Tuesday, June 30, 2009


One of the priests of the diocese recounted one of his experiences while studying for the priesthood in Rome. He was watching TV with a number of students from Africa and South America. The TV news was showing members of a National Assembly fighting one another . They were dressed in suits; one of the members was lying on the floor writhing in pain and another was at the chairperson's podium playing the part of superman. "Where in the world would this be happening these days?" the priest blurted out sarcastically. Then down below as a subtitle came the words " Corea del Sud" (Korea)

The same priest mentioned while on a pilgrimage with his classmates from East Europe he was watching TV when a Korean came on the show speaking flawless German. The Korean was hosting the program and the priest felt proud to see one of his countrymen in fluent German in that position but as the show progressed he again felt deep shame. The Korean was hosting the show visiting Korea in search of his mother. Korea was the number one country in the world exporting children to the world. ( This is no longer true. The Koreans are adopting more of the children and the percentage is much lower than it was)

The conclusion of this introspection was that we do not see ourselves as we are. Most of the time we choose to ignore reality for something easier to accept. This obviously is not only true of the Koreans but all of us. Things that embarass us are easy to pass over. We have heard numerous times that we should not be concerned about the speck in the other person's eye but begin to deal with the log in our own eye. It is only then that we probably will see everything much more clearly.

Monday, June 29, 2009

God's Gift - Noel.

Taken from Fr. Roman Theisen's People I love.

She opened my office door hesitantly. "Are you busy, Father Tai?" "Not at all,"I replied. I liked this woman. she and her husband were devout Catholics whom I had baptized two years before. She sat down. " I have a problem," she began. "I didn't know I was pregnant and took quite a lot of cough medicine that my doctor tells me will cause my baby to be born mentally and physically disabled. He wants me to have an abortion." she looked at me in anguish.

I sympathized with her. I'd heard the same story from other women. As always, I explained our Catholic belief that God, the Creator, gives life and that this God-given gift of life is so beautiful and precious that once given no one but God may take it away.

"but my doctor said,..." she explained at length the reasons her physician urged her to have an abortion. I explained how precious and sacred the life of even one human person is, simply because every person is destined to know and to give glory to God, and to share God's own glory for all eternity even though that person may be deformed, old or disabled mentally and ... But if it were my child, I'd trust God and have the baby. Her face brightened. "I'm so glad you said that," she said. "My husband told me you'd know what to do."

From that day on every time I saw Marcella and Paul at Sunday Mass I besieged Heaven with prayers that Marcella's baby would be born strong and healthy. Then one morning I went to open the Church for early Mass and found Paul waiting for me. His face was beaming, "Yesterday afternoon my wife gave me a strong, healthy son." I congratulated him and sent a fervent "Thank you" up to the Good Lord in Heaven, whom I am sure was smiling upon us. They named the baby Noel, because they said, " He was God's Christmas gift to us."

I was invited to Noel's First birthday Party, the baby's "Tol", which Koreans traditionally celebrate with great solemnity and joy. Paul presented me with a painting which he himself made from the photograph he'd taken after Noel's baptism, of me holding little Noel in my arms. As Marcella and Paul gave me little Noel to hold again, he looked up at me with clear eyes and smiled. How precious and wonderful God's gift of Life! How good God is to His People!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The More They Stay the Same

Quote from James Scarth Gale written in the late 1920s , a Protestant Scholar-missionary as recorded in Korea's Place in the Sun by Bruce Cumings.

We weep over old Korea, a victim, not so much of political agencies, as of the social and intellectual revolution that has come from the west.

We have unwittingly brought about the destruction of East Asia, in which Korea is involved. To her the west evidently does as it pleases, why should she not? The west has no barriers between the sexes, why should she have? In everything that she has seen of the west, religion counts as nothing: why should she bother about it? Labor-unionism, communism, socialism, Bolshevism, and anarchism express the real mind of the western nations; why should she not take them up and be the same? Why should she sing in falsetto when the west sings with the whole throat wide open... . Why not go whirling off for joy-rides, boys and girls? Why not be divorced at pleasure? why not be up-to-date as the west is up to date? This wild dream... well expresses the mind of the advanced youth of the city of Seoul in these days of confusion.

Let us glance once more at the Korea that is gone, " the land of the superior man," as China long ago called her; land of the scholar, land of the book and writing-brush, land of the beautiful vase and polished mirror; land of rarest, choicest fabrics; land of poems and painted pictures; land of the filial son, the devoted wife, the loyal courier; land of the hermit, the deeply religious seer whose final goal was God.

Cumings at the end adds: It is a statement in 3 parts: an old up right gentleman lamenting a lost past; a testament of his love of Korea, where he lived for forty years; and a sign that he had his finger on the pulse of Seoul.


More Than Witnesses is a book edited by Jim Stentzel

How a Small Group of Missionaries aided Korea's Democratic Revolution

On April 9, 1975, eight innocent persons, condemned in the case of the "People's Revolutionary Party Incident," were executed under the iron-fisted rule of the then-president Park Chung-hee. A belated retrial for the PRP Incident was held and the wrong was righted. During these difficult times a group who called themselves the Monday Night Group had a great deal to do with the help that was given to the families and the individuals hurting during this difficult
period in recent Korean History. This group was also instrumental in getting news of the repression in Korea out to the other countries. The book tells the story of many of those in this Monday Night Group. Two of the members George E Ogle and James Sinnott were deported.
(Taken from the forward and introduction to the book)

Below is a poem written by Fr. Jim Sinnott, on a visit by the families of those executed, to Fr. Sinnott on his recent 80th birthday.

