility to adopt a Korean baby by one of the Catholics. I was new in the country and did some asking about adoption procedures and it seemed that there would be no problem. The Catholic told me that he would not be able to tell his parents of the adoption because of the strong feeling they have to bloodline. He told his parents that while he was on a business trip he met a woman with whom he had a affair and fathered a son. This was at the same time that he was making preparations to adopt a baby from one of the orphanages run by the Church in Korea.

This was something that I found difficult to understand -the adultery was not as important to the family as having a grandson who was in their blood line. I believe this has changed a great deal over the years. In recent years the domestic adoptions are larger than oversea adoptions.

The government efforts to offer financial incentives and health benefits for adoption have helped a great deal but there has been a change in the thinking of the ordinary Korea. It was an embarrassment that the Koreans were exporting so many of their babies to overseas parents. Also the whole idea of preserving the blood line is not as strong as it was. In our yearly ordination classes to the priesthood it is surprising to see how many are an only son. When I came to Korea they would not accept an only son. Things have changed greatly.

There is also the change in the eyes of many Korean on boy versus girl choices. Since my time in Korea it seems that the girls are seen to many parents, as a better investment than the boys. They remain closer to the family of origin and in most cases show more affection toward their family. A great deal of this may be the globalization of the culture but also the influence of Christianity.

A visit to Cardinal Kim in the hospital.

Reflection by a Maryknoller visiting Cardinal Kim before his death.

First part of the Reflection.

I got into the hospital room to see Cardinal Kim 2 weeks before he died.
To see his face-well-it wasn't his face.
More like the caved in shattered look of an Egyptian mummy.
He didn't speak beyond a few words-mono-syllables mostly.

I never expected to get in the room,
just brought some paintings to leave for him.

But I was allowed in along with Father Alphonso Kim who had suggested the attempt.
The Cardinal recognized our presence, took our hands to ask a blessing.
We each said our own peace.
He responded with his hands.
Even called us back when we started to leave.
Took our hands again, said, "Thank you," then relaxed and drifted off.
The strongest impression remains how much his face had changed, how little he was able to communicate.

Thinking back on our few minutes with him now,
I tend to put the kind of smiling face we all knew onto that helpless body,
wanting to forget that mask
and my desire to say to him, "Please go! It's time to go!"

That was a Sunday morning. He lived two weeks more.
Dying finally on a Monday evening.

And the country has been full of him since,
four hundred thousand people stood in the cold,
long lines forming far from the cathedral where he lay in state.
From 6 AM to midnight-
Some waiting four hours and more to pay their respects, as the saying goes, for just a few seconds as the crowd had to be hurried along,
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

What shall I write?
I sit here looking at my hands
The blue veins beneath, the papery fragility of skin-the hands of an old person,
The one I must admit to being.

The Cardinal was seven years older
The years of his insomnia are over.
It took death to do it.
It plagued him for many year.
Was it the price he paid?

Maybe it was that many around him were trying to fool him-
That's a better way to say it.

He was no fool, chosen very young to lead a clergy with little reputation for docility,
Presiding over years of unprecedented change,
A willing son of Vatican II, open to its freshness,
Calm and strong midst political turmoil,
Holding it all together, lording it over nobody.

To Continue

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Closing Out One's Eighth Decade

The Reminiscences of one of us reaching his Eightieth Year

Must we give up everything,
Is there nothing we can take with us?
Chianti? Aristotle? Arcadia?
Memories of phosphorous laden waves
crashing on a moonlit ocean beach,
Jane Dintzel July reciting
Her John C. Siboney routine,
The green of lilac leaves in a bowl
an the white enameled kitchen table?

Sailing in a 16 foot long wooden boat
Made in Skaneateles New York,
Red comet logo on the white mainsail
Above the number 374,
Three brass letters and a number
From a draw in Duryea's hardware store
Nailed on the transom named the craft LCU2.
The boat was Austin Barrets'
He sold it when he went to war in 1943
I sold it to The Hoogh Kirk kids in 1952
When drafted into another war;
You,Frank, already off to sea in a Merchant ship.

