Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Opinion on Catholic Church Buildings

One of the professors at the School of Fine Arts in the Diocese was asked to write an article on the artistry of our Catholic Churches in Korea. The article would be printed in the Pastoral Letter sent out to the priests in Korea. He tried his best not to get involved but with repeated requests for an opinion he finally said yes.

The Church Culture here in Korea he says has influenced all of us and he was not pleased with the prospects of upsetting his fellow priests. His feeling was that what we have internalized will show itself in what we do with our Churches. He thinks the atmosphere of our Churches is in disorder and confused. He quotes Meister Eckhart to say that God works in our Souls not by addition but by subtraction. He would be for less distractions when it comes to the interior of the Church.The picture beginning this post would probably get a good grade but could be wrong.

One of our very familiar sayings in Latin is: De Gustibus non est disputandum, which means:“there is no disputing about tastes.”Judgments that for the most part are subjective will always be refuted by those that have a different set of values. I do not think there are any firm objective norms on how to judge the appropriateness of a Church's construction, its interior and its furnishings. I consider what he had to say very daring and my sympathies would be with him.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Korean Catholic Missionaries

The Catholic Bishop Conference of Korea has published the statistics of missionaries overseas.

According to the “Korean Catholic Foreign Missionary Education Association, 647 Korean missionaries were sent to 81 countries, as of October, 2007. Among them, 42 are secular priests, and 477 are women religious. The number of missionaries increased 11-14% annually since 2005.”

Since the report of the number of laypeople was not mentioned and this report dates from Oct. 2007 it would seem that the numbers would be much higher than those reported. It is sign of maturity that the Church of Korea in gratitude for the help she has received from the foreign missionaries is now returning to give from what she has received.

World's Largest Catholic Hospital

In one of the recent newspapers was an article that started with: “What country in the world has the largest Catholic hospital?” “Is it Italy, France or could it be the Vatican?” “The correct answer is Korea.”

The Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital of the Catholic University of Korea was just recently opened. It has a name change from Gangnam St. Mary’s to Seoul St. Mary's Hospital to make it more nationally recognized. The hospital can admit 1200 patients and has 22 floors above ground and 6 below.The overall atmosphere is that of a first class hotel and leaves one with a refreshing feeling, was the report of the writer.

There was a great deal of discussion on the pros and cons of building such a large hospital. The area of Gangnam is one of the most prosperous in Seoul. Some did not think it fitting to build there. However, it seems that many thought that the poor also like to have a nice hospital to go to. The money they make will enable them to be of greater service to the poor which is not in conflict with Catholic thinking. This was the thinking that finally prevailed.

We can pray that this is what actually will take place over time and that Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital will be an example of what all hospitals should be doing.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Cyberspace Visit to Maryknoll

The Maryknollers here in Korea are part of the Asia Region which is one of the outreaches of the Society. The Society has a website which explains in a attractive format the work we are doing in many parts of the world.Those interested can go to:
the website of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers enabling you to tour the site and see what we are all about.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Koreans Spend 8 Hours Per Day Online"

A reporter from the Korean Times reported that the average Korean
"spends more than half of his or her active hours logged on to the Internet or using mobile digital devices."

"In a survey of 516 adults, the state-run Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI) found that Koreans spend an average of eight hours and 20 minutes per day online, either through computers or portable data devices such as mobile phones and laptops."

This is very difficult to imagine of the ordinary Korean. It is certainly not true of the farmers and the country folk. I suppose this was a survey made in Seoul.But whatever it be, it does speak very loudly of the change that has come over South Korea in a very short time.

A Meaning for Virtue

In the previous post we mentioned how the word virtue is disappearing from its very prominent place it had in the past. The character for virtue is one of my favorites and one that I have used many times in teaching. Years ago when starting to learn Korean I remember a maxim that a General who is brave is less than one who has knowledge and one who has knowledge is less than one who has virtue. We who are Catholic certainly have no difficulty with this, although it is not part of our everyday thinking.