Summer Solstice, June 2009

Write it down
Before it goes away:
Eleven people sitting round a table
Out on a lawn under a tree
Here where I live now,
Remembering the things we did,
Attempts against some things
Happening here in South Korea
More than thirty years ago:
Men falsely accused, jailed unfairly –
One of them, eight years imprisoned,
Sitting next to me and
The widow of another
Sitting at my other side.

We are gathered here today
Because I’ve just turned eighty,
A thing impossible to dream of
In one’s early years,
As impossible as the events
That happened here in South Korea
More than thirty years ago,
Events that knit us into one,
An inseparable fabric
Labeled by security police
The “In hyek dang”
The Peoples’ Revolutionary Party,
That phony dictator’s concoction,
That lie that changed our lives
And made widows of these women
As well as years-long prisoners
Of twenty other men.
Eight men were hanged
One early morning, an evil solstice
More than thirty years ago, nine April,
When for us the sun stood still,
A day declared “Black day
In the history of jurisprudence”
By the lawyers of the world;

A day etched in the memory of my guests today,
Gathered round this table
On the lawn outside my house
For an eightieth birthday celebration,
An occasion no young person
Of my generation gives much thought to,
Anymore than one would plan
To be involved with
Murderous judicial decisions,
Torture of the chosen victims
Who were innocent of any crime,
As an apologetic nation
Finally admitted -
Thirty years too late.

And so we gather at this table
And reminisce
About the ways we tried to fight
Those terrible decisions
And we sing again the songs we sang
As we paraded on the streets,
Breaking the “peaceful order” laws
Of those dark times of martial law;
Eleven men and women sitting at a table,
On this day, this summer solstice,
Remembering, together,
Before we also go away.

James Sinnott, MM

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Jesuit Bartender

Over the years I have heard of priests serving as bartenders and was not surprised to hear we have a Jesuit who is doing just that in a cafe in our diocese. This priest gave an account of this in an article that I would like to summarize.

He was taking his studies for the priesthood in Australia where his own Jesuit Superior was serving at the tables at the house in which he was staying. Another experience at that time, the abbot at the Trappist Monastery in which he was staying was also setting up the tables and serving. Seeing this kept the dream that he had of doing that after ordination to the priesthood.

Our Lord shared many meals with others and after these meals something good always happened. The Jesuit wanted to welcome others as God welcomes us and the place that he could do this was a cafe. He mentioned our Lord was considered a wine drinker; to be noticed as such meant that he spent a great deal of time in table fellowship. Jesus was always welcoming and this was the example that motivated him to start his cafe. He called it: Window on life. This translation of the name may not have the nuance of the original, hopefully it will have the meaning.

Those who come to the cafe know that he is a priest which means it does not take long to get into a serious conversation about things that are important. He can talk about joy and sadness of life, frustrations, desires, and also the anger. When he shares their joy he is doubly joyful when they talk about their problems they can be lighten by the very sharing.

The life of a priest is serving . He serves the Eucharist to those that attend Mass and goes to the sick to serve them with the Eucharist.

There are many times when the Catholics who come find it difficult to have a priest serving them and they help out in bringing food and drink to those present. He tells them that they should allow themselves to be served this is also virtue.

There are many ways of trying to do mission. To bring the love of Christ to all is the heart of mission and running a cafe is a way to do this in a very unique way. May the work be blessed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Demonstrating Students

A post taken from Fr. Roman Theisen's People I Love.

"Americans go home! Down with the Yankee imperialism!" young women shouted as they waved placards and paraded back and forth. A student demonstration was going on at the front of the Sacred Heart College for Women. This College was in the new Parish of Yoi Kok 2 Dong where I was assigned. The Religious of the Sacred Heart who ran this College loaned me their College Chapel for Saturday afternoon and Sunday Masses until we could build a Parish Church.

It was Saturday afternoon and I was on my way to say the children's Mass when I ran into a student demonstration blocking my way to the College grounds. I was tempted to turn around and go home rather than confront the crowd and push my way through the shouting students.

But I needn't have worried. As I neared the gate the students respectfully lowered their placards and stopped their clamor, stepped back to make a path for me , and bowed as I walked by. Several called out "We're sorry. We apologize." When I was safely inside they raised their placards and resumed shouting "Americans go home!"

They had made it clear that however much they were against certain policies of the American Government they held no animosity towards individual Americans.

The New Way of Family Life in Korea.

The traditional family structure in Korea has weakened and in many cases broken down in the past few decades. We are seeing nuclear families and a great deal of divorce in our Korean Society. Part of this is the secularization and globalization that is taking place throughout the world. The good is that there is much more of an equality in family relations and an improvement in the status of women but it is doing havoc with many families.

In the small community in which I am in residence there are only 6 children who are part of our
Sunday School program, all of which are from broken families. The sons married and with the failure of the marriage, divorced, and sent the children to the homestead to live with the grandparents. The fathers do remarry but find it difficult, in most cases, to bring the children to the new marriage. Many of the mothers do not seem interested in the children, for they also want to remarry; without the children it is much easier. In most cases it is understood that the children stay with the father. This is the predicament that many of the families have to face. If the grandparents are healthy this difficulty, at times, can be surmounted but in most cases the children suffer a great deal and it is easily seen in their faces.

