Monday, November 30, 2009

Korean Catholic Bishops' Messages

The Bishops of Korea published their pastoral letters for the new liturgical year. The editorial in the Peace Weekly mentioned the Church has much to be thankful. The Church reached the 5 million mark- from 1995 an increase of 75.4 %, while the other religions have stayed the same or have decreased. This is plenty of reason to take pride in what has been accomplished. A survey taken recently by a Protestant group mentioned that the confidence in the Catholic Church was the highest at 32%.

The editorial mentioned that this may be only our perception and not the actual condition of the Church. This concern is shown in many different areas of Catholic life. The numbers of those active in the Church has not increased, the number of baptisms is down, the religious education programs are not doing well, we are getting older and the participation in society has decreased. The increase of materialism is influencing the Church.

The Bishops see that being immersed in the Scriptures is the way to overcome the onslaughts and challenges coming from globalization. There are many movements in different parts of the Church encouraging and instructing us to live with the Scriptures but this has to be a movement within the whole Korean Church.

There is the possibility of being concerned more with efforts to grow exteriorly, with more and bigger buildings, more activities, better and more successful programs for evangelizing, but if this is not accomplished with a similar efforts at deepening our commitment to Jesus and the life of the Spirit then we will not grow as a community of disciples that will change the world.

The acknowledgment of the possibilities of a fault line in our very quick growth in numbers is a very healthy reminder for more introspection, and efforts to deepen our personal spirituality, parish and home life in the years ahead.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Beginning of the New Year-Advent

On the first Sunday of Advent, some years ago, the religious sister working in the parish decorated the front of the altar with a large feed trough used for cows. Up until that day, I did not realize,that the manger we talk about in the Scriptures, is not a stable but a feed box for animals. The word manger for me meant stable in which animals were kept. I understood the whole for the part and was blind to the symbolism that Luke wanted us to see in his retelling of the first Christmas.

From that day, all the parishes where I have been, start off Advent with a big unadorned feed trough in front of the altar. It was embarrassing to have to admit that I did not know that manger means feeding trough. We use the word crib, creche, stable, manger and adorn it in such a way that people like myself do forget what Luke was getting at with the use of the word manger. It was an eye opener to me who should have known better, but I didn't, until sister gave me a Scripture lesson I will not forget.

Luke uses the word manger three times in the retelling of the Nativity; for us Catholics a very telling word for it reminds us that Jesus came to be our food both in Word and Eucharist. From Luke's telling we have as the center of the nativity scene this feed trough and nothing else. It is important to his message and some of us forget the central message distracted with all the other elements that we have added to the Nativity scene. That feed trough draws our attention to the Mass - liturgy of the Word and Eucharist: a symbol of great meaning for us during Advent.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In Search for the 'Good Life'

Advertising is a great way to sway public opinion. It works, that is why companies, of all types, spend thousands of dollars to put their products before the eyes of the public. From 1962 the Korean government started convincing the Koreans that there are too many of them in the southern part of the peninsular. The results were spectacular!

After the Korean War in the 1950s the birth rate was 6.5. In 1962 the government with new laws, started pushing to reduce the births. In the old Korea many births were considered a virtuous social act. The government started giving out contraceptive tools and pills at the public health centers, subsidies for vasectomies, permitting abortions even though illegal, benefits for those who participated in the birth control programs with wage benefits, housing privileges and respect from the public. Posters, radio, television electronic signs and every possible public media was in use without much vocal opposition by the general public and churches.

In the '70s it went down to 4.53 per woman. The slogan was: 'irrespective of boy or girl raise two well'. The preferring of son to a daughter began to break down, the birth control mothers group pushed for a 'no birth year' in 1974. In 1978 another drop to 2.83 and in 1980 the slogan was changed: 'two is too many raise one well'. In 1994 the birthrate was 1.59. And the government decides to shift gears and stops giving our free condoms and contraceptive pills but the birthrate continued to drop until Korea has now the lowest birthrate of of 193 countries with 1.2. It was a well organized movement with results that exceeded expectations.

It is sad to see how successful the program was among Catholics, understood to be against artificial birth control.The program to lower the birth rate has over reached its goal and now the government, private groups, churches and even gynecologists are beginning to work together to raise the birthrate.The good life even though it demands the work of two parents has become the goal of many . If this demands fewer children so be it. We have made a society that to raise and educate children demands economic wealth. Will socialism be the answer? Some will not be interested in being taxed to support another person's child. Will the efforts expended increase the numbers? Economics is important and with technology we wont need the numbers and the fewer will make for an easier life it should be an interesting experiment. How much of this thrust will be compatible with Christian thinking remains to be seen but the prospects are not good. The whole movement on the part of the government seems to be motivated by economics, until we start changing the way we understand the meaning of the 'good life' change will not come easy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Family of the Second Korean Priest

In the recent Peace Weekly there was a report of the academic symposium in the Suwon Diocese which dealt with the Catholic Sirisan Shrine and the father of the second Korean Priest, Saint Choi Kyong -hwan (Francis).

What is somewhat unusual is the mother Lee Seong Yea (Maria) has not officially received the title although the mother did suffer martyrdom. The reason,treated in the symposium, was the mother did briefly deny her faith; at that time it was thought it would leave a bad feeling in the memory of the Christians to pursue her cause, even though she died a martyr just a few months after her husband.

This is a good indication of the thinking of that time. Lee Seong Yea was the mother of a seminarian studying for the priesthood in Macau. She had five more children after Yang-op was born. It was this mother's love that she had to contend with that prompted her to briefly deny her faith, she regretted this and withdrew it and was martyred on December 29, 1939. However, the brief denial of her faith by the mother of a future priest was the apparent reason for not pursuing her cause.

The members of the Sirisan community all apostatized except the father and mother and a relative of Choi Yang-op (Thomas). This was a big cross for St. Francis Choi to witness. They do not have much information about the mother of Choi Yang-op but they agreed that she should be together with her husband and son on the rolls of the saints.

Over the years I have met people who remember that some of their forebears were Catholic. When one reflects that these martyrs in Korea lost everything it is easy to understand how the children of those who denied their faith felt towards Catholicism. "The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of Faith" a conclusion readily seen in the history of Catholicism in Korea. There are 21 descendants of St. Francis Choi who entered the religious life as priests or religious.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks for Adversity

Today is Thanksgiving Day in America. The Koreans have their own days of thanks which are much more ritualized than our own ways. The Koreans give thanks more with acts than with words although we have ritualized Thanksgiving with turkey and cranberries.

There is much in our lives for which we are thankful; usually fortunate occurrences that happen to us-lucky things. We may not be quick to thank God for the adversities in life and yet that is a constant teaching of the Scriptures. Things are not what they seem. Even the teaching of the first pages of Genesis tell us that the disobedience of our first parents, in the Church's vocabulary is called the 'Happy Fault'. A strange way of looking at the first sin of human kind.

Here in Korean we have many ways of expressing that good often does comes from misfortune. We see this in our history, in our literature and even in our own lives. God writes straight with crooked lines: " We know that all things work for good for those who love God."(Rm. 8:28)

A few days ago I read an essay in the Chosun Ilbo, written by a Korean resident in the States who gave us a reason for why the suicides of Koