Friday, July 31, 2009

Background to the Faith in Korea Part II

Continued from previous blog.

Bishop Blanc, who succeeded Bishop Felix Ridel as seventh Apostolic Vicar in 1884, assembled the first open synod and published a Directorium Commune or "Rule book of the Korean Church". It was based on records made by Father Ridel of resolutions passed at a conference of priests held from 1868 to 1874 in Chakou, Liaotung, a province of Manchuria (Northeast China) contiguous to Korea. The Bishop's directives guided mission work until revision forty-five years later.

Paris based French missionaries devised a system of registration to keep tabs on who were active and practicing Catholics. It mirrored civil regulations and gave a sense of urgency to being listed as a parish member in good standing. Twice a year the pastor gave an oral exam on prayers and doctrine after which he gave a ticket to be handed in at confession and recorded in the parish registry. The obligation included all from First Communicants to the elderly.

A seminary was established in 1885 with the first ten priests ordained in 1896. The Church started welfare work with a lay run orphanage in 1885 and an old folks home soon after. French Sisters of Saint Paul de Chartes arrived from Saigon in 1888. German Benedictine Fathers and Brothers of the Congregation of Saint Ottilien came to Seoul in 1909 and soon established a presence at Wonsan in present North Korea.

Suffering for the Church was far from over with the end of the Great Persecution(1866-'72). It continued with Japan's hegemony over East Asia beginning as early as 1904 but especially during the whole period of the occupation of Korea (1910-'45) in the form of Japanese hostility to Christianity and opposition to the role of foreign missionaries.

Following World War I which cost a heavy loss of personnel in European missionary institutes, the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda in 1922 thought to increase the number of apostolic works in Korea. Maryknoll consented to assume responsibility for the territory northwest of Seoul in the two provinces of North Pyong Yang and South Pyong Yang. Father Patrick J Byrne arrived in Seoul, May 10th, 1923 and was joined in the fall by Father John E. Morris and Patrick H. Cleary to make the original mission band. Father Byrne made his headquarters at Sinwiju ten miles distance from Wiju near the mouth of the Yalu river. Maryknoll Sisters arrived in 1924, German Benedictine Sisters came in 1925 and the Columban Fathers arrived in 1933.

The Centennial celebration of the erection of Korea as a Vicariate Apostolic was held September 26, 1931 in Seoul Cathedral. On this occasion, bishops and priests, foreign and Korean, well qualified both in experience and ecclesiastical training gathered in national synod. Archbishop Edward Mooney, Apostolic Delegate to Japan and later Cardinal Archbishop of Detroit, presided. Representing the Pyong Yang prefecture were Monsignor John E. Morris, and Father Patrick Cleary, Dean Chisholm, Walter Coleman and Leo Sweeney.

Not unlike the first assembly, the synod's purpose was to review and improve the regulations of intervening years. The Directorium was updated and revised as a mission-related compendium of theology, cannon law and liturgy. It became standard reference for pastors in legislative and juridical matters concerning spiritual life, social conduct, mission work and the exercise of pastoral authority. Monsignor Morris described it as a code of regulations applying to all areas, which the faithful were encouraged to follow for their salvation. Responding to Pope Pius XI's call for lay participation, the bishops started a movement for collaboration in evangelization and reminded the laity, of their glorious heritage of responsibility for the faith.

When the missionaries were expelled in 1942-'43 the local clergy under Bishop Francis Hong, who was consecrated June 29, 1943, took responsibility for the Church in Pyong Yang Vicariate. The division of Korea in 1945 brought increased difficulties until finally with Bishop Hong's abduction in May 1949 and the arrest of his priests in the following months the Church ceased to exist in the north.

Meanwhile in the south individual Maryknollers had returned and served at various posts in Seoul and vicinity from 1947-'50. Monsignor Patirck J. Byrne, founder of both Korea and Japan regions, returned from Tokyo in 1947 as Visitator Apostolic for Korea. He was appointed the first Apostolic Delegate in April 1949 and consecrated bishop on June 14, 1949 in Seoul.

On June 25, 1950 the fratricidal Korean War began. Maryknoll priests in the Republic served as chaplains during the fighting 1950-'53. In June 1950 Bishop Byrne was arrested at Myong Dong Cathedral with Father William R. Booth and endured a "death march" to North Korea where he died November 25, 1950 in a prison hut. In 1951 Father Joseph W. Connors established Choryong parish in Pusan.

Renewed emphasis on evangelization and a Second Spring began with the acceptance of a mission field in the Province of Chung Chong Pukto, in September 1953. Personnel included members from the former mission and newly ordained all serving under the leadership of society superior Father James V.Pardy. He was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Cheong Ju in 1958 and installed as first bishop of the diocese in 1962. The Inchon mission opened in 1958. Father Joseph W. Connors was appointed Vicar Forane with ordinary responsibility for the district and islands. Father Joseph P. Gibbons followed as vicar. In 1961 "Father William J. McNaughton was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Inchon and with establishment of the hierarchy in 1962 became first bishop of Inchon diocese. Parishes were staffed in Pusan, Seoul, Suwon and Masan. Like Pyong Yang (1942) in the north, Cheong Ju (1968) and Inchon (2002) dioceses were turned over to a Korean Ordinary.

Background to the Faith in Korea Part I

We have many histories of the Catholic Church in Korea but only one concerning the work of Maryknoll which Fr. Robert M. Lilly spent many years compiling. It is the history of the Korea Region from 1942 to 2002 Mission in the South. I will take sections from the preface and prologue which will give a brief overview of the early history of the Catholic Church of Korea.

Taken from the Preface

Mission history usually embraces wide vistas and a broad theme with incisive and penetrating descriptions of personalities and events- a collection of tales that help explain and reflect an era. For those expecting something of the same I can only offer an apology for a poor attempt in that direction.

The whole Korea mission north and south, has been an ongoing entity for some eighty years. nothing would do it less justice than a single overview. Instead, this is only an attempt to lay the foundation for a history of Maryknoll in the South. It is a bric-brac of names, places and dates- with an occasional vignette to underscore a point- but on the whole a telephone book of collected date.

Background to the Faith

The Korean Church is justifiably proud in being the only one not started by foreign missionaries. In the 17th century when intellectuals increasingly questioned the suffocating confines of Confucian society they came across the writings of Matteo Ricci in China. At first Christianity's philosophy and practical aspects for solving social problems was the main attraction. "Gradually though the scholars were captivated by the beauty of the content. "

Korea as a vassal state of China sent royal envoys and yearly tribute to Peking. Those diplomats knew Chinese because it was the language of the educated class. Except for the royal convoys no one could enter or leave the hermit kingdom. Books were brought back and studied and in time a select few under the leadership of Lee Byok came to understand and appreciate the Christian religion. Finally in 1784 one member of the winter convoy was encouraged to seek baptism.

Yi Sung -hun christened Peter returned and baptized others . The number of believers increased. Soon they began to appoint their own "priests" to offer Sunday Mass and administer sacraments. Realizing their mistake they stopped the practice and sent a request for priests to the bishop of Peking. In March 1785 the young community was detected and the first martyrs gave their lives in 1791. This was the first in a serious of persecutions lasting for over one hundred years.

Father James Chu Mun-mo a Chinese priest, entered Korea ten years after the first baptism. When he assumed pastoral direction of the faithful in 1794 Catholics already exceeded four thousand in number. In 1801 seven years after arrival, Father Chu was martyred and the flock was without a shepherd for thirty-three years. Though deprived of Mass and the sacraments they encouraged each other in the faith and continued sending emissaries to Peking with requests for priests. Paul Chong Ha-sang later canonized with Father Andrew Kim Tae-gon as a proto-martyr of the Korean saints, made nine trips to China pleading for clergy but the Church beset by persecution was unable to send anyone.