Just as in the west both the parents usually have to work. The traditional Korean family where all would be living under the same roof is disappearing. The norm is the sons leave the homestead and move to the city to find work and start a family. This seems to be the choice of all concerned. The farming families continue working without the sons and this lack is made up with modern day farming machinery.

There is also the case of grandmothers who live alone. They prefer at times to live away from the sons , for the freedom that it gives; they do not want to be a burden but poverty, at times, is also part of the picture. These woman have a difficult time for they have to do all the work and take care of the upkeep of the house but it is apparently easier on them then to live in the restricted atmosphere of family.

It doesn't take long for a society to change the way things are done and part of the reason for this is what they see and hear both in Korea and from the the rest of the world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Couple Who Married... with a Picture

One of the stories by Fr, Roman Theisen taken from the People I love.

"Could we arrange a marriage in the Church? None of us are Catholic." The speaker was a man about 40 years old. His question made me smile. Just a short time before, as member of a commission appointed by the Korean Bishops to draw up a directory for pastoral work in Korea, I had persuaded the the Bishops to allow non-Catholic marriages in the Churches of Korea, provided neither party had a divorce or any impediment of natural law.

"You see, Father," the man explained:"my parents were too poor to have a marriage ceremony with a picture. They just registered their marriage according to civil law. Then they had to support me and my six brothers and sisters. They always felt bad they had no picture of their wedding to show us as we grew up. Now my father's 60th birthday is coming up and we want to chip in and pay for a marriage ceremony for them. If its not too expensive, a real marriage... with a picture."

I assured them it wouldn't be too expensive. There were three wedding dresses at the Church and if one fit his mother they wouldn't even have to rent a wedding gown.

The Lord blessed the Wedding Day with a bright sun, and the bride was radiant with happiness, walking down the aisle to meet her groom of 40 years. Young women of the choir sang and the grandchildren played in the aisle as the couple promised to love and cherish each other. After the ceremony I stood with them before the altar as the local photographer took a picture.

Bride and groom smiled happily as they left the Church, surrounded by their seven children and numerous grandchildren. They were really married now... with a picture!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Decorating the Parish Church

One of the professors from the School of Art in the Diocese was invited to help in the remodelling of a parish Church. As he entered the parish grounds he noticed a number of statues of the Blessed Mother in different parts of the parish courtyard. "Father why in the world do you have so many statues of the Blessed Mother out in the yard?" To the question the parish priest answered that he asked for a donation for a statue and 5 parishioners, who could not be persuaded otherwise, left him with this problem of conscience. He couldn't give the statues away and could not destroy them, so the predicament.

In Korea the Protestants have difficulty with statues and crucifixes for they see them as images that are prohibited from their reading of the Old Testament. The Catholics have heard this but pay little attention. You also see at times a statue of Jesus or Mary on the top of a church building that turns to different parts of the parish. The professor of art would not see a difficulty with using statues and images but the place and surroundings should be considered in their placement.

In conclusion he reflects that we are influenced concretely with the connection we have with time and space. The images that we see affect the mind and heart that we do not see. No matter how good the image is, it can never express the reality that we want to see. That is why we have to be very careful with our images. That is true, he says for the images that we have outside the Church but more so for the images that we have in the church.

We should not attempt he says to decorate the Church in the way we decorate our homes. The Church is the place where we keep the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord is the master there, present in silence and in word those of us working pastorally, he concludes, should always remember this.

She Never Heard of Jesus

From the People I Love by Roman Theisen.M.M. (Incident took place in 1990)

Miss. Lee met us at the airport in Shanghai, China. She would be our official guide for the next 15 days. We were meeting officials in the Korean speaking region of North East China to discuss an invitation for Maryknoll Missioners to teach English in Universities there. Our itinerary included important tourist spots, such as the Great Wall and the archaeological sites of Xian, as well as sites sacred to us, including the chapel in Shanghai where the first Korean priest, St. Andrew Kim, was ordained in 1845.

As we toured China we visited seminaries and Churches of the Catholic Patriotic Association, the government supervised portion of the Catholic Church which has no contact with Rome. Both we and the Patriotic Association leaders were careful to obey Chinese law, which allowed us to say Mass privately in these Churches, but never in public. One site of great significance to me was the cemetery in Beijing in which are found remains of Father Matteo Ricci and other great Jesuit missionaries of the early 1600s. Their memorials are protected in the "back yard " of an official Communist office building.

Miss Lee continued to observe closely everything we did and said, and even attended our Masses. She impressed us as a highly intelligent and well educated woman. I was surprised when she approached me one day with a question that troubled her. "Who," she asked, "is this Jesus Christ? Is he a leader in your Church and does he live in America? And the Apostle Paul whose title I saw carved on one of the Churches as 'Apostle to the Nations'... Is he like your Foreign Minister? And does he live in America, too?"

I explained to her who Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul is. It was the only time in my career as a missionary that I've had the privilege of proclamining the Good new of Jesus Christ to someone who had absolutely never heard of Him before.