More than fifty years gone by since Then,
The end of twenty summers
Of watching moonrise over Robins Island,
Tides rise and fall along the shore
Of Great Peconic Bay
The old song says "They can't take that away for me".
Kitty Carlisle died this year at 96,
She sang "I'll Remember April",
The song The Wasson's porch crowd can't forget.
That was 1944-adolescent heaven,
All the world but us engulfed in war.
Were we blessed or merely over privileged?
None of our class mates at St. Malachy's fared so well.

The Fitzgeralds spent the summer at Centereach.
There wasn't even any water There;
Ralph Salerno got as far as Commack
To help out at his parents' hot dog stand.
Others spent two weeks or a month
In a Catholic camp, 'Molloy' for boys,
'Immaculata' for the girls.
Those years we heard of camps in Europe, too.

Going back to Brooklyn in September
was the price we paid. Wearing shoes
Sitting in a classroom, no longer waking up
To seagulls, waves slapping on the shore.
Not sand and cedar trees but sidewalks,
curbs and streets outside the bedroom window.
I'll remember April. "They can't take that way from me".

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Catholic Church worldwide is working hard for the repeal of the death penalty. This is a topic that even within the Church and within Christianity itself we have a difference of opinion. It is not a position that the Church calls intrinsically evil. The Church had no difficulty with the death penalty for centuries but there has been a change. She is trying to convince us that we should see the life in prison without parole as a sufficient penalty for even the most heinous of crimes.

Cardinal Stephen Kim had a intense opposition to the death penalty. Part of the reason was that he knew many of those who were sentenced from his visits to the prisons. He got to know them personally and suffered when they were killed. He knew that many who were sentenced to death where from the underprivileged social class and background.

Here in Korea the opinion is very much for the death penalty so the movement to change the sentiment on this subject will not be easy. I can recall stories of children and families being killed for the simple reason that the fathers of the family went to the North at the start of the Korean War. The wounds that were inflicted at that time were such that they are still too raw to even attempt to make amends, even after the passage of so much time. No one even wants to bring it up in conversation.

A great deal of this is retribution: the eye for eye approach to justice. The vast majority of democratic countries in Europe and Latin America have abolished capital punishment over the last fifty years, but the United States, and most democracies in Asia, and almost all totalitarian governments retain it.

There is no scientific proof that nations with capital punishment have a lower rate of crime; the risk of the death penalty does not seem to deter crime. Many feel that the capital punishment brutalizes us, makes us insensitive to the precious nature of every single human life."

John L. Allen in one of his blogs mentioned, “The Church now has two categories of moral teachings: what we might call "ontic" or "inherent" absolutes, such as abortion, euthanasia, and the destruction of embryos in stem cell research, which are considered always and everywhere immoral because of the nature of the act, and "practical" absolutes, i.e., acts which might be justified in theory, but which under present conditions cannot be accepted.” This is a very succinct way of putting it and helps us understand why we have so much difficulty in coming to some sort of consensus on this issue. For some the distinction does not mean much.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Catechumenate in Korea

Back in 2006 the Korean Government published the report on the 2005 census. The religious statistics were interesting for the government figures of Catholics were larger than the Catholic Churchs own figures by many hundreds of thousands. It was assumed that the difference in the figures was that those who were attracted to Catholicism would consider themselves such for the census. In a report on these statistics in the Independent News Service Here and Now ( they mentioned that this is not all an unmitigated blessing.

The reason for those coming out to the Church can me extremely varied and not always for religious reasons. This is not surprising but the catechetical period should be one in which these motives are changed or sublimated to a different level. This means that the catechetical period is extremely important.

In recent months the reason for the interest shown in the Church has a great deal to do with our first Cardinal who died on Feb. 16th at 86 years old. He was a defender of human rights against the dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s. He was respected by many in our society more than 400,000 people paid their respects at his wake and funeral on Feb.20th. Just to day we had a visit from another parish and they mentioned that there were a large number of people who came out to the Church without anyone inviting them. This they attribute to the publicity that surrounded the death of Cardinal Kim.