Rome prevailed upon the "Societe des Missions-Etrangeres de Paris" to take the Korea mission despite the congregation's shortage of priests and funds. Three missionaries, two priests and a bishop, arrived separately in the years 1836 through 1838. They were martyred in 1839. Another French bishop already had died on the China-Korea border waiting for an opportunity to enter the country.

Father Andre Kim ordained in Shanghai, China on August 17, 1844 was the first Korean priest. He was martyred at Saenamto, Seoul on September 15, 1846. Intense persecution continued but the laity fearlessly spread the faith and one by one French missionaries slipped into Korea. Of the twelve present in 1866, nine were martyred and three escaped to China. In the following years repeated attempts to enter the country failed. In 1876 two priests, Fathers Jean |Gustave Blanc and Victor Deguette, entered Seoul in disguise and for the first time since the persecution in 1866, the Church had priests.

Imposition of trade treaties forced an opening to the West. Persecution ceased and Catholics began to enjoy full liberty. When freedom of religious practice was decreed in a treaty with France in 1886 there were five priests and 12,500 baptized members. To continue in the next blog.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Community as Vehicle for Teaching

Over the years I have attended many workshops and seminars that Maryknoll has sponsored for the energizing and renewal of the men. One seminar that I attended, many years ago, left its mark on me. We were asked to bring what we were using for catechetical instruction in each of the countries in which we work. I did my homework and filled a traveling bag.

The seminar was not more than a few hours old when I realized that my bag would remain closed. They were talking about catechetics but not the kind I had in my bag. They are part of the teaching process but not the one that was being treated in that particular seminar.

Catechetics in the words of those attending the Seminar "was found to embrace the total process of discovering, developing and living Christian values and convictions". The Church, the living Christian Community, is the essential vehicle of catecheses; catechetical programs, with their personnel, aids and facilities are instruments of the Christian Community in this task.

Can we say that community is alive and well in the Church? Community requires cooperation: to have a catechetical meaning it has to be evident and central to the apostolate. We have prayed, played, celebrated and met together but worked together? From my experience it is this working cooperation that becomes a behaviorally induced form of catecheses and the one that makes the the biggest impression on those concerned.

This morning the small community here in the mission station, at the recommendation of the catechist, came to do some weeding and work in the rock garden. They began about 5:30 am before the sun came up and worked to about 8:00 am finishing with breakfast. They returned to their homes by 9:00 am. This working together has a dynamic that is different from the other types of being together. It is not only manual work but any type of working together. It is non- threatening, it gives the Christians time to talk with each other without a need to talk. It has a target they work to accomplish, find satisfaction in doing something that is bigger than their own needs; the by product is that the community becomes stronger, and the Spirit has plenty of time to work with us as a community.

We hear today of behavioral and affective approaches to belief. It has become very obvious that in many of the works of the Church we have limited ourselves to the cognitive so that those who have been exposed to the Christianizing process have everything but the heart for the work. The differences of Catholics to others in behavior is very little. This makes many think long and hard on what we are doing in preparing our Christians. We can not ignore the feelings of people and think we are reaching the whole person. It is in community that we can best reach the whole human person and it is only a community behaving like a community that is a vehicle of catecheses. If we forget this, we will continue to do a good job imparting knowledge, but do little to move the heart.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Does God Love You?

From our fellow Maryknoller in Hong Kong John Cioppa, In His Own Words.

Do you love yourself? You may not, but God does. When you look into the mirror, do you like the person you see? Do you feel that the "You" OK? God thinks so. Do you believe you are a good
loveable person? God does!

Recently I have been thinking, we have been teaching doctrine backwards. Even we priests in preaching have often emphasized the wrong thing.We have been telling people they are bad, unworthy, sinners,
unloveable, soiled, imperfect, and no good. We have been telling them they have to do lot of things to make God love them. They have to work hard , say a lot of prayers, do a lot of penance, beat their breasts and thenㅡand only thenㅡ, maybe God might like them. We have made life and religion a terrible burden for people, and I think God is unhappy about that. God wants to share His love with people and we have created obstacles instead of helping them come closer to Him.

God doesn't love us because we are good.God loves us and makes us good. I don't know how many times we have heard that God's love is unconditional, unlimited and never changing. I am not sure we believe that. We have created a God that fits our image and have done the same with people.The image we have of ourselves and others may not be what God had in mind.

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read that God made us in His image and likenessㅡmale and female. He made each one of us just like Himself. So we are made to look like God, in this image and likeness. Do you believe that? Now what is your image of God? I think most of us believe God is a wonderful, loving, caring merciful, sensitive, compassionate person.We have been taught that and have often experienced God's love and care in our lives.

Now if we are made in the image and likeness of God, we must be like Him. Right? That is, we too must also be wonderful, loving compassionate, caring people.We have been created good, gentle,
loveable, people just like God. And that is why God loves us. Not because we have made ourselves good , but because He made us like himself and
loveable, I don't think we believe that.

We keep struggling to do all kinds of things to make ourselves perfect in order that God might like us.May be we are trying too hard. He already likes us. Take a look at
Scripture. Who does God love most? Is it the priests of the temple, the doctors of the law, the Scribes or Pharisees who kept the law? These are the people who studied hard, obeyed the law, did all the right things and tried to make themselves good, to make
God like them. But who are the ones that God loves most? Aren't they the poor, the sick, the dumb, those possessed by devils, the prostitutes, the sinners? Aren't these the ones that God loves most?

Incredible? Yes it is, but just believe it. God loves you today just as you are. If you are young or old, a sinner or saint, sick or well. God loves you just the same, just as you are. And you know what? His love doesn't change. It is the same today as it was the day you were born. It is always the most and you cannot do anything to make Him love you more. His love is already the most. How can it be any more!

Points for a Private Retreat

One of our Maryknollers who was interested in getting Catholics to spend time in a private retreat recommended working with a game at the beginning of the retreat.

1) Write in a journal twenty words that I think describe me and my personality.

2) Reflect on each of these terms, I will make any changes that seem needed.

3) Mark each item that I consider to be good with an X.

4) Count the number of Xs and multiply by five.

Example, if the total is 75, this means that about 75% of the time I have a good opinion of myself and that I like myself that much . This is really an exercise which helps me to get some insight into what I think about myself and whether I like myself or not. 75% would actually be higher than a lot of people give themselves.

Another way for me to look at this game is to note that it is like scoring God's work. In the above example I gave God 75% for the job he did in creating me. When I read the first chapter of Genesis, I discover that God looked at what was created and said "this is very good." That means that God gave creation at least a 90% rating. When God created me God said, "this is very good." Am I saying something different from God? Is there something here I need to reflect on and do something about? The first chapter of Genesis says very clearly that God likes me and loves me and thinks of me as good. Do I think differently? Am I calling God wrong?

During the retreat, and later on , It is a good idea for me to reflect on the various words I used to describe myself. This kind of mediation can very often help me to gain a deeper understanding of myself and put me in a better position to improve my relationship with God. It can also give me insights into the kinds of things that I may need to reform my life. Many things are here for which I need to say thanks to God. Most likely there are also things for which I need to say I m sorry, forgive me Lord , and help me to change what needs to be changed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Commercialization of Sex in Korea.

This week's cover story in the Catholic Newspaper is about the commercializing of Sex. It is a topic we see frequently; as an American have taken it for granted, as a Catholic do not believe it is for our good. There was a very good interview by a woman professor working for the promotion of equality of the sexes in the pages of the cover story.