Miss Lee stayed with us until we finally boarded a boat of Panamanian registry at Weihai on the northern coast of China, for an overnight voyage over the Yellow Sea to the P0rt of Inchon, Korean . Out trip to China had been successful We now have four Maryknoll priests teaching in the Korean speaking Universities of North East China. (formally called Manchuria. )

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Decrepit Old Men

The following is a incident retold by Fr. Roman Theisen in his booklet "People I Love".

As the three elderly men walked away, one with a slight limp the young Sister who was with me asked: "Who are those decrepit old men?" She had seen me invite them for coffee and walk with them to the gate. "Those are living martyrs of the Korean Church." I told her.

On June 25, 1950, the communist army of the North invaded South Korea, and sent millions of refugees pouring from the North into South Korea. Women and children were stopped at the bridges and train stations; young men of military age escaped on boats and trains to the South, remaining behind they would be conscripted in the North Korean Army, coming to the South they were conscripted into the South Korean Army.

When the fighting stopped and the Bamboo Curtain stabilized at the 38th parallel in 1953, dividing North and South Korea, these men were caught in the South and their wives and children sealed off in the North. As they were released from the Army the Catholic men, faced a cruel predicament. In Korea these men would find it very difficult to survive without their wives. Loyal Catholics, presuming their wives survived in the North could not remarry.

One of the priests invited such men to join him in a religious Brotherhood. As Religious Brothers they remained faithful to their wives in the North and at the same time supported themselves as carpenters, farmers, or by whatever occupation they had before the War. They were called the Brothers of the Korean Martyrs. Over thirty men joined him. When they petitioned for approval as a religious congregation Rome refused saying they must eventually return to their wives in the North.

When I started a parish in Kan Sek Dong the Brothers lent us their monastery chapel for Sunday Mass until we built our church. I was appointed to be their Confessor. I got to know these men. Since I was assigned elsewhere these Brothers would come several times a year for confession and spiritual direction. Several have died. Four of them left the Brotherhood and married, after I investigated the circumstances of their wives in North Korea and concluded that they must be presumed dead. Eight of the Brothers still visit me. Tired old men now largely forgotten by the Korean Church, somewhat looked down upon by the younger recruits to their Brotherhood, they continue to say their morning and night prayers together and work long hours on their farm. It has been an honor to know them.

The Focolare Movement in Korea

At the beginning of this month the Charismatic and the Focolari Movements had their gatherings in Korea. The Charismatic event was an international gathering of 377 persons from 44 countries. The Focolari was a Korean gathering of 3,000 meeting in Seoul to commemorate their 40th anniversary of beginning in Korea.

Focolare is an Italian word for "hearth," or "family fireside". Chiara Lubich, who died recently founded the movement in Trent, Italy, during the Second World War (1939-1945). Its spirituality focuses on unity among all peoples and religions, drawing inspiration from Jesus' prayer in Saint John's Gospel "that they all may be one."

The aim of the Focolare movement is to live like the early Christian communities . It started in Korea in 1969, Focolare now has about 25,000 members in the country, and this year they have ordained their first Korean Priest for the movement.

The bishop who presided at the Mass mentioned that the movement has done a great deal for unity and has given much warmth to the Catholic Church in Korea. He said " without the Focolare movement would not the Korean church have been the Jewish wedding where the wine ran out?"

There are many movements in the Church and they have done a great deal to invigorate the Church and bring enthusiasm to those who participate; they in turn have been a leaven for the whole community.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Yongsan Tragedy Visited Again

The Yongsan redevelopment project and the aftermath are still very much a part of the news in Korea. Six persons were killed, five were protesters and one a policeman. The government and the construction companies went ahead with the removal of the tenants but not all agreed with the compensation that was offered; the refusal to move started the confrontation with the police, ending with a fire and the tragic death of six.

Urban renewal is an important part of any city's development but the problem comes when sufficient negotiation does not precede the removal of the tenants. Some of those who were living or had stores in the area were asking for more in compensation, enough to start again. The force that was shown by the government and the contractors was according to those who sympathize with the protesters returned in kind by the protesters. The protesters are reported to have used thinner to make Molotov cocktails which started the fire and caused the deaths.

In this week's Catholic paper it mentioned that the bishop in charge of pastoral ministry in Seoul made a visit to the site, extending condolences to the families of those who died. He expressed his surprise to see that the incident took place in a building facing the main street. He did not want to get sidetracked by the issue on who was right or wrong ( between the government and the families). There are people that are hurting and the Church should be there. It is difficult to decide who is in the right with both sides saying something different but he did say that we should be on the side of the poor and this was an issue where the poor are hurting.

The families of deceased are asking the government:

1) for the truth concerning the deaths,

2) an official apology from the government,

3) restoring the reputation of those who died.

If these conditions are fulfilled they will stop the demonstration and proceed with the burial of the dead who have been in the hospital mortuary for 5 months.

From the end of March there has been the office of the dead and Masses celebrated at the site of the tragedy. Let us pray that this will end soon with the Government taking steps to solve the impasse.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


The late rector of the Suwon Seminary is quoted as saying that "we became priests to love many and probably end up loving no one?"

A priest from the diocese reflecting on this found it to be very true in his regard.
There were two very small children who came to the Church to play after school and were a problem for the sisters, the office man and those working around the
Church. The problem could have been the lack of control in the family and the poverty of their up bringing. The Church community tried in many ways to improve their behavior with little change.