The Church, as with all of us, the difference of what is said and what is done is not always the same and this does pose many problems. Many of those who enter the community are disappointed in what they see and drop out; others fail to be attracted because of what they see. We are not always the positive advertising for Christianity that we were meant to be. Hopefully we will be more demanding on what we expect of those entering the Community during the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (the period of the catechumenate).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blessing of Holy Father on Catholic Bloggers

The use of the computer among the young people here in Korea is
almost 99 percent. The overall percent is 77.1% according to a study
made in 2008. The Holy Father in his address for Ascension Sunday
is urging the young Catholics to get involved and use the new medium
to evangelize. Our fellow blogger from Western Confucian
has the Holy Father giving a blessing to all
of us who are blogging:

Pope Benedict XVI's Message to Catholic Bloggers

I am inviting all those who make use of the new technologies of
communication, especially the young, to utilize them in a positive way
and to realize the great potential of these means to build up bonds of
friendship and solidarity that can contribute to a better world.
Young people in particular, I appeal to you: bear witness to your
faith through the digital world! Employ these new technologies to
make the Gospel known, so that the Good News of God’s infinite
love for all people, will resound in new ways across our increasingly
technological world!

The Catholic paper this week had an editorial about the digital evangelization and its urgency. The bishop's Mass Com committee feels that the Church is not
doing well in this area. Part of the reason is the lack of understanding
of the digital age, the absence of a vision for evangelization and
the inability of us to keep up with the changes that are taking place
in this digital world.

I would like to think that those of us who have a Catholic blog are doing
something to build up the Kingdom. The editorial ends by saying that if we
are at peace with things as they are than the territory in which the Lord
will have an influence will decrease. Amen

Sorok Do and Hansen's Disease

Sorok Do is a little island off the South West coast of Korea. Beginning from 1916, it had been a gruesome island of suffering-where people, as soon as it was known they had Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) their lives were uprooted, and forced to live like animals. As Adults they were sterilized under government law, subject to cruel privations, often sexually abused, even exposed to “experimental” operations.

Now much of this has changed! On May 16th,2009, with the members of our Busan H.D. Community, we traveled four hours by super bus, to Sorok Island, to attend the Annual Government Sponsored Hansen Disease “Recognition” Day. Formerly, access to this island was by ferry, but now we enter by an impressive bridge and new roads.

Although it was pouring rain throughout the day, about 3000 H.D. folk from all over Korea attended- this included the Korean Prime Minister, Me Han Seung Soo, the governor, mayor and many other high officials, many of whom were given ”thank you scrolls and plaques.

Perhaps it' s my nearsightedness, but it now looks like it is politically advantageous to help and be associated with the H.D. work-judging by the smiling officials making themselves visible before the K.B.S. TV cameras, the glad handshaking, name-card giving, and ready apologies.

As we turned away from all the politicians together with the now pretty wet H.D. on lookers, I asked my H.D. companion, “So what do you think of all this?” Smiling faintly he replied, “ A nice show!”

Mr. Yong Mo recounted how 40 years ago he escaped from Sorok Do at midnight, was pursued by police and hunted for 20 years before his human dignity and right to family were finally recognized!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Singing and Dancing out the Stress

In Korea, taking group trips are a year round cause for joy- although perhaps spring and fall are the most popular times. The cost to rent buses is a little steep, but divided among those in the group it is reasonable once or twice a year.

We just made such a trip, 2 nights 3 days to North East Korea- gorgeous blossoms, foliage and local delicacies. To prepare, all we had to do is pack lots of stuff to eat and drink- and we were off- Oh, some said you have to be careful of too much watermelon- it can make you sick!

Korean people at home and at jobs generally can't avoid stress build-up, so they look forward to “getting away” from it all on a nice trip.

But, you know, on our own trip, we found ourselves caught up again in a semi-rigid routine. Almost from the moment we departed, the leader had the bus driver put on the Boom-Boom Rock music and all were called to take their turn in the bus aisle and Cha –Cha. Not to get up was to be party pooper. Then came the singing. We all have to sing a song- which is o.k. until some one grabs and holds the mike and won’t let go- until they are exhausted. All the while the soju (rice wine) flows, enlivening the hearts and voices; a few get really soused for a few hours- sometimes sleeping, sometimes getting loud and raucous, and sometimes a little nasty.

There is a pleasant break when all go off to climb, view the scenery close up, or buy souvenirs. But then back to the bus, for more wild singing and dancing in the aisle.

All of this is a good thing because it allows for safe diffusion of potentially volcanic stress (which most people have). Yes, the noise often reaches a sustained high-pitch level for hours-for 2 or 3 days and nights- as all the frustrations seem to belch forth- but again I think it is good therapy- it may even save a few from serious future problems.

Usually, the conclusion to our travel is: “Thank you everyone, it was great! Now we can go back to work!”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Conscientious Objection in Korea

This past week we had the Conscientious Objection movement meeting and demonstrating here in Korea. This movement here is still very weak and does not get the press that you would need to change minds. This year the International Conference on Conscientious Objection had as its focus the South Korean conscientious objectors' (CO) poor human rights situation.

The Catholic Church is very much on the side of conscientious objectors for those whose consciences have difficulty serving in the military. Here in Korea the movement for Conscientious Objection Status has been active for a number of years but is still very much muted in our Korean Society. This is easy to understand, the situation being what it is in Korea. You have young men putting in time serving their country at great sacrifice and the populace does not look at those who choose not to serve with favor- the North is not an easy problem to understand. The Church here in Korea has made it clear where she stands but she is also very circumspect in what she says in this area.

The secretary of the Catholic bishops' Committee for Justice and Peace, pointed out that the "The Church, in its social teachings and documents, fully supports alternative service for those who oppose military service because of their beliefs."

Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council's "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," states, "It seems right that laws make humane provisions for the case of those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way."

An Austrian farmer, husband, and father summoned to duty in the Nazi army, Franz Jägerstätter refused to serve on the principle that it would violate his Catholic conscience. After a short trial, Franz was beheaded by the Nazis in Berlin on August 9, 1943. To learn more about Blessed Franz go to:

The example of Franz will bring the subject more prominence and hopefully Korea will join the many other countries that acknowledge the right of those whose consciences do not allow them to serve in the military.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Life Without Love is Prison

One of the priests of the diocese writing for the Pastoral Newsletter had a short reflection on prison life. He mentioned his visit with a woman who was in jail over some money problems. She was a very active member of the parish and he spent some time with her in a visit to the jail. He has never forgotten what she said to him on that occasion.

“Before I came to the jail, when I heard the word jail, the first thought that came to mind, a high wall, prison bars, guards who would be watching the prisoners. Finding myself in this situation, more than these problems is to be in a room with people that I hate and having to live with them. I have to hear the bickering of others, and at the same time inflicting punishment on others. Having to live with people I dislike, rub up with them in daily contact, sleep in the same room, this is repulsive and most difficult. "

Someone in that situation has no time to take a break, no respite from the oppressive atmosphere.

A professor who was in prison for political reasons mentioned something similar. He expressed it by saying usually the poor prefer summer over winter but for us in prison we prefer winter. Although there are many different reasons to value the summer, having to live in close contact with others the 'hate' makes all the difference in choosing the winter. In summer that close contact is living close to a fire all day long. The heat and also living so close with the other you dislike and are disliked is hard to accept. Having to conquer the cold by living closely with someone you hate is a penalty to beat all penalties. To hate the ones who are close to you and be hated in turn is a great misery.

The conclusion of the article was that in our daily lives we have to live with people we like or dislike. If we bicker fight and hate one another like prison, it will be a difficult.

Love, like the light of the sun gives us brightness and vitality, hate brings darkness into our hearts, body and brings sickness. Life without love can not bring happiness.

The aspect of living with people so closely you hate and are hated in turn, never entered my mind as one of the problems of prison life but it does not seem difficult to imagine. Probably the lack of space in the Korean Penal System makes it much more of a problem.

"After School Program" in Korean Schools

Since I have had some experience teaching in the after school program in Korea I read with interest the recent editorial in the Chosun Daily. The after school program tries to save the parents some money by helping the students at the school with some of the subjects that the parents feel necessary to prepare for the National Exams. This is a very praiseworthy effort and certainly should be continued but at the same time efforts should be made to improve the teaching during the regular hours of class.

The Government has set aside about 350 thousand dollars for 400 schools for a period of 3 years starting in July, for schools not using private institutions for educational purposes. The money will go to help hire teachers for the program, enable teachers with incentives, work with the capabilities of the students and tailor the programs to the different students needs. The programs in the school differ from the academies in that they do not have to rent space and can run the programs inexpensively. In programs that they have monitored they can teach in after school programs for 20 hours a month and do it for half the price of the cheapest academies.

One of the benefits of the after school program is that it is elected and they can take the students where they are in their studies and work from there. It could be more efficient and the teachers more zealously involved. The academies are often called cram schools which give you an idea of what they are hoping to achieve.

The parents in Korea take the studies of the children extremely serious. They do not have the number of children that their parents had and they know that the studies are going to determine what schools they can attend and their future. The parents here in Korea are said to spend four times the amount of money for outside school studies than those in the economies of similar countries. Part of the reason for this is the lack of confidence in the school system. We have parents sending their children overseas with the mother for education and the father remains here in Korea to earn the money for them. These are called wild geese fathers for they are reunited with the family, if the funds allow, once a year. There are also over a 100,000 Korean students studying in the United States which outnumbers any other foreign student group. These are signs that the parents do not have confidence in the Korean school system.

I learned in my few years in the program that there was need for accountability. The teachers should be graded for their abilities and helped to be more effective. They can do much better with the regular school programs and use the after school programs as a supplement. Competition would also help improve the quality of the teaching. The government can spend a great deal of money on all kinds of programs but if the teachers are not qualified than you will not get the results. When one talks about accountability nobody wants it. It is a big burden on all that are involved but a very necessary part of getting a quality product.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

21st Anniversary Catholic Peace Newspaper

It has been a mystery to me over the years to see the number of newspapers in Seoul-they seem to have a large readership and no talk of bankruptcy and problems with income. This could be my simple lack of information on the subject.

The president of the Peace Catholic Newspaper and Peace Broadcasting System in the“editorial” for the 21st anniversary of the Peace Newspaper had a rather gloomy assessment of the situation. In my own way below is a brief summary of what was said.

Because we have those that want to buy does not mean that we have to sell; nor need we sell because we have people who want to buy.

The media is a means and not an end. No matter what means are selected the end is the same, to live like human beings. How to live like a human being is different for all of us but there is a general consensus on what is meant to live a human life. Each one in his or her own way has to determine the general values of living a full human life. In a contest if there is no points given then you have no losers.

He listed what Gandhi said about the destruction of Nations:

1) politics without principles
2) business without morality
3) wealth without work
4) knowledge without character
5) science without humanity
6) pleasure without conscience
7) worship without sacrifice.

The president left us with the impression that no matter how hard the financial situation becomes he will not resort to anything that does not help us live a more fully human life.

This is an issue that certainly has many different responses. To give the readers what they want is a good way to keep the readership. It is good business policy and many would say common sense. However, success in one field many be a failure in another. I sympathize very much with what the president had to say however, there may me a middle course in how to handle the Catholic news. I do not believe a Catholic Paper should go in the direction of the National Catholic Reporter nor be like the old L'Osservatore Romano. Sandro Magister who knows the situation well said that L'Osservatore has been remodeled: "More interviews. More space given to women. Non-Catholic contributors. International news, and about the Churches and the religions. Major cultural topics. To prompt thought and discussion even outside of Catholic boundaries."

There has to be honesty in the media but not everything has to be said because it is out there being talked about. The change in the L'Osservatore Romano would be a good example for many of our Catholic papers. The editorial ended with a quote from Isaiah:

Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what
I create. Isaiah: 65:17-18

Korean Weddings Need not be Expensive

May is the peak wedding season in Korea and even though the times are difficult many Koreans opt for expensive weddings. The government during the non democratic days tried hard to change the habits derived from the culture but with little results.

In recent days there have been articles in the daily papers showing how expensive some of the weddings are but also those who make it a point of having a very simple wedding. If they choose to have a wedding in a first class hotel the weddings can cost 100 million won. This would include flowers, makeup, photographs, gift for the in-laws music and the wedding banquet. For many who are not that well off, the cash gifts from the guests which can range from 20,000 to 100,000 won will help pay for the expenses.

In Korea as elsewhere there is not any hard and fast rule that you can lay down and say this is the way it is done. The Culture for the most part influences the wealthy more than the middle and working class but the facts are that there are as many different ways of marrying as there are couples and this is truer today than in the past. There was a time when it was said that the grooms families asks for three keys from the brides family: a key to a security box, car and house. These are the types of stories that make the papers. Those who are not wealthy have more freedom to do as they please while the wealthy may be more concerned about what others will think and what their social peers expect of them.

Just recently we had the wedding in the States of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moons son. It took place in a small Catholic chapel (Holy Family Church) in Manhattan where 150 well wishes attended even though he only invited 100 of close family and friends. Cash gifts were declined. There was no rent for the wedding hall, no flower garlands, no red carpets- a Church Mass and the exchanging of vows before the priest. Bans two daughters also had very simple weddings by Korean standards.

A Catholic Church wedding can cost very little. In many cases it is the Mass stipend if there is to be a Mass . The rest will depend on how much the family wants to spend for photographs, clothes and banquet. This can be done with very little if the customs of the area do not make it difficult for the couple to do what they feel is appropriate.

We need more Koreans who have the place in society that the Secretary General has , who are willing to do what their common sense tells them is the thing to do. With the mass media carrying stories of this type a great deal can be done to change the way people conduct their weddings in our Society

Saturday, May 16, 2009


When the weather is reasonable and time allows I usually go up the nearby mountain for a couple of hours' exercise- especially since the City of Busan has made a marvelous path and mountain-top park.

About half way up the mountain I have noticed a man working hard to put siding on a medium –sized steel-framed building. I never stopped to inquire about his work until today. He was resting near the entrance so I felt –“Ah, a good chance to chat.”

Wiping the sweat from his face, he said, “I began this little factory three years ago, on this land bought by my grandfather.”

Curious, I continued, “I noticed you are always working alone. Do you have any one to help- sons, relatives, and friends?”

“Yes, he replied, “but they all have jobs,”

“Will you be able to put on the roof, before the raining season in July?”

He laughed “Maybe I’ll be able to put on the roof in 3 or 4 years”

He smiled again as I made a gesture of rolling up my sleeves to help him.

“It will take time, but, for sure, I will get it done!” he explained confidently.

Now each time I pass his project I will remember what he taught me so well! Determination! I want to do it! I will do it!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Korean Mothers and Fathers Day 2009

It was May 8, 2009, Aw-baw-ee nal our Mothers and Fathers Day in Korea. Emotions run high on this day for Koreans. I was invited by my community of H.D. (lepers) villagers as the elder to dinner. Because there were many joining in, a local buffet was chosen-reasonable price but an excellent variety of food. As we feasted on all kinds of fish, meat, vegetables, fruit mostly Korean delicacies, but even some western cuisine- I had to stop- take a deep breath in joy and gratitude.

My thoughts went back to 50 years ago when I first came to Busan Korea. The refugees from the North Korea were everywhere. Not only did we have little food, clothing, medicine but even a place to sleep. This was the fallout of the terrible Korean fratricidal War, 1950-53. But today was very different. No worries or privations, thoughts about tomorrow, all had come to enjoy! All ate, were filled and there was much left over.

It has always surprised me how little time it takes to go from an underdeveloped country to a developed one. Korea has made this transition being now the 13 to 15 largest economy in the World. What would the Korea of the North and South be if united? It is an interesting thought to entertain and hopefully the North on its better days does have the thought flit through their minds.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Problems Faced by the Early Christians

In reviewing the life of Choe Yang Eop (Thomas) the second Korean priest, in the Catholic Encyclopedia, I noticed his very wise words on the condition of the Church at that time.

He considered the yangban system of the society the reason for most of the problems in Society and in the Church. Yangbans were the upper classes of the Korean society. This division was seen even in the Church and Fr. Choe found this to be dividing the community. It was more of the discrimination that we are all too familiar with. This policy was followed by the government in appointing people to service. This was the culture of the times and what the culture expected, the Church was not confident enough in its Christianity to refuse to follow. He considered this an infringement of the rights of many of the citizens.

The second point he made was that missionaries who come to Korea should be familiar with the
situation in Korea and the customs. I was surprised that he did not mention learning the language well. He worked very close with the missionaries and knew the situation very well listening to the Catholic Korean Christians who would be dealing with the foreigner missionaries on a daily basis. When they had one of their own to talk to they would mention the difficulties with the missionaries.

In my own experience you notice that many who know the language well at times fail to have a way with people and those who do not know the language, many times, are accepted and are much more at home with the Christians. It is another proof that the non verbal is more important than the verbal.

The last point he made was that France should work diplomatically with Korea to get the Korean government to acknowledge freedom of religion. This was a problem that he was faced with every day of his life, the fear of death or imprisonment.

He was a very wise priest and one who had a great deal to say to us, living many years after his death.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bishops on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Catholic Church in Korea as in the rest of the world is doing battle with the notion that it is perfectly legitimate to experiment with embryonic cells for the benefit of the sick. The prevailing opinion is one that says: the end justifies the means. The Catholic bishops of the United States have said in their statement on this issue:"Harvesting embryonic stem cells is a “gravely immoral” and “absolutely unacceptable” act that involves the deliberate killing of innocent human beings "... “Because life is our first and most basic gift from an infinitely loving God, it deserves our utmost respect and protection.” The bishops rejected research proponents’ argument that any harm done in embryonic stem cell research is outweighed by the potential benefits, saying the idea that a good end can justify direct killing “has been the source of much evil in our world.”

The Korean Bishops have long been making the same statements but now that the government has given the qualified okay to the experimentation the bishops have given response to the latest decision of the National Bioethics Committee with the statement of Bishop Chang reported below as taken from their newsletter:

The Most Rev. Gabriel Chang Bong-hun, President of the Committee for Bioethics of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK), issued a message on April 29, 2009, protesting the decision of the National Bioethics Committee to give a qualified consent to the stem cell research on the somatic cloned human embryo, requested by the researchers of CHA General Hospital in Seoul.

In his message, Bishop Chang said, "The Committee cannot but deplore the fact that a national institution leads the way in the destruction of life. There is shown even contempt for life which will be brought about by such a research aiming for the development of embryonic stem cell production. This also includes the production of stem cells from cloned human embryo, on the excuse that it will help in the treatment for incurable diseases. The newly approved stem cell research on the somatic cloned human embryo is an act of ruthless violence destroying human life in the name of science." (worked the above into shorter sentences )

And Bishop Chang stressed, "The Catholic Church never turns her face away from the patients who are suffering from the incurable disease, even if she opposes the research on the somatic cloned human embryo. More than any other organization, the Catholic Church has worked and will work for the terminally-ill patients with other concerned parties."

In conclusion, Bishop Chang said, "The Catholic Church supports ... the adult stem cell research and the stem cell research... of skin cells. Such researches can be rewarded with good results without the destruction of human life, in defiance of nature. … Bio-technology should strive for the true development of human beings, standing by life, recognizing its precious vocation to serve the integral life."

Three years ago, the government banned all stem cell researches on the somatic cloned embryo, as the scandal of Dr. Hwang Woo-seok resulted in a great social confusion. At that time, Dr. Hwang manipulated the results of the embryonic stem cell research to entice the government subsidy. His misbehavior aroused so much public rage that the government had to ban all researches related to the stem cell research in general.