She mentions that we have come to a point where it is difficult to tell what is commercializing of sex and what isn't. It has worked itself into all the facets of our life.
We see it in the mass media under the guise of news , drama , games and even under the appearance of getting to understand a different culture: the naked sushi of a Japanese program where rice cakes topped with raw fish were being eaten off a woman's naked body.

She makes a very strong point that in the capitalistic system if you can make money selling a commodity then someone will. If there is something that will incite us than there will be people that will be attracted by curiosity. What's the problem?

Sex is the body. We can't separate sex from the personality. A person is the combination of heart mind and body. When we separate sex from the person we divide the person and we bring division into our lives. When this happens our person also becomes commercialized, we are a commodity. Sexual violence follows etc.
We break the genuineness of our sexuality and do harm to our personality.

When society makes personalities into a commodity we become a shell. We have to prevent our bodies from being sold as a commodity. People who have a concern for what is happening to the sacredness of sex should bind together to change the thinking of our society. Those who are making money with the selling of sex, hopefully, will be sensitized to what is happening in their treatment of sex.

When our bodies can be sold as a tool for making money than there is no limit to what can be done. We have seen it with woman and we are seeing it appearing with men and there is nothing to stop it from going to children. This destroys the intimacy, the joy and happiness that belongs to sex.

When sex has become a tool for making money a commodity, there is no limit to where this attachment to money will take us.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Direction of Catholic Church of Korea

It is not easy to distinguish between the different committees of Justice and Peace in the Catholic Church of Korea: the Committee for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, CPAJ , started on their own initiative and there are some 13 different diocesan Justice and Peace Committees. At the present there is some unity in the way they see our society.

Many within the Catholic Church feel the direction of the present government lacks concern for the weaker members. Political authority must be exercised within the limits of morality. The Government should listen to the voice of the people. There is a feeling that the government is curtailing freedom of speech and using force to a degree that is not necessary. Are these objective judgement of those who know the situation? Maybe not, but many have a gut feeling that does not go away.

The Pope mentions in the Encyclical God is Love three areas in which the Church must be active: (1) prayer and teaching, (2) work for the poor, (3) work for justice.
In this week's Incheon bulletin one of the older priests Fr. O Kyeong hwan, knowledgeable about our society mentions these three areas of Catholic concern, quoting from the Encyclical. He was a participant in the recent seminar in Seoul sponsored by the Bishops' Justice and Peace Committee. Below is a quote from the encyclical of Pope Benedict: #28-29 "The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply."

Bishop Choi of Incheon the Committee Chairman introduced the seminar by stating sovereignty starts with the people. All the power comes from the people . We can not disregard the prescriptions of the Constitution and must always have the the good of the people and their solidarity in mind.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alcoholism and the Catholic Church of Korea

On the Hic and Nunc website there was an interesting poll that was taken at the end of last year and on which they recently commented. It was a survey of 700 people that drank more than a bottle of Soju (cheap Korean liquor) a day. The Catholics registered the highest with 39.3% , those without religion 36.1 % , Buddhists were 25.6% and Protestants was 17.5%.

The reason the Catholics were the highest was the way they see drinking. They are warned against the hedonist life style but no interference in what to eat or drink. In the 2nd chapter of John's Gospel Jesus, after the wine ran out, made another batch for the wedding guests.. We also have St. Paul telling us the problem is not what we eat but our attitude . I would like to add that St.Paul also advised Timothy, to use wine in moderation for health reasons.

The Buddhist monks and nuns are not to drink but it is permissible for the Buddhist faithful to drink in moderation.

The Protestants are the strictest. The first missioners that came to Korea were from the States; they were strict in their teaching on alcohol: no alcohol or cigarette smoking.

There are many in the Church who have a problem with drink. Drinking can be something positive but can also turn into a harmful habit that destroys not only the person who drinks but all who are in some way connected with him or her, especially the family. Fr. Heo runs the Alcohol Pastoral Center in Seoul. A good explanation of his work can be found here.

The "bomb shot," or "poktanju" in Korean, is a favorite among many. A shot glass filled with soju is poured into a larger glass filled with beer. The mix is then consumed in one or two gulps. Those in the world of business have this as one of their occupational hazards. It is part of the world in which they live and it is little wonder that it does havoc to many.

Below are the words of a Columban priest who worked with those addicted in Korea before returning to Australia. This is taken from the blog of the Missionary Society of St. Columban.

12 Steps Come To Korea
In recovery from alcohol addiction, the first step often starts not with the alcoholic, but with family members and friends of the alcoholic. At about this same time, other Columban priests started education centers for alcohol and gambling problems. Twelve-step programs were started because of our concerns.

Two priests who had pioneered 12-step programs in Korea had died, so I was asked to take over an addiction recovery program in Seoul, South Korea's capital city. I had no trouble attracting people who wanted to attend the program at the center; it was the only such place in Korea, and we got calls from all over the country.

I also traveled to hospitals and visited with groups to teach family members and those working with addicts how to make life better. I learned that much damage is done by people with good intentions to help the alcoholic or compulsive gambler who, in fact, prolong or aggravate the problem because of their lack of knowledge or denial.

I have experienced much pain and heartbreak when listening to the stories of addicts over the years. I still get so angry when I come across people who have suffered for many more years than necessary, especially when they got wrong advice from someone like a priest, minister or medical professional.

After my work in Seoul, I moved on to Sydney, Australia, and continued my 12-step program work with both Koreans and those from other nations. As I completed studies in addiction counseling to be better prepared for my work, I was amazed at how often I met those who spoke with authority on the subject but who failed to inform themselves about counseling to become more effective.

Working with Koreans in Sydney has taught me some new things about addiction. Often, the addict had moved to Sydney to avoid temptation or to run from their problems and debts only to find that Sydney has more gambling machines and more clubs and pubs than Korea.

Combine this with the added stress of settling into a new language and culture, and family problems would often be brought to the surface. Children in the family must face alcohol and drug problems in their family.

As a result, a whole family becomes engaged in addictive and co-dependent behavior. The stress and tension often result in family violence and psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, paranoia and other disorders. The family in denial means that no one gets help, and the price is paid in mental and emotional problems.

"Comfort Women" Visited Again

More on "Comfort Women" from the Korea Herald, Friday July 17. This article was sent to me my Fr. Bob Lilly to add to what was said in a previous blog. This broadens the topic to sites of Japan's atrocities in other parts of Asia. The tour group visited "The House of Sharing" as part of the Korea study from July 2nd to 18th. You can view the article by clicking here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Blessed Are the Poor

From Fr. Cioppa's In His Own Words.

I am sure we have all asked this question. "Am I loveable?" In our contacts with people, we put our best foot forward. We let people see our good side: the handsome, concerned, loving, caring "me". But there is another side which I try to hide, which only I see: the proud, selfish, petty, domineering "me". Sometimes I wonder why did God do this? why didn't He make me with only a good side? Why didn't He do a better job and make me perfect? Why did He make life so difficult? I have to struggle to be good. He could have made it easy and just made a perfect world with all perfect people. Why didn't He?

If God knew that there were going to be so many wars, natural disaster, sin, pain and suffering why didn't He just make a nice comfortable world where we could all be happy for ever afterㅡlike the fairy books say? The question keeps coming back especially when we see a child suffer, the poor dying of hunger, prostitutes walking the streets, global warming, people killing one another in wars and overflowing prisons. Why? Why? Why?

One time I asked a group of social workers, "If you were creating the world and you knew then what you know now, would you have created the world? Would you have made men and women just as they are now?" They discussed the question for a while, and then answered, "Yes". I was surprised and asked why. They said that in the people they served: the street sleepers, the poor, the sick, the dying, the prostitutes, the mentally impaired, the prisoners, the disobedient students, the elderly, they found joy, peace, dignity and a depth of life which they did not find in others. They found them loveable. If these social workers found that these destitute derelicts, dregs of society were loveableㅡ then it has to be even more true of God.