In the "symbol" itself the left side can be considered a person who is walking.That is the body, our external selves. The top right hand side can be taken to be a person who looks over what he is to do 10 times before acting. The cross is ten and the the image below that is a picture for the eye. This is the action of the head the mind. The bottom part is the image of the heart. A virtuous person is one that has the body, head and heart intergrated. A very meaningful ideogram and a powerful lesson.

Going from the Concrete to the Nebulous

In Korea placards, banners, posters can be seen everywhere. Years ago at the entrance to schools you often would see Knowledge, Virtue, and Body (Health). It was the wisdom from Confucian values that they were emphasizing. It was the Confucian holistic approach to learning: the head, heart and body. These days it has changed to: dream your dream, be part of the future and the like. The meaning is obscure but very appealing but no way as powerful and concrete as the old. We are less attracted to the here and now but rather to the vague and ambiguous. The very word virtue has almost completely disappeared. Could this also be an import from the West?

A Preposterous Understanding of Words

In Korea at present we have a debate on death with dignity and what it means. One of the bishops was upset, with the preposterous understanding of the natural death of Cardinal Kim. The Bishop's formal pronouncement a few days ago mentioned the way certain sections of the society have taken the recent death of Cardinal Stephen Kim as an example of death with dignity meaning assisted suicide. They are using his death as an example to push for legislation to approve of assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Bishop made very clear that The Cardinals death came from old age, a death he could no longer avert and he accepted with humility.

In Korea as in other parts of the world it is not surprising to see how words can be manipulated by the press and interested parties to make anything serve their particular purposes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comparisons Are Odious

I was just reading an article by a Korean Priest who had a very interesting take on a book he read on the happiness quotient of Koreans. He noted that a person who wins the gold medal is the happiest. You would think the one who won the silver would be the second happiest but it does not seem to follow. He is looking at the one who won the gold and is disappointed while the bronze winner is looking behind at all those that did not make it and is very happy.
In Korea this "gold medal stress syndrome" seems to apply to other areas also. The example was given of a person who is making 5 or 6 thousand dollars a month. If his salary is decreased for some reason he is disappointed as we all would be. The reason however for the disappointment comes because he looks at those who are making more than he is instead of seeing all those that are way behind in the wage scale. It is a good lesson that it does very little for our happiness to compare ourselves with others as our Lord made so clear on so many different occasions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

South Korea Church trains new priests for North

The Roman Catholic Church of South Korea has started training priests to serve in North Korea, a country criticized by the United States and others for stamping out religion, for the first time in about 40 years.

"It's not something North Korea wants us to do. We are doing this with an eye toward the future when the two Koreas unify," Monsignor Matthew Hwang In-kuk, the Episcopal vicar of the Pyongyang Diocese, said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

Communist North Korea, which Church officials estimated had a Catholic community of about 55,000 just before the 1950-53 Korean War, does not allow priests to be permanently stationed in the country.

The five candidates began studies a few days ago for the priesthood, Monsignor Hwang said. The Church plans to recruit a new group each year.

It will take about 10 years to complete preparations and even then, they may not be allowed into the North.

Priests from the South do occasionally visit the hermit state, usually to accompany the delivery of aid or the start of a humanitarian project, and a visiting priest reportedly celebrated mass in Pyongyang when Pope John Paul II died.

There used to be about 20 priests in the Pyongyang diocese, which was incorporated into the Seoul diocese in 1970. The priests worked in the South but only seven of the group are still active, including Monsignor Hwang, who was born in Pyongyang in 1936 and fled North Korea during the Korean War at the age of 14.

"At the time when the Pyongyang diocese was incorporated into the Seoul diocese, it was a precondition for priests like myself to go back as soon as the two Koreas unify," he said.

The same applies to the five who just entered training for the priesthood, who are not been given any special preparation for serving in one of the world's most isolated states.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Who Are These Guys Anyway?"

Well, Korea lost but it was a well fought match. It was a 10 inning 5 to 3 win for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. For the Japanese it was the second in a row as champions of the WBC.

The feelings between these two countries goes very deep and the rivalry between the two countries goes back many years. It will take many more years to remove much of the animosity that the Koreans feel towards the Japanese. One of the articles on the game posted in Korea gave credit to the Japanese for a strong win but it was with a lack of sportsmanship on the part of a team that was defending champions. They were considered to be very cunning. Very interesting insight is it not?