One day going over to the Church the priest met the smaller of the two and tried in his best possible manner to treat the child with kindness. "Hi, you have come to the Church!" He made for the door of the Church and the child ran up to him and said: "Father why is it that every time you see me you have a frown on your face?"

That child who was in the first grade, "was able to read my heart". The priest froze at the question of the child. He talked about love, human rights, busy with the pastoral work, communicated with his fellow priests and trying to be all things to everybody but this children was able to see into his heart.

The priest ended his reflection with the Russian writer Tolstoy. He talked a great deal about love for human kind and tried to live this but his wife Sophia said after his death that he was more in love with his idea of love than loving itself. He did not take care of his family. Instead of loving he loved liberty and the equality of love for humanity.

He continued with a quote from the Talmud: "a person who saves one person also saves the world." If we look at the life of Our Lord it is not difficult to see how he related with the individuals that he met. Yes, at times we can be more in love with love than with the actual practice of it in our lives.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Gift of Mission

In the East Asian Pastoral Review vol. 44 Fr. James H. Kroeger M.M. had an article The Gift of Mission in which he asks , why mission? What ends does mission really serve? The bishops of Asia have grappled with these questions for years. There are over 4 billion people in Asia and only 3 percent Christian. It is an important question. The bishops have collectively asserted: "We evangelize , first of all, from a deep sense of gratitude to God the Father who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3). Mission is above all else an overflow of this life from grateful hearts transformed by the grace of God."

He mentioned that it is probably the experience of giving and receiving gifts in Asia that prompted this response on the part of the bishops. He then presents in the "Asian" reflection
three interrelated moments of what might be termed "gift of missiology." Three "R" words capture mission as gift. Recognise, Receive, and Reciprocate. We have to recognize the uniqueness of God's gift. Receive it by personally appropriating God's gift. Reciprocate by sharing God's gift with others.

Mathew 10:8 succinctly captured this in: "What you have received as a gift, give as a gift"
"Without a personal experience of this life received as gift and mercy, no sense of mission can flourish."

It is possibly the lack of this personal experience of having received a gift that makes for the poor showing of our many Catholics at the Sunday Mass and the absence of desire for fellowship with Jesus and our fellow disciples.

My Present Theology of Ministry

This is a section of Fr.Theisen's dissertation written in July,1989 for the Master's Degree in Applied Spirituality. It's titled, "My Present Theology of Ministry." It received a grade of "A++ Superb!" which made me think I may not be as dumb as I thought.

...The next period of my life is one which gave me great satisfaction, contentment, and sense of fulfillment. These are the nine years spent in a town called Bu Pyeong. The experience of Bu Pyeong still greatly influences me. I was a zealous pastor, perfecting my method of conducting the catechumenate by using only the Bible as a text book and developing a First Communion Preparation book for children. It was during this time I was asked to found the Church's Tribunal system in Korea.

The presence of a large U.S, Army camp on one side of Bu Pyeong brought me a great deal of work processing G.I-Korean girl marriages. With 2000 young American soldiers and 6,000 prostitutes in the camp area of the mission, "Front Street" kept me busy. I became defender and priest of the prostitutes, most of whom took up this profession out of dire destitution and sacrificial love of their parents or family. I hasten to add, however, that not all the girls who came to marry G.Is were prostitutes. We had every class of society in Bu Pyeong but from the beginning I had a special love for the prostitutes of Bu Pyeong, those young girls who sacrificed their body and soul to survive themselves, and to save their families from starvation.

The procedure was for a young country girl whose family is starving or who's father or brother needed medical care to tell her family, "I am going to look for work in the city" she approaches the Madam of a house for a loan which she sends back for her father to receive medical treatment, or for an elder brother to go to school. Then she works as a prostitute till her loan is paid back. In effect giving her life to save her brother. I can understand why Jesus said the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before the Pharisees. These Korean girls are humble, with no pretense, generous, charitable to anyone who needs help and just plain good. beautiful people.

For about nine years, in cooperation with the US Army Chaplains I ran a weekly instruction class for the girls who were marrying Catholic American soldiers. I ran classes teaching these girls how to use American cosmetics, to avoid G.I. barroom English and how to adjust to American living. In all I counselled some 700 such couples. These girls came feeling rejected, guilty, and anxious because everyone despises them for what they are. The U.S. officials particularly placed every possible obstacle in the way of their marriage. I started by assuming they would marry their soldier boy and gave them what help I could to make their marriage a success. Once a girl realized I was on her side, we became close friends. That Army camp is closed now and my girls have grown up but I love them still. Those I am still in contact with are now middle aged matrons with children in high school or college, who have successfully adjusted to life in the U.S. with their husbands. How proud I feel when one or other searches me out to show off their children!

The question sometimes comes to my mind. Why do I feel so close to these prostitutes? All I know is that I still feel proud of that period in my life when I could walk from one end to the other of Front Street in Bu Pyeong without being accosted by any of the 6,000 girls who walked the streets there. If a new girl in town did try to spear me she would be pulled back by the other girls with the indignant explanation, You don't call out to him. That's Father Tai . He's Our Priest.O

ur Priest. I am still proud to be Their Priest!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Catholic Priest Visiting Nagasaki

A priest with his fellow seminary professors made a trip to Nagasaki and these are some of his impressions.