God looks at all the evil in the world, all the unthinkable crimes men commit and all the destruction they bring about and He still finds us lovable. Unbelievable! Astonishing! Impossible! Yes, but true! Isn't that a wonderful thoughtㅡthat God's love for us is unconditional?

I think God's reaction is much like the social workers. He, like them, looks at the bottom of the social scale and is moved by them. His heart goes out to them and finds them loveable. God looks at them, the world, you and me, and sees the bad side of us, but He also sees the good side and finds us loveable. Hard to believe, isn't it?

One last point. When I look at myself, doI see myself as weak, getting older, a sinner, afraid, lonely depressed, not so smart and feel I just can' get ahead? If the answer is yes, then God probably loves you even more than if you were brilliant, healthy, young and successful. So rejoice! You just joined the poor of the world and God finds you loveable!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Man's Worst Disease

The meditation below is taken from Fr. John Cioppa's In His Own Words.

Once in an interview with a reporter, Mother Teresa said that for all kinds of diseases there are medicines and cures. We have almost eradicated leprosy and we have medicines for TB and malaria.But there is one terrible disease she said which I don't think can ever be cured.That is the disease of being unwanted. Every human being wants to be loved. Not a cheap love, but a deep love, a love of being accepted for what I am. A baby who is not welcomed is often ill. A student who does not feel accepted will not learn. A worker who is not accepted by his colleagues will suffer ulcers. A Religious who is not accepted by her community will never be happy.

Acceptance means that people with whom I live give me a feeling of self-respect, a feeling that I am worthwhile, that I am good. They are happy that I am who I am. They don't demand that I be someone else. They don't insist that I be perfect. Each of us is born with many potentialities, but unless they are drawn out by the touch of acceptance, they will remain dormant. Acceptance does not mean that I deny the defects in someone or say that everything he does is beautiful. Only when I accept a person can I really see his defects. People who are not accepted crave , long for it and will do anything to get it. They boast in order to get praise. They exaggerate because they feel inferior and they tend to be rigid and afraid to risk... If I don't experience trust: being trusted and trusting others, my life becomes empty.

I am sure we have all experienced this lack of acceptance at times in our lives. Is there an answer to all of this? There is. And this is going to sound simplistic . But it is a genuine realization that I am accepted by Godㅡas I amㅡ as I am at this very moment and not as I should be. God doesn't demand that we be perfect before He loves us. He doesn't even demand that we be good. He just asks that we trust Him believe in Him, and accept His love.

Many of us spend our whole lives doing many things to build up merit so God will love us more. We believe that the more "I do" the more God will love me. We cannot earn love. Love is a gift from God. We cannot do anything to make God love me. He loves us already and He cannot love us any more because His love is perfect. "In this love, not that we loved God but that He loved us.... We love God because He first loved us." (1 Jn. 4:10) It is hard to believe but God knows my name. In the book of Isaiah God says: "See I have branded you on the palms of my hands." (Is 48:1216) Imagine that! God can never look at His hand without seeing my name and thinking of me. How many times have we said the words, "God loves me". But for most of us deep down in our hearts we have some questions. Does He really love me with no strings attached? Just as I am? With all of my faults? Let me answer. Yes, He does and most of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to understand and open our hearts to accept that love. It is called Faith.

At the end of the interview with Mother Teresa, the reporter said, "Now I understand why you gave up everything to work with the poor hoping that through your care , concern and love they might realize that they are loved, accepted and beautiful people."

II Vatican Council- Reflecting on the Past

Fr. O Kyeong Hwan's words in this weeks Catholic Bulletin.

An Ecumenical Council is a world wide meeting of the Catholic bishops. In the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church we have had 21. The first council was Nicaea 325 and the last one was the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The Second Vatican Council was the first Council that the Korean Bishop have attended.

Fr. O has selected four areas in which we as Church should reflect and renew our lives taking the documents of Vatican II as a starting point.

The first is taken from the Decree on Ecumenism. #3 "In subsequent centuries more widespread disagreements appeared and quite large Communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Churchㅡ developments for which, at times, men of both sides were to blame." "St. John has testified: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1Jn. 1:10). #7 "This holds good for sins against unity.Thus, in humble prayer, we beg pardon of God and of our separated brethren, just as we forgive those who trespass against us. "

The second refection is taken from Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World. #36 "Consequently, we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science. The arguments and controversies which they spark lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed. "

The third reflection: Religious Freedom #12 "In the life of the People of God as it has made its pilgrim way through the vicissitudes of human history, there have at times appeared ways of acting which were less in accord with the spirit of the gospel and even opposed to it."

The fourth reflection is taken from The Church Today. #19 "Yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation( Atheism). For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism.To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine , or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion." #21 "This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy."

It is good for us to reflect on our past and acknowledge that many of the problems we have in the Church and in Society are in areas of our life where we have not been faithful to our calling as disciples of Jesus.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thoughts on VacationㅡSaints

Fr.John Cioppa in Hong Kong. In His Own Words.

One nice thing about vacations is that one has more time to read, reflect, rest and write. Just recently I finished a book entitled, "Why be Catholic". The last chapter is on saints. The author a Franciscan Priest, placed it last since he says this is the ultimate aim of Christians- not to know about the saints, but to become saints. Saints are our heroes; they are the ones who did ordinary things with deep faith. They would say that they did not accomplish anything great, but they allowed God to accomplish great things through them.

God's grace is always mediated through human experience, most often through people. We encounter God not through the head, but through the heart. Reflect for a moment about the times that you studied doctrine or attended Sunday School or even heard a priest preach. Which do you remember more: the "person" or what they said?" Think back on the events that have formed you, the things that have affected your life most. Aren't they usually associated with people: your parents, your husband or wife, a friend, a teacher or perhaps a priest or Sister? Catholics have followed the examples of their saints more than they have the ideas in their doctrines . Ideas are abstract but lives are real. People are often bored by theology, but they are always fascinated by saints. Saints fire our imagination: stir up our hearts; awaken our dreams.

In the lives of others, especially in the lives of the saints, we discern how God works in human life. We all want to see God. But in this life we encounter the invisible God in and through the visible world. We experience the love of God through the love of other people. We experience the care and forgiveness of God through the care and forgiveness of others. We all want to know how to live? The saints are our teachers and models. And there is not just one model. There are saints who are martyrs, ascetics, mystics, activists, priest, Sisters and lay people. Some were very simple, others very learned: men, women, single and married. ( I am writing this on July 23, the feast day of Saint Bridget. She was married and had 8 children.) Some saints were even considered eccentric.

As we look at the lives of the saints we find one thing in common.They became free, loving, happy and fulfilled people only through years of struggle, both within themselves and with the world. As Catholics we are not called to admire the saints, we are called to be saints. Catholicism is not something to know, it is a vision . It is a way of life. And the Saints are our models.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What is Progress for Korea?

A parishioner gave me two articles taken from the daily newspaper, both interesting in their similarity on a number of points. She is familiar with this blog and thought they could be used.

One article was written by a foreigner ( Nothing has Changed), the other by a Korean, Professor of Psychology( Koreans' personality and destiny). Both would say we have been running in place (motionless) for the last 10 years and have not taken our rightful place in the lineup of Nations. I do think they are overly interested in the material side of life, be that as it may, they agree on a lack of "progress". They also agree that Koreans are overly interested in what others' think of them; mostly seeing themselves through the eyes of others.

The article, by the Psychology Professor, had a very provocative understanding of why Koreans trust fortune tellers and people who seem to have their fingers on what is going on. They can't figure out why others know them more accurately than they do. The Professor would say it is a lack of self- knowledge.