Baseball in Korea is rather recent and the children do not play sandlot baseball as we are accustomed to in the States. It is a tribute to the Korean's competitive spirit that shows itself not only in sports. In 2006 when the Korean team bested the Americans in the second round of the WBC the American press in surprise: "Who are these guys anyway?" They are already planning for the next WBC Championship.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Humble Work of the Legion of Mary

The Legion of Mary is a very strong movement in Korea. This is true of most of the movements even when they seem to be sluggish in other parts of the world. I continue to marvel at the enthusiasm and dedication of the members; their obedience to the different higher levels of the Legion. The group with which I am associated with as chaplain, will be going out with bags and gloves to clear the area around a nearby mountain of paper, cans, bottles, glass and all kinds of litter that was left behind by unthinking travelers. This is down to earth ecology at its best.

Planning for the Future

The men from our Local Korea Group met in our " second after Chapter meeting "with our Vicar General and Asia Regional Superior. It was a profitable and energizing two days dealing with 6 topics taken from the Chapter deliberations.

1) Renewal and Society Life

2) Recruitment/formation and Society Identity and Membership

3) Partnership and Mission and Ecology

We randomly made 3 groups and discussed each of the 3 topics in 3 sessions. We came together for the plenary and group reports. We will have much to think about before our next meeting.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

KOREA 'Together With One Heart' Key To North Korea Mission
March 12, 2007 |
UCAN Interview

SEOUL (UCAN) -- An American Maryknoll priest says aid to North Korea has to be given with North Koreans, South Koreans and the international community working together.

Maryknoll Father Gerard Hammond wants to be a tool for the reconciliation of the two Koreas and has been supporting North Korea with medical and other aid for more than 10 years. On Feb. 22, he was appointed advisor to the apostolic administrator of Pyongyang diocese, Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul.

Father Hammond was born in 1933 in Philadelphia, the United States. He was ordained a priest in 1960 and came to South Korea that same year as a missioner. He first visited North Korea in 1996, and has since visited there 24 times.

Now he is chairperson of the steering committee of Caritas Internationalis' North Korea Country Group, which includes the relief and development agencies of the Catholic Churches in Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The group was led by Caritas-Hong Kong until Nov. 1, 2006, when Caritas Corea took on that role.

Father Hammond, the Korea regional superior of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers is secretary of the Korean bishops' Special Episcopal Commission for the Reconciliation of the Korean People.

North Korea officially allows religious activities. According to Church sources, there are some 3,000 Catholics in North Korea. Changchung Church in Pyongyang is the only Catholic church in the North, but it has no resident priest or Religious.

Father Hammond is planning his 25th visit to North Korea in late March. UCA News spoke with the North Korea specialist on March 7 at the Maryknoll house in Seoul. The interview follows:

UCA NEWS: What is your role in your new position as advisor to the apostolic administrator of Pyongyang diocese?

FATHER GERARD HAMMOND: The nomination is to remind people that reconciliation of the North and South is our major task. Through contacts and penance of our own personal lives, we need to raise the consciousness for our separated brothers and sisters in the North.

Cardinal Nicholas Cheong is extremely interested in not only Pyongyang diocese but the whole of North Korea too. The cardinal is also very interested in China because he always says the early Korean Church, in the 18th century, was established by lay Koreans, with help and learning from the Beijing Church. So my role is, in one sense, to be something like the first group of people that went to Beijing.

The role I intend to play is to be the eyes and ears of the cardinal. From my experiences, it is my job to keep him informed of the governance of the humanitarian aid and the general relationship between Caritas Corea and its North Korean counterpart. I'm just like (Saint) John the Baptist, who made way for Jesus. Someday I hope that the cardinal and the Korean Church will be able to do what I'm doing.

This year is Pyongyang diocese's 80th anniversary. As regional superior of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Korea, which put in much effort to develop that diocese, what are your feelings and plans for that diocese?

Our old members went to Pyongyang in 1923, and that's why we are so interested in North Korea, even though many of us have never been to North Korea. Maryknoll in Korea began there, so I hope that some day we return to the North.