The Church in Nagasaki has the largest number of Christians in the Country with about 5% of the population Catholic. The Catholic population of the country is insignificant with this one exception. He was impressed with the ardor and zeal of this small group of Japanese Christians. Today there are more foreign Catholics living in Japan than there are native Japanese Catholics.

The second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and a very large number of Catholics were
killed. He mentioned Dr. Nagai Takashi who tried to understand how a loving God could allow such a tragedy to happen. He was injured in the blast, his wife was killed; he lived in a hovel that he had made, with his two children. (For an introduction to Dr. Nagai go here: During the years before his death he helped many who were injured, with a team that he had formed and worked to exhaustion. He wrote much in the few years before his death- the Bell of Nagasaki is his best known work. )

He had many question that he asked. Is there a connection between the end of the war and the destruction of Nagasaki? His conclusion was that Nagasaki was the table of sacrifice for the sins of humankind for the second world war ; the blood and sacrifice of the holy city of Nagasaki was part of the atonement, the sacrificial lamb. (I noticed in a comment to a blog that mentioned that in Hiroshima the feeling was : "look what you foreigners have done" in Nagasaki it was, "Never Again". I would like to think that is the Christian influence of Nagasaki. )

The priest spent some time with the Korean missionaries working in Japan and was impressed on how close they were with the Christians. On a visit to the bishop they were told that he hopes that they can remain in Japan for at least ten years and would like more.

The priest ends the reflection with a comment that it would be better to have the missioners come from Korea than from west: they have much more in common being both Asian. There are many problems between Japan and Korea but working with the Japanese in this spiritual setting can only be for the good of the relationship.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Korean Potters

A blog taken from the booklet People I Love, written by Fr. Roman Theisen some years ago,
while working in the diocese of Inchon.

Sister David was on the verge of tears with frustration, "And now the old man won't let the children go to school" she wailed.She had just returned from visiting a small village of pot makers. She herself had grown up in a potters' village and understood them.

The potters of Korea are unique. Catholicity was brought to Korea in the late 1700s by scholars who accompanied diplomatic missions to Peking, China, where they met Jesuit missionaries. The 1800s saw virulent persecution of the Catholics in Korea. Many Catholic scholars fled to the isolation of the mountains where they made a living by manufacturing large clay pots, used to store the Korean national dish kimchi, a sort of sauerkraut. Isolated from Korean society, the potters lost their scholarly status and became an uneducated clannish group, a people disdained as low class by other Koreans. Today( this has changed a great deal in the present with the introduction of plastics and other materials) one sees their kilns built into the side of hills throughout Korea. Almost 100% Catholic, they cling tenaciously to their faith, but are slow to spread it to others... after all their ancestors had their heads chopped off for this! They make their pots in the spring and summer, borrowing money to live from the Patriarch of the village who usually owns the kilns. They pay him back when they sell their pots in the fall. Tragically, many spend the winter hibernating, overindulging in drink until work resumes in the spring.

The village of potters from which Sister David had just returned was close to the Church. Sister David had gone to the village every day to teach the children catechism, and to teach reading and writing . We arranged to have them enter school at the level appropriate for their age. The children received the news with joy, clapping their hands with glee. The Patriarch's little son, Peter proudly told me, " I'am going to school just like the city children . I'll be in the Fourth Grade."

But... the Patriarch of the village refused permission for the children to go to school, "it's bad enough for the boys to learn to read," he told me with great sincerity, "But for a girl to learn to read...," he shook his head dubiously. " Have you seen those pagan magazines about romance on the news stands? If our girls learn to read they'll be corrupted by those magazines." I couldn't budge him and left, asking him to reconsider.

A week later I sent Sister David again, "Tell the Patriarch this time that the Pastor feels he has a moral obligation to send the children to school, and I don't see how I can give him the sacraments if he refuses permission. Don't actually threaten that I will refuse him communion, only the Bishop can do that, but make it sound as if I might."

Sister David returned ecstatic. "it worked!" she said. "He's allowing the children to go to school and is sending two of the mothers tomorrow to make arrangements with the school." Twenty children began school that term, walking three miles to and from school.

Some years later I received a letter from two of those boys , one of them Peter, the Patriarch's son. It was an invitation for me to act as honorary Assistant Priest at their First Mass, which they were concelebrating together. Three of the girls from Sister David's reading class who had entered the convent would also be home for the occasion. After the Mass I stood with the two new priests, the three young Sisters, and their families for a family picture. The Patriarch, who was now old and feeble, supported by his daughters as he walked, took my hand. "You were right, Father Tai," he said, " It did no harm to send these children to school." As he spoke I couldn't help but recall the day years before when little Peter, now Father Peter told me so proudly, " I'am going to school just like the city children."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On His 49th Year as Priest

June 11, 2009 4:31 am

According to the Korean way of calculating

I was 32 when I came here

Im 81, now, Whats the same?

And whats changed?

Nothings the same

And nothings changed.

The really me inside,

that Essence

the consciousness inside

that mud from Eden

that we now know as star dust.

A star dies, explodes, its dust

gives shape and form to us.

Out of space and silence

Comes --- us. The shapes we have

at age two, thirty-two, eighty-one.

But those shapes and

concretions added to us since

our first appearance here,

whether healthy body, active mind,

bad decisions, good works,

unhappy failures, joyous accomplishments

none of these things are us.