Koreans are quick to believe what others say of them. It is because they do not know themselves and have not spent time in delving into their personalities and character. We are always giving clues on who we are and those who are perceptive can read us like a book. Koreans are surprised when they hear what will happen to them, not realizing that we have given others the clues by the very things that we have told them. They jump to the conclusion that these people have some extrasensory gifts that allows them to see what we can't, not conscious that we have given them the information. His conclusion was that Koreans have to get to know themselves and have more confidence in who they are before they take hold of their own destiny.

It is easy to make sweeping statements about a country that is still very racially homogeneous like Korea. She belongs to the modern age: many search for brand names, many believe the good life is doing what those in the west are doing-listening to their music, watching their movies and indulging in their pastimes. There is a great deal that is good and worthwhile coming from other cultures but there is also the necessity to discern and not mindlessly accepting what others seem to enjoy. Koreans are more than equal and often in possession of more qualities for living the good life than those they want to imitate. They are intelligent and extremely capable but they have come late to the table of progress and are still not sure if it is time to leave and go on their own.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making a Catholic Retreat in Korea

One of our Maryknollers, Fr. John Meehan, who had a great deal of experience in central administration, came to Korea late in his years, spent some very profitable time in Korea, volunteered to go to China where he died and was buried in 1998. He left us with many memories and a booklet of suggestions for private retreats of which the following has been taken.

One young man, involved in many business adventures, took me out to lunch in an expensive restaurant. He read the menu quickly, ordered for all in the group, and asked the waitress to please hurry. His portable phone rang and he spent several minutes trying to settle a distant problem. The meal came along with several cans of beer. He took a few bites, consumed a can of beer, answered his phone again, apologized to us, and left. His wife looked at me and said with her eyes filling with tears, that this is the way it is all the time.They have a large house, a find son, a great car, and almost everything they need or want. But they seem to have no time for one another, much less for quite time. Some of the most important parts of life and Spirit are crumbling and becoming sick.

This story seems to be one that is so ordinary that it makes one fear for the future of our humanity and that of the entire world. In one way or another each of us suffers from the effects of pressure, tension, bad stress caused by modern life styles. If nothing else this kind of life style filled with stress and speed is creating great difficulties in our love and relational lives. We have problems relating to our families, our loved ones, our neighbors and more frighteningly , our God.

As an asideㅡI have used this story but have also in my own experience seen the same. I rarely say anything because it has become a way of life for us now in Korea but I do find it extremely annoying when we are sitting down at a meal and some one at the table takes his hand phone and goes on with a conversation with some one in unknown space. It is happening at the Mass where someone will leave the Mass to go outside to answer a call. I have this happening when I am teaching catechism, teaching English classes and in retreats. Since I do not have a cell phone, I do find it difficult to say what I feel. The cell phones are valuable and can facilitate much of the work that one is doing. It can be a very helpful friend in need and has many valuable uses but it should have its place and not encroach on the here and now relationship with others. There has to be a cell phone etiquette that becomes acceptable to us of the 21st century.

Making a retreat frequently is a good way to fight the encroachment on our quiet life. A private retreat is a time to put aside all the pressures of normal every day life and to spend time getting reacquainted with what is going on with our life in the spirit. This practice in Korea is called P'i Chong(피정) - Retreat and Quiet- The two Chinese characters used in the word of retreat mean to withdraw from society and to retire from the world for awhile in order to clean the soul and spirit by looking and observing in quiet and stillness. Since the day when this word retreat was first introduced to Korea and China, the ideal of the retreat has grown to mean stepping a little away from the world so we can get a better look at it, a little like going up the mountain in order get a better overall view of our hometown.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Saints- Happy Or Sad People?

A meditation from our Maryknoller in Hong Kong Fr. John Cioppa, taken from his book In His Own Words.

I was reading an article recently that said the primary religious virtue is Joy together with gratitude. That surprised me. I would have chosen Faith, Hope or maybe Love. But the more I think about it the more I realize how correct that statement is. Happiness is the key. If God is happy and we are made in the image of God then we are made to be happy too. If I were asked what is the one thing that every single person in the world desires- there is no question it is "Happiness"! This is the basic search of every individual. "How to be happy?" "What do I have to do to be happy?" Some buy lotto tickets, some like expensive clothes or cars, others study the stock market, get married or watch TV. The motive of those who go to war or don't go to war or even of those who commit suicide is - Happiness.

True HAPPINESS is not a feeling. It is not perfect health or long life. True happiness is sharing in the life, spirit and joy of God. The saints give a clue as to what that happiness is. We often think of the saints as individuals who were flawless, pious, quiet people who spent much time in prayer, suffered a great deal and looked forward to death. Some may be like that, they don't seem very human. I don't like that image of a saint. Actually, I don't think it is even correct. I think the saints wanted to be happy just like you and me. They didn't search out hardship, misery and suffering. They were people who were compassionate, understanding , faced obstacles with peace and freedom, had a balance in their lives, a sense of humour and above all found JOY in all things. They had a deep appreciation of the beautiful things in life.

Look at St. Francis. He was a poor man but he was a happy man. He took delight in each day, in the flowers, birds, animals, food and work. He addressed the sun as "Brother Sun" and the moon as "Sister Moon". The saints were people who felt gladness and gratitude to be alive. They were people who were truly human and filled with joy. Like St. Irenaeus said, " The glory of God is man fully alive." Our bodies and the world are not obstacles on the path to God-they are vehicles in which we travel on the journey to heaven. We forget that God said all of these things are good, very good. The highest compliment we can give to someone who gives us a gift is to thoroughly enjoy the gift . The greatest compliment we can give to God, Our Creator, is to thoroughly enjoy the gift of life. The best way to pay for a beautiful moment is to enjoy it.

The saints are people who realized and lived out the fact that this world is not our true home. But they are also the ones who enjoyed life most fully.They loved God but if you read the lives of the saints you will even find that some where fat, had double chins and liked good chocolate. So let's enjoy life , thank God and join the communion of saints.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Another meditation from our fellow Maryknoller in Hong Kong, Fr. John Cioppa.

I like to walk. I like to walk with others. This provides a great opportunity to relax, talk and share views on life with a friend. But I also like to walk alone. I have found it is one of the best ways to pray and it's easy. For many of us as soon as we think of prayer, we think of folding our hands, kneeling in church or saying the Rosary. But walking can be prayer too.

I like walking in the country parks best.... But you can walk in the streets as well. Prayer walking is an attitude. If you can walk, you can pray-walk. The simplest way I call "strolling " with your soul. You just walk along in a relaxed and easy going manner enjoying nature, stopping to look at whatever grabs your attention: a flower, a tree, a pond, ball game or kids playing on the swings. You just admire and enjoy what you are experiencing. Perhaps it's the smell of the flowers or the sour odour of fermented leaves in the Fall. Whatever it is, we drink in and feel in our souls a sense of joy and peace, and thank God that we are alive and here. We bless all of creation and the whole world becomes our "temple".

Another kind of prayer-walking is more formal. We can consciously breath in the fresh air , count our steps, repeat a phrase that we like, e.g. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me; My God I place all my trust in Thee, or like what Thomas the Apostle said, " My Lord and My God." We can find a word or phrase in cadence with the walking. Some people like to say the Rosary. Don't worry too much about what you are saying, just keep up with the rhythm.

I prefer to use my own words and talk to God. Sometimes I praise Him for the beautiful day and the opportunity for quiet reflection. Other times I discuss with Him a difficulty I am having, tell Him about my mood. good or bad. Sometimes I talk with Him about the day ahead or discuss with Him future plans or ask His help with a decision I have to make. If I am alone and no one is in sight, I talk aloud to God. Sometimes I repeat a short hymn.