The important thing is to inform them that our Holy Father and the Church are extremely interested in them, because they really need help from someone. Where suffering is, Christ exists also in the place. So I want to be in union with those who have suffered in the North and those who also helped the North through dialogue and reconciliation.

What first brought you to Korea?

When I was in the seminary, I met a young Korean named John Chang Yik, now bishop of Chunchon and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea. As young students, we grew up together. Due to his encouragement, I always wanted to come to Korea.

My whole life has been here and every day when I get up, I pray, "Jesus, please help me to be more like Koreans!" I can't change my appearance, my face, actions, anything like that. I'm always a foreigner here. I'd like to die here. My dream is to retire in North Korea, but all the dreams cannot come true. However, having a dream makes people healthy. Maybe I can open a few roads to the North. That would be my life's journey.

What motivates you to work for North Koreans?

When I first came to South Korea, there were many refugees (after the Korean War from 1950 to 1953) and times were very difficult economically. When I visited North Korea, I experienced the same. And then, I thought about how I can help North Koreans.

"Unconditional love" is my idea. Also, Maryknoll's root in Korea began there. So we will be returning to the place where our older Maryknoll brothers and sisters worked. So it's kind of an urge to help people that need help and at the same time return to our roots.

What have you been doing to support North Koreans?

I have been bringing medical equipment and things like medicine for tuberculosis since 1996. (Providing) Medical assistance is not a political action. It is really being interested in people regardless of what they practice or think.

Also, we support inoculation projects for children and projects for pregnant women with prenatal and postnatal care. Also for the aged people, we provide vitamins and education programs. And the works are gradually expanding. We bring presents like tractors, green house, shovels, fertilizer, seeds, bicycles and so on. So not only will they receive medicine but also those things they need in order to grow their own food.

After 10 years visiting North Korea, do you see any significant changes there?

You might say, "Two steps forward and one step back." There are changes economically. There are open markets and the situation has improved to the extent to start factories again. Also, China has sent many trucks. Every year, their greatest concern has been famine, but gradually there is progress. North Koreans are very industrious people, same as South Koreans.

Have you met North Koreans privately?

I have met lots of them, from the young to directors of hospitals, nurses, patients and farmers. I am as comfortable in the North as I am in South Korea. I can speak Korean and there are so many similarities between the North and the South. They are all Koreans. The ideology might be different, but basically their humanity is the same.

Also, I have met people who would say that they are Christians and Catholics. Some say that the Catholics in the North are not "real Catholics." But they didn't have the chance to practice their religion for a long time. I always mention to the Catholics that the Church has never forgotten them and Catholics in the South will join with them. Hopefully some day, we will be one. When the country becomes one, we can find out how many and what kind of people there are.

Caritas Corea has taken over leadership of Caritas Internationalis' North Korea Country Group. What do you think of this change?

Caritas Corea received the mandate for Caritas Internationalis' North Korea aid last November. The change is very important. It was a wonderful change for the South to have the mandate, because the North and the South are the same.

Also, now South Korea has financial capability. Previously, Caritas Corea was very generous to help North Korea through (Caritas in) Hong Kong and contributed much. When Hong Kong Caritas took the job, it was a breakthrough. Now we are going to the second level for aid and contact to North Korea.

Why should the international community help North Korea?

Simply, the international community has an obligation to help those less fortunate. North Korea is a country that needs help from outside. But we need to think of the kind of assistance that should be given. Now North Korea is interested in so-called development aid. But the Church is still very much interested in basic humanitarian aid.

One sad part now is donor fatigue. People have contributed for such a long time, and there are so many other issues like earthquake in Indonesia, tsunami. Resources are limited. So we have to raise the level of consciousness for North Korea.

How do you see the future of the international community's support for North Korea?

I'd like to be very hopeful. But it's going to be a bumpy and long road. But the fact is that when we get on the road, other countries like China, Russia and Japan are willing to make exchanges.

I think it's a very hopeful situation. It'll take time, though. I'm hopeful that the U.S. will send ranking officials to North Korea to continue dialogue with North Korea. There can be more dialogue between the North and the U.S. since nobody wants a war in the peninsula. The primary work we need to do is peace in Korea.