The I that is me

The conscious awareness

is separate from all these things

it cant be labeled

anymore than what we label God

can be labeled

nor can it pass away

any more than where-it-comes-from

can pass away.

Philosophers, theologians, Hindu holy men,

sibyls, oracles, holy women,

thinkers of all shapes and sizes

And often very varying opinions, all are

consciousnesses! (Theres a word

to tell you how difficult it is

to try to place a name on it - )

The Buddhists say God has

nine billion names;

Saint John said it better: God is love,

Which is as easily graspable as how many

billion stars are in the sky.

Love: you and I, he and she, we and they

all related, interconnected

(hooray for DNA) not only

to each other, but to apes and peacocks,

taro roots and lily pads,

dirt, mud, ice, water, steam

every-thing that is part of us,

from exploding stars

big bang, before, after, Space, Silence,

Two, thirty-two, eighty-one

Past and future are mere mental constructions.

The joy

is now this moment now forever

all inter-connected, God is love.

Thoughts early on a June morning

49th anniversary of ordination.

James Sinnott, MM

To learn more about Father Sinnott and his years in Korea click here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sad Statistics

The Catholic Magazine for priests that was published for many years called Samok stopped publishing in the beginning of 2007. It was the theological magazine for the clergy of the country; the expense of publishing and the subsidy it required was too much to carry, so it was discontinued. In 2008 the Gaudium and Spes Pastoral Institute began publishing with an introductory issue Joy and Hope (Gaudium and Spes). This year the 3rd volume has come out and below is an article that I will summarize titled, Sad Statistics.

Money is the standard of happiness and success in our world , he begins .

He mentions in the Gallup Poll taken last August the young Koreans see money as the prerequisite for happiness. The following was taken from a daily newspaper.

1) Do you believe that becoming rich is life's meaning for success?
Korea (50.4%), Japan (33%), China (27%) U.S. (22%)

2) Do you think that any method of making money is permissible?
Korea (23.3%) U.S. (21.2) Japan (13.4%) China (5.6%)

Transparency International this year had a survey among the middle and high school children in Korea, Bangladesh, Mongolia, and India they were asked.

3) To become rich is more important than to live honestly? Right?
Korea (22.6%) Bangladesh (3.1%) India (8.4%) Mongolia (9.1%)

The writer makes it very clear the sadness he feels seeing that the Korean students are over 3 to 7 times more disposed to wealth over honesty even though they are the better off of the four nations listed.

He mentions that 90 % of the European population has become much wealthier over the last 30 years but they have not been able to translate this into happiness. He feels that the Church has not been able to portray itself with the spirit of poverty. Jesus made it very clear that life is not the amassing of material things. They are absolutely necessary, important, and good but they are not everything. He concludes his remarks with: "The Church has joined the way of the World in its trust in the material and by doing so we have not been able to give Him to the world. "


Friday, June 12, 2009

The Catholic Bishops' Report

The report of the Bishops on the 2008 Catholic Statistics had no real surprises except for the fact that the number of Catholics has reached the 5 million mark- 10% of the population consider themselves Catholic.

The first official statistical report was published in 1907 with a total of 70,000. There has been a very large increase over the intervening years. However, it is not all rosy as one editorial expressed it in business parlance: "we have been selling more with a decrease in the profits."

From the year 2000 we have been increasing but the number of infant baptisms, those frequenting the Sacraments, Sunday attendance has decreased, the number of tepid has increased. The number of women is 58% and men 41%. This can be seen in any Sunday Mass. The Seoul Diocese has the largest percentage of Catholics with 13.6% .The number of those coming into the Church over the past 7 years is an increase of about 2%. This seems to hold steady for the other religions.

The most significant figure for me is the number of those attending Mass on Sunday. This should be a reliable figure of the devotion of our Catholics. It is 24% a decrease of 6.7% from what it was in 1998. The United States despite the problems the Church has had with the sexual abuse issue, the closing of Churches and other serious scandals, the number of Catholics is reported to be 25 percent that attend Mass on Sunday. That for me is an extraordinary figure when I compare it to the Korean 24%. We know statistics can mean very little but it does make the Korean Church concern on trying to match the internal situation with what we can see externally a very important task for the future.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Charisma Quotient (CQ) Demanding Times

One of the priests in the diocese writing for the Pastoral leaflet written for priests, had a very interesting take on our dealings with others. He mentioned how he himself when working as a manager of one of the committees preparing for a Church event, worked extremely hard, to the point of exhaustion.

There were many difficulties during that time but the biggest was working with a superior who thought differently than he did. He would give a stipend to those who worked on some of the preparations ; even when help was requested of someone, giving a stipend was frowned upon.

He mentioned the case of a person who was asked to write an article for a Sunday Bulletin and received 50 dollars as a stipend.“Father I work on this article for 5 full days and was given 50 dollars isn’t that a pittance?” He said laughing sheepishly.

He mentioned how those of us who work for the Church, and put in a great deal of time, take it for granted that this should be the case with others. However, we can not force others to volunteer their services even for a good cause.