Prayer -walking is healthy. It involves the whole person, body and soul.

Prayer-walking is not for experts. It is for ordinary people with feet. If you have feet, you can pray.

Prayer-walking is right for our times. It is a combination of action and contemplation. It reduces stress.

Prayer -walking helps us to pray naturally and to form the habit of praying always.

Prayer-walking is enjoyable and easy. You can prayer -walk alone or with someone else, at day or night, in rain or shine, in the city or country , with music or quiet, for five minutes or five hours. Try it....

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Encyclical Caritas in Veritate

The Catholic Church of Korea is very conscious of its unity and rarely do you see any public disagreement among the higher echelon in the Church. So it was a happy surprise to see there was some misgivings in not seeing an early Korean translation of the recent encyclical of the Holy Father Caritas in Veritate. It was signed on June 29th and was released on July 7th. The Catholic Church in Korea appears not to have a high priority f0r the translation of Vatican Documents. It could be the difficulty of translating without the Latin copy but more likely the desire for perfection which seems to be very Korean. A provisional copy to be amended later would be welcomed.

The editorial in the Catholic Peace Paper mentioned that in the west the encyclical was awaited with much expectation and when finally released there was much analysis and comments. Here in Korea it has been too quiet. It is a letter that all of us should read and study and little has been made of the encyclical. It is true that we have a language barrier but even considering this the editorial emphasized it has been too quiet.

The encyclical was released in English, French, German Italian , Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. Apparently the Latin text is still not released. There will be much dispute on what the letter says in certain parts of the encyclical: the comments that have been made tell you more about the one making the comments than on what the Encyclical had to say. The Encyclical is very compact and complex; there will be much said about the contents in the years to come.

The Pope right from the beginning makes it clear "The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim 'to interfere in any way in the politics of States.' She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation."

The difference of opinion we have will be expressed very eloquently by those on one side or the other; I do hope that we have enough humility to open ourselves up to change. Cardinal Newman said to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. Hopefully what we read will both allows us to concur and to be open to change.

The social evils and the value for life are all of one piece - to put one against the other is not a Catholic way of looking at life. " When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion. The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society." (#39)

I will be waiting for a Korean copy of the Encyclical so that I can discuss it with the Catholics. The Encyclical is following a long tradition of social teaching. The letter is full of our traditional teaching but at times a different emphasis, helpful in our approach to the globalization we are experiencing. Hopefully, the translation will not be delayed too long.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Grandmother and Her Farming Son

In the Catholic Church of Korea this Sunday is Farmer's Day. One of the priests in the diocese has given us a modern day parable to understand the problems of farmers.

Grandmother Anna lives in the country doing her farming. In recent years because of her age she is often sick and in need of attention from her youngest son and daughter-in- law. In the past she was not considerate of her younger son ; she is now sorry for neglecting him and comparing him with her older son.

Anna was the mother of two sons. Her husband died a few years ago and the oldest son lives in Seoul. From a very early age the older son showed signs of being very intelligent and was the pride and joy of the whole family. It was financially difficult sending him to college; they sold part of their land to send him to the very best schools. He didn't disappoint, and now has a responsible job in a big company. The members of the community in which they live praised his parents for raising such a son which helped them forget their difficulties.

The oldest son was showered with praise and expectations while the youngest son not very good in his studies, listened to constant reprimands and was ignored. He barely finished high school and ended up helping his father on the farm. He married a farm girl and took over the farm.

Anna in recent years is beginning to see her younger son with different eyes. He is working the farm; he and the daughter- in- law are taking care of her for which she is most thankful. The older son succeeded in making a place for himself in society which is great but she wonders what would have happened to her without her younger son. The youngest son is taking care of her, farming the ancestral land , and taking care of the homestead, what a great blessing. The oldest son and daughter-in-law pay them a visit a couple of times a year. They are not able to make the trip often and even if they if it were possible the daughter in law, who is not used to difficult work , would not be able to work the farm and take care of the mother.

I can't help but recall the words of our Lord: the stone that was rejected has now become the corner stone of the building. The youngest son who was of no use was cast to the side but now is the pillar of the family and the farm. In our society those who are working to give us daily necessities ,workers and farmers are on the margins of our society...

The oldest son of Anna who had become a success in life is precious but so is the youngest son . In our society we need the politicians, the teachers, the entrepreneurs, the artists etc. but we also need those who give us the produce from the farms. To entrust the food that we need to imports from the outside is a great problem.

We are letting the farmers and the farms go down the drain. Outside of rice almost all of our food is coming from overseas. In the not too distant future when even the rice will come from overseas the farming section of our society will disappear. Already the desire to live on the farm is disappearing . It is our job to help the farms by making the effort to buy our farm products.

The Bishop of Incheon in his message for Farmer's Day stressed the need for all of us to support the buying of Korean farm products by those in the City. Even if it is more expensive it is the way we can show our solidarity with those on the farm and our fraternal love for our brothers and sisters.

The editorial in the Catholic Paper mentioned that in Korea we supply only 25% of the food that we eat. The population of our farms is only 6.6% of the total and getting old, it is difficult to find any young people left on the farm. The effort is being made to establish direct links to the farming communities to buy the products of the farms. It has been operative for over 14 years but we see little improvement over the years. The attempt is being made to begin to have trust in our farming communities and see if we can turn this around.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mission Stations and Catholicism in Korea

Some years ago on Kang Hwa island there were 10 mission stations visited once a month. A mission station is a community in which a priest does not reside and where the catechist takes care of all the services and would act like a permanent deacon. Today 4 of these have become parishes. The importance of the mission stations in the growth of the Catholic Church in Korea would be hard to ignore.

There was an interesting article in the July issue of Kyunghyang Catholic Magazine on the Life in the mission stations during the persecution. It was the place where a new life was nurtured, the seed bed for inculturation ( Inculturation is a term used in in the Roman Catholic Church, referring to the adaptation of the way Church teachings are presented to non-Christian) and maturing as Catholics. It gave them the strength to follow the way of martyrdom before religious freedom arrived. Below is a summary of the articles with some quotes from some of the missioners.

(St. Anthony Daveluy, 1818-1866) wrote in his diary:
All the people although poor were able to help the poorest. They took care of the widows and orphans. During these hard times the expression of love was something that was never seen before. Some older people gave all of their goods to help others. Those who had more education than others entering the Church thought it their duty to help to teach others the prayers and the catechism. Those who gained some influence in the community because of their knowledge, personality and reputation, moved by the spirit, devoted themselves completely to the difficult task of building up the Korean Catholic Church .Even after the freedom of religion this way of acting continued in the mission stations, in the Chollado area.

Paris Foreign Missioner Baudounet, 1859-1915 wrote: Seeing the working together of those entering the Church is marvelous. Among them we have an exceptional practice of virtue, a show of love and devotion. Although there is a lack of material goods they share the little they have. When I look around the mission station I see the early apostolic Church. The Christians are living like those in the Apostolic Church, they expected nothing from this life and followed the example of their elders in the Faith.

The example that the French Foreign missioners saw in these mission stations allowed them to give themselves completely to the work and it gave them great joy and pride.

(St. Pierre Maubant , 1803-1839) traveled to the mission stations from September to June of the following year. Choi Thomas mentioned that he walked almost 1700 miles from January to September. Whether it rained or snowed he walked 20 miles a day. When his health began to take its toll he walked about 14 miles a day but even that year he walked close to 3,300 miles

The writer of the article concludes that even though at that time the social position of each was extremely important and strict the Christians did not feel restrained by it. They were building a new society. They were moved by love and detachment. Their daily lives and spiritual life were one. This life of Faith became a part of who they were and gave them the strength to face death.

