Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Maryknoller's First Visit to Korea

Bishop James A. Walsh one of the two founders of Maryknoll wrote a book on his travels to the Orient: Observations in the Orient. I have taken some of the passages that have to do with Korea. It was a trip taken in 1917 to Japan, Korea, Manchuria, China, Indochina and the Philippines.

I picked up a Korean today but did not recognize his nationality until a good -natured Chinaman enlightened me. The Korean hailed from Honolulu and told me his life-story...I like this Korean, and I have an idea from all that I hear of Koreans in general that their country, watered with the blood of martyrs (in whom Maryknoll has been interested from the beginning) , must be an inviting field.

Oct.24, 1917 arrived in Pusan. It was my first glimpse of what has been known as the "Hermit Kingdom," and as I looked beyond the great detached rocks that rise above the water at the entrance to the harbor and saw its barren hills, I thought of the martyrs-Just de Bretenieres and Henri Dorie, whose homes I visited in France and whose relatives I had met...
It was strange to see the white -dressed Korean men, but the contrast with the black made it easier for me to discover two bearded priests on the wharf. One, in a gray helmet, turned out to be Father Ferrand who, while a missioner in Japan
had visited the United States. The other, Father Peschel, was a young missioner who had come into town on his bicycle from a neighboring village...

Korea had an Emperor and he is yet alive, as also is his son; but, unfortunately for both, the good people of Korea seem destined to be governed, at least occasionally, by some outsider, and Japan is now the ruling power with a good chance of making herself at home for many a long year.

The Japanese people have been flocking to this country and among them are Catholics. It is for this reason that Father Ferrand came from Japan.

( Bishop Walsh spent some time visiting the Seminary in Taegu and the Cathedral and than went to Seoul.)

At Home in Seoul.
I had been in correspondence with Bishop Mutel for a dozen years and was familiar with his photograph, so it was not difficult to recognize him as he stood on the station platform at Seoul... the rickshaw men dumped us out at the Cathedral gate, Father Larribeau, an agile little Procurator, was there to receive us. The residence is a large brick building, with a balcony at one end overlooking the city. The Cathedral itself towers on a height in the rear.

The house within is physically cheerless, with its floors of wide boards filled with the dust of years, its bare walls, its poor oil lamps, and the general lack of small comforts; but the spirit that pervades it, I soon learned, is so warm, so pure, so unconsciously spiritual , that I realized more fully than ever how small an influence material comforts exert in the life of a Catholic missioner...

I slept that night as if I had reached the Nirvana stage, and as I stepped out on the balcony before going over to the Cathedral the sun was lighting the surrounding hills and falling on the roofs, quaint and modern by turns, of this considerable city.

The priests were all out, saying Mass, when I left the house, but I found my way to the Cathedral on the height above, and entered. It was at the Canon of the Mass, and around the altar the supreme hush had fallen, but from the centre of the church came the hum of many voices- the buzz of prayer from some three score of Koreans, men and woman, who were seated on the floor. All were dressed in white and the men, as a rule, wore their head-pieces. The women looked like a flock of white nuns veiled for their devotions.

I lingered that morning after the thanksgiving prayers and sauntered down through the church. Its gray brick, uncovered with plaster, revealed its strength, and mounted into high and graceful vaults. No fresco "artist' had stenciled these walls, and with the exception of a few benches for Europeans, the pulpit (a model of wood-carving), and a baptismal font, there were no church furnishings.

(The bishop also made a trip to Chemulpo which would have been the present Cathedral of Inchon but at that time a part of Seoul. Many years later this was to be home for Maryknollers )

( Bishop Walsh took his departure from Seoul regretfully.) Bishop Mutel with four of his priests- one a Korean-came to the station, and the Bishop accompanied me for a few miles on the train. I asked him when he would come to America, and with a characteristic expression he shook his head and answered that he did not expect to make another long journey until the last one- and he pointed in the direction of the cemetery. (Bishop Walsh from Korea went up north through Manchuria to Tientsin and the rest of his trip.)

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