He then ends by saying we should spend more time trying to win people to our side. This is what society seems to ask of us these days - CQ (Charisma Quotient) I would summarize what he said by the Dale Carnegie line: "to win friends and influence people". He concludes the article: “It is when others feel thanks and love that they will be large hearted and act warmly to others.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Sergeant Who Didn't Give A Damn

One of our Maryknollers who died in 2002, Fr. Roman Theisen, wrote a booklet titled People I Love. In the dedication he wrote: " The Good Lord has Blessed me with His Love and with the Love of many good Friends both in my homeland and in the "Field Afar". I will, at times, take from the booklet and paraphrase his vignettes for the blog.

Between the Parish and the Tribunal I was swamped with work, and already tired just thinking of it.

The Sister Secretary of our Seoul Archdiocesan Tribunal seemed frightened as she ushered a big U.S. Army Sergeant into my office. "Good morning, Father. Our Chaplain sent me to see about my marriage. I was married in the Church and divorced some years ago. Now I'm remarried out of the Church. The Chaplain said I should see you to get straightened out. I don't really give a damn about this religious stuff. But the Chaplain is a good Joe and I don't want to hurt his feelings. I thought I'd humor him."

I sighed, and thought of the hours of work it would take to process this man's case. And this for a belligerent bore who didn't "give a damn".

I felt anger rising within me, but I was too tired to throw him out. I took him through the questionnaires and obtained the other documents necessary. It turned out the Tribunal was able to grant him a declaration of nullity for the first marriage.

He returned to the Tribunal as belligerently as the first time, even refusing to sit down. I told him that the tribunal granted a declaration of nullity for his first marriage and he will be free to marry his present wife in the Church.

The big man looked at me; his face showed complete astonishment. He sat down. Tears flowed down his cheeks and he began to cry. When he regained control, he said quietly: "Father, this is going to be a very Happy Easter. My wife and I haven't been able to receive the sacraments for twelve years."

I wondered, "How many hurting people hide their hurt with a 'I don't give a damn?'"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Is the Latin Mass Necessary in Korea?

My colleague over in Western Confucian has a report on the "first Mass" in 40 years celebrated here in Korea. Check it out here.

I was surprised to read the report of a Traditional Latin Mass that was held in a church in Yongsan. It was commented that no Catholic media was present or any welcoming by a bishop, even though this was the first Latin Mass in Korea in 40 year. I can certainly see why and sympathize completely with the Church approach to this attempt to introduce the Latin Mass in the Country. It is not coming from the Korean Christians themselves.

In many parts of the Catholic world there is a legitimate desire for the Latin Mass but I believe that it is a mistake to think that the Catholics here in Korea have a desire for the Latin Mass. Most of our Christians are very recent and have no idea of what the Latin Mass is. We in Korea have not been polarized as many parts of the Catholic world have. We also have the Society of Saint Pius X in Korea with its strong desire to return to the pre-Vatican II days. I can see how the Church in Korea is not too happy to see a return to a time that most of our Christians do not miss or have any idea of what it was like.

It was reported about 200 attended the Mass. Those present, it was mentioned, were unfamiliar with the Latin Mass and the kneeling and receiving on the tongue was something they were not used to seeing, but commented on the reverence that was shown. There are many times when a person prefers to receive on the tongue and this is appreciated but you also have, very rarely, those that come to communion and want to receive kneeling. The Korean Church is probably one of the best organized and obedient Churches in the World. There is a problem when all is from above but the Korean Church is a young Church and the Christians are intelligent and zealous, the laypeople very active. We will be seeing a maturity and hopefully not with a loss of the unity, Church harmony and docility of our Korean Catholics.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Korean Catholics and the Environment

Everybody is talking about ecology these days and we as Maryknollers also have that as one of our concerns. What is involved and how we should go about it is not always easy to decide.

Our bishop. who is chairman of the Committee for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, in his recent message on World Environment Day : said that to have the government propose the Green New Deal and the 4 river project and to destroy our ecological system is a serious contradiction. To work to improve the financial situation of the country at the expense of the environment is meaningless.

The bishop feels as many others do that the 4 river project is another way of trying to get the canal project from Seoul to Busan reinstated with a different name without the lock gates. This plan for the canal was shelved because of citizen opposition. It was to be waterway from Seoul to Busan. We will resist the governments actions to disguise the canal plan in the name of improving water quality is the cry of the opposition.

The governments proposal sounds great: enough water supply, flood control, water quality improvement and ecosystem recovery, the creation of areas for cultural and leisure activities, regional development centering around rivers.

The problem with many of these great ideas is the price that has to be paid is not part of the reflection. The concern is with the economy and what it will do for the country.

The Korea Times reports that in December 2007, researchers claim they found the first bed bug sighted in Korea in 20 years. And they say it must have come from America, perhaps with a recent transplant from New Jersey.

This was sent to me by a Maryknoller . It was taken from a University of Mass. Amherst, Magazine.

Bed Bugs Are Back

Bed bugs, once nearly eradicated in the built envioronment, have made a big comeback,
especially in urban centers such as New York City. In the first study to explain the failure to control certain bed bug populations, John Clark, veterinary and animal sciences, with colleagues at Korea's Seoul National University, shows that some of these nocturnal blood suckers have developed resistance to pyrethroid insecticides, in particular deltamethrin, that attack their nervous systems. As these pests have evolved to outsmart the latest generation of chemicals used to control them since DDT was banned, the reserachers summarize that diagnostic tools to detect the relevant mutation in bed bug poplulations remain "urgently needed for effective control and resistance management."