This faith of the Christians ennobled the Missioners; it gave them the strength to face death. They helped each other to be people of Faith. The author wondered if without the mission stations we would have had the number of martyrs, the growth and the inculturation of the Church in Korea.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Today, Wednesday the 15th week of Ordinary Time, the first reading in the Divine Office was about the seizure of Naboth's vineyard by Ahab the king of Samaria. Ahab was willing to give Naboth a fair price for the vineyard and even exchange it for another vineyard to his liking. I am sure he would even have made the deal extremely attractive. Naboth however, was not interested. " I will not give you my ancestral heritage." was Naboth's answer. Ahab was so upset that he took to bed and would not eat. His wife Jezebel arranged to have Naboth killed and solved the problem without much trouble. (I Kings 21)

There is a similar problem in the Seoul Archdiocese with the Kajwa Dong parish: they are asked to give up the Church for redevelopment of the area for a New Town. The Redevelopment Co-op is willing to give the money necessary for relocating and building, but the community is not interested. A struggle between the Church and the Co-op is well advanced. The feeling of the Church is that they are not a commodity that is bought and sold. There is much more involved here than money.

The society that we are living in today is one that sees all problems easily solved with money. I suppose that Ahab and his wife had the same feeling with the vineyard. It was close to the King's house and he wanted the vineyard to make a vegetable garden, a very praiseworthy desire, but Naboth had a great deal of sentimental feeling about that vineyard. It was his history and money, no matter how much, would entice him to give it up.

The Parish Community has begun to collect signatures; they have 16 thousands at present and will approach the other parishes in the deanery for the 50 thousands necessary t0 bring it before the court of law.

There are many things in life that do not have a price and we tend to forget this in our world of commerce.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Church of Korea's Legion of Mary

There was a news report that mentioned a Legion of Mary presidium in Pusan with 100% attendance for 10 years starting from March 2000. An extraordinary fact, very hard to pass over without a comment. There were 12 members of the presidium and most of them are over 73 , the majority illiterate. This is an indication of the place of the Legion in the life of the Korean Church. There is possibly no country in the world that has a Legion of Mary as active and as large as the Korean Legion of Mary.

The Legion is the largest lay Catholic group in the Korean Church with about 300,000 active members and about a similar number of auxiliaries, and over 30,000 Presidia ( individual groups). There are very few parishes without a Legion. There is even a group in the mission station at which I am in residence.

The Legion of Mary is the most successful lay apostolic group in the Korean Catholic Church. It has made a tremendous contribution to Church development. It has helped Catholics mature in their faith, motivated them to participate in the work of the Church, gave them a taste for small group activity, helped them to understand the life of prayer and gave them a desire for learning and motivation to improve their life of Faith.

A chaplain for the Legion is quoted as saying that: " we can't think of the Korean Catholic Church without the Legion of Mary, and Korean lay Catholics' spirituality can naturally be thought of as the spirituality of the Legion of Mary."

The Legion can and often does go along without the direction of the priest although this is not what is desired. In some parishes you have over 20 different presidia and a curia that helps them to coordinate their work. The prayer and effort they expend in apostolic works is truly impressive. They are expected to spend 2 hours each week doing some missionary activity with another person: women and men, young and old learned and illiterate, a cross section of the Korean Church.

The Legion has a problem, however, with many within the Church for not changing their handbook which is pre- Vatican II; much of the spirituality is not attractive to many within the Church. Some do not want to tamper with something that is not broken others want to see more freedom and fewer regulations. This will be a point of contention for many in the years to come. It will be interesting to see the changes that will be made. It has been a force for good and hopefully after the discussion and changes, it will continue to be a force for good.

Church building : a tent or a tabernacle

A fellow Maryknoller, Fr. John Cioppa, who celebrated his 50th Anniversary of priesthood has a book of reflections on his years of work in Hong Kong. I found his thoughts In His Own Words to be very wise and could translate many of them very easily into the Korea situation which I will do in coming blogs.

Sometimes in conversation with Catholics they complain, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had a real church here?" I am not so sure. I am convinced more than ever that having a small temporary "church" or Mass center ... has many advantages. Let me explain.

I guess we should start with a consideration of just what a church building really is. The church building is the place where a group of believers come together to pray, worship God and through the liturgy it transforms into the "true presence of Christ". Vatican II has made it very clear that the "Church" is the people of God, a community which accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior. The church (building) is the home of the Christian Community.

For Many centuries churches were designed with the Blessed Sacrament as the focal point. They were constructed in such a way that the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the most prominent place in the building- usually in the middle of the main altar. This was to accommodate the principal devotion of the people, namely the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Have you noticed that in all of the churches today , both old and new, the Blessed Sacrament is now placed on a small side altar like those in ...

The emphasis now in church design is to create a favorable environment for the Christians to gather and pray. Both church design and the liturgy itself are reminders that we are a community on a journey and that this earth is not our permanent home. So the best symbol of our "Church" is not a massive, beautiful structure of marble and stone, not a place that is fixed, secure and solid, but rather a TENT, a symbol of travel, impermanence, change and simplicity. This is the primary image of the Church of the millennium: a TENT not a tabernacle.

The church is a place for people to gather. The liturgy is not a state. It is a series of feasts in dynamic relationship. We begin with Advent and Christmas, move through Lent and Easter to Pentecost and finally to the end of the year with the feasts of All Saints and Souls reaching a finale in the celebration of Christ the King. In the liturgy we bridge the world of the present and the world to come; earth and heaven; the secular and the sacred. We come to the liturgy not as passive observers, but as active participants to be transformed. We come to church not to feel comforatable, secure and "at home". We come to church to realize that this world is not our permanent home, that we are people on pilgrmiage with our feet on the ground, but with our eyes fixed on the Kingdom...
From reading the above we can see that Hong Kong is less traditional in viewing the liturgy. I personally prefer the tabernacle in the sanctuary at the main altar or very close to the main altar. I would see our Churches both as TENTS and TABERNACLES. However the point that I like is the idea of temporary. I do think that we spend too much time and money trying to make our churches into monuments and miss what is most important. This obviously is an area of much discussion and difference of opinion but a fruitful area for debate.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Exhibition of Paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Seoul, Korea, July 2009

An exhibition of the paintings of

Pierre-Auguste Renoir,

“The artist who never painted tragedies.”

Rosy cheeks, chubby limbs, flowered frocks:

“A picture has to be

Pleasant, delightful.” The man himself declared.

No potato-eating farmers, no soldiers,

No arrow-pierced Sebastians,

No gaunt Saint John in camels’ hair.

His nudes are milkmaids, sweet girls,

Not images of Venus or Diana, or St. Agnes,

Or Catherine martyred on her wheel.

A small group of us went to see his works.

We were a bit distracted, trying to remember

What the building looked like the last time we were in it

Thirty years ago and some,

Before the place was gutted and the old Supreme Court building

Morphed into a museum of art.

The stone façade, forbidding then,

Is draped in banners, now,

Of golden-haired French children

And jeune filles in their flowered gowns.

Through that once awesome entrance,

Our little group went one April morning

To attend a solemn hearing:

Death sentences passed upon eight men

At a very questionable military trial six months before

Were to be reviewed that day;

Revoked, perhaps, reduced

Or possibly confirmed.

The courtroom filled with family members.

In due time we stood, the judges,

Thirteen of them, paraded in

Sat in their high backed plush red chairs.

A short statement, read aloud,

Confirmed eight sentences of death.

Later in the day, the state-controlled

Communications, press, radio and television,

Told the world the news.

One T.V. station, D.B.S., Renoir-like

Sanitized the situation thus:

With a thirty-second voiceover,

The camera scanned women weeping silently,

As they had before the judges entered.