When we help North Korea, is there anything that we need to be especially aware of?

They have the so-called "Juche ideology" of self-support and self-reliance, and they are very independent. North Koreans are people of great self-respect. Because of the special situation there, we are asked to be sensitive when we try to help North Korea. Also they are very skeptical of economically developed countries, and don't want to be an economic slave because of their cheap labor.

I believe the important thing is to do it "together." When we see bamboo trees, their roots are interlocked, but the bamboo trees are growing in all different directions. That's something we need to think about with the relationship between the North and the South. Aside from the Catholic Church, Buddhists and Protestants are giving a lot of aid to North Korea. The approach should be the idea of "hand in hand." So with the solidarity of the groups, lots of things can be done "with one heart and working together."

For the reunification of the two Koreas, what does the Korean Catholic Church need to prepare and keep in mind?

The reunification hopefully will happen. But before the reunification of the two Koreas, we must have reconciliation. That's part of what I would like to do as a tool or agent. The Catholic Church has been preparing for the reconciliation. Every year, the Church celebrates a Sunday to spread awareness and pray for the reconciliation of the two Koreas. (Editor's note: The Korean Church celebrates a Prayer Day for Reconciliation and Unity of Korean People on the Sunday nearest to June 25, the day the Korean War broke out in 1950.)

Also, two major groups -- the bishops' Committee for the Reconciliation of Korean People and Caritas Corea -- are functioning very well. The committee and Caritas Corea need to come together. And with other groups we need to see what can be done in a practical way to help North Korea with regard to aid.


A Korean Priest after reading Black Like Me written by John Howard Griffin was very much moved by the story of Griffin. It allowed him to see how he (all of us) in his own life is controlled many times by some stereotyped idea. Griffin back on in 1959 made himself into a black man by artificially darkening his skin to pass as a black. With the change in his appearance he traveled in the Deep South exposing himself to what ever a black man would receive at that time of our history. The priest mentioned how it was not hard for him to understand both the black and the white person's responses. But it was rather easy for him to return to the Korea of the present and see how he is also now faced with some fixed ideas about woman, migrant workers, the noble and low occupations, and many other facets of life with a very strong bias in certain areas. He was particularly moved with those who have been removed from their homes because of development. On the 20th of January, residents who were evicted to make way for a new development by February in Yongsan, which is the middle of Seoul, opposed the decision and five people were burnt to death as a result of police action. One policeman also died. There are those who have no connection with the incident and see no problem but for those who are involved it is an entirely different set of feelings. It showed him how much of society is cold and indifferent to many of the problems that we face.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Death of humble and respected leader of the Church

Being an American living in Korea is life giving for it opens many more windows that I did not know existed. Life is the same in many ways from the West but often seen in a different way. The recent death of Cardinal Stephen Kim the Ordinary Emeritus of the Seoul Diocese who died at the age of 87 on March February 16th is a case in point.

He was a very popular Leader of the Church in the Seoul Diocese and had a great influence on the whole of Korea. Over 400,000 thousand people viewed his body and not all Catholics. The media for a number of days gave coverage both from the right and left that would have been difficult to imagine. He was a man for all seasons and one who heard the cry of the weak and was respected for it.

The Cardinal studied in Germany, at the University of Munster in Sociology and was very familiar with some of the weaknesses of the Church in Germany during the Hitler years. He did not want that to be the story of the Korea Church during our own years of totalitarianism. He made this very clear during those difficult years and become a hero to many. He will be missed and continued to be loved for the great humble leader that he was.

Section of Korean Newsletter

This was a recent account from a news letter. A very well dressed member of the congregation came to the pastor of the church to mention the difficulties of one of the poor. "Father, this woman just experience the death of her husband and she has four children she has to feed.
When the children are sick it is very difficult to take them to the doctor and to make matters all the worse the rent will be raised next week. Already she has not paid her rent for the last three months. Father isn't there some way the parish can help her?" "Such a person should be helped. I am certain we can find a way. May I ask you what is your relation with her?" "I am the owner of the house in which she is living."