It ended with the close-up of a priest,


Renoir, who never painted tragedies,

Would have approved the editing.

Truth was that pandemonium erupted;

The eight women and the priest

Along with many others stood up and shouted

Their disapproval of the verdict.

A goon squad of plainclothesmen rushed in.

They cleared the room,

Forcing all down four flights of stairs.

Thirty four years later

There isn’t any dark back staircase anymore,

Large glass wall panels welcome in the sun,

The walls are bright and high,

Fit for hanging paintings.

Eight men were hanged at dawn,

Just eighteen hours after the reading of the verdict.

Wide hallways now, and well-lit landings,

A spacious, incandescent place for art.

But about the visitors today,

The widows and the priest,

There hangs an aura of discomfort,

Disorientation, as they view the works

“Pleasant and delightful”

As Renoir had wanted life to seem.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Distancing of Two Korean Priests

The Pastoral Newsletter for priests had an interesting take on whom we become because of environment. It was about the breaking down of a friendship between two priests, after one of the men was assigned to a poor parish and the other to a wealthy parish. Since the author of the article was close to one of the priests he was told that the break down of the friendship was the difference in the environment in which they worked. It had nothing to do with hurting each other in any way. One of the priests was relating with the wealthy the other with the poor. One was reading a newspaper that sympathized with the poor the other with the rich. With this different input the meetings of the two men lessened until they ceased altogether.

He mentioned how a politician in the old days walking the dirt roads had no sympathy for the automobiles that would occasionally pass. This was at a time when there were few cars on the road. However, one day a car passed that stopped whose driver recognized the politician. He was pleased with the ride and his thinking changed. In time when he had his own car he was often upset by those who did not quickly move to the side as he passed.

His conclusion was that it is not concepts and thinking that determines a person's actions but the environment. Change does not come easy but because of our environment we are changed. Reading a good book and thinking is important, but more so, would be those with whom we relate and what we do. We must pray and have empathy for those who are alienated but we must also see those with difficulties, the blind walking, to have compassion for their plight. We must look at those who are marginated- the alienated, who are surrounded by all kinds of obstacles and then we will be searching for ways to bring about justice and truth.

It is difficult to be objective and the above is a good example of what happens to all of us when we are sympathetic to a certain group. We may not be seeing things as they are but the Catholic Church's emphasis in recent history is clear. We should have a preference for the poor and even if this is not being objective it is what Jesus showed us by His life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Church in Asia

Here is another reflection from Fr. John Cioppa's In His Own Words that was written in 2000.

The greatest challenge to the Catholic Church today is to become inculurated in Asia. The future of the 21st Century is in Asia. Asia is home to over 60% of the world's people with more than 40% under the age of 15. The five countries with the largest populations are : China, India Indonesia, Japan and Bangladesh. Both China and India have over a billion people.

Different from the West, Asia is a mosaic of different cultures, ethnic groups, social, economic and political systems and the homeland of three great world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. 85% of the world's non-Christians are in Asia.

There are around one hundred million Catholics in Asia or about 2.9% of the population. If we exclude the Philippines, the percentage drops to less than 1% . However, the Church is growing continuously. In 10 years the number of Catholics increased by 25% with a growing number of priests and Sisters.There are presently 32,291 priest in Asia and more than twice that number of Sisters. Asia has 617 Bishops out of 4,400 bishops in the world.

If one were to shrink the world population into a village of 100 people, 57 would be Asians, 21 from Europe, 14 from the Americas and 8 from Africa.There would be 70 people of colour and 30 would be white. 67 would be non-Christian and 33 would be Christians, Out of 100 people 70 would not be able to read; 50 would suffer from malnutrition and only one would have a university education.

One of the greatest challenges facing the Church in this Century is to evangelize the people of Asia and have Christianity become truly an Asian religion. Missionaries and all Asian Christians have to be creative, innovative, able to dialogue with different religions and be open to different approaches to Gospel proclamation. As the Bishops told us at the Asian Synod-we will learn a new way of being the Church in Asia. Our greatest reason for hope is Jesus Christ Himself, who said, "Take heart it is I: have no fear... I have overcome the world." And we shouldn't forget that Jesus Himself was born in Asia.

Below is the statistical report for the Catholic Church published by the Catholic Bishops of Korea.

According to the Statistics, as of December 31, 2008, the number of Catholics in Korea amounted to 5,004,115 or 9.9% of the total population (50,394,374). It indicates an increase of 130,000 (2.7%) from the previous year.

With regard to dioceses, the Archdiocese of Seoul had the most number of the faithful as 1,384,238, followed by the Diocese of Suwon (718,638), the Archdiocese of Daegu (442,794), the Diocese of Incheon (427,960) and the Diocese of Pusan (409,587).

The rate of Evangelization comparing with the population came to over 10 % in the dioceses of Incheon, Suwon, Cheongju and Cheju, along with the Archdiocese of Seoul, which hit the highest rate of 13.6%.

The Statistics indicated that the number of the newly baptized was 32,124 in the Archdiocese of Seoul, 18,411 in the Diocese of Suwon, and 10,275 in the Diocese of Incheon. The Military Ordinariate recorded 28,213 newly baptized, who were mostly young soldiers.

By age group, the male faithful in their 20s had the highest number at 18.9%, followed by those in their 40s at 17%, those in their 30s at 15,6% and those in their 50s at 15,2%, while the largest group of the female faithful were those in their 40s and 50s. The Statistics also categorized the faithful by sex (male 41.6% and female 58.4%).

The Statistics also indicated that the number of clergy in Korea amounted to 4,204, including foreign missionary priests. Among them, 3,477 were diocesan priests and 726 were religious and missionary priests. The total number of Korean priests were 4,026, which showed an increase of 101 from the previous year, while the total number of cardinals and bishops were 31.

By diocese, the Archdiocese of Seoul had the highest number of the clergy as 701, followed by the Archdiocese of Daegu (406), the Diocese of Suwon (371) and the Diocese of Pusan (315). The dioceses of Cheju, Andong, Chuncheon and Wonju had 35, 74, 95, 96 priests respectively.

However, the number of seminarians was 1,413 in 7 Seminaries, few change from the previous year (1,403).

The number of parishes was 1,543, an increase of 32, while the number of mission stations was 1,037, a decrease of 47 from the previous year. The number of the faithful per priest was 1,190. The parishes were only 50 in 1908, but they have continuously increased, so that they amounted to 500 in 1976, 1,017 in 1995 and 1,511 in 2007.

With regard to men and women religious, there were 1,445 men religious, including novices, religious in temporary and final vows as well as foreign religious, which showed a decrease of 19, while 10,401 women religious were counted in 2008, an increase of 186 from the previous year.

The number of the celebrations of the Sacrament of Matrimony amounted to 26,182 in 2008, of which 15,324 were marriages between a baptized and non-baptized, which accounted for 58.6%.

With regard to devotional associations, the number of Legion of Mary members was the highest with 261,610, followed by Cursillo members (8,898) and the members of the Marriage Encounter (7,488).

The number of Sunday School attendants (from the age of 7 to 19) amounted to 647,159, of which only 11% was counted regular attendants. The Sunday School teachers were counted up to 17,775, and Primary and Middle & High School students attending Sunday Mass were reported respectively as 132,895 and 71,452.

The rate of participation at Sunday Mass reached 24% on average, which means that one of four faithful attends Sunday Mass. The number of faithful, who received the Sacrament of Confession as Easter duty and Christmas duty in 2008 was 1,052,729 (29.5%), and 1,116,053 (30.6%) respectively. It was figured out that the faithful received the Sacrament of Confession as duty once a year on average, while they received the Communion twenty times on average in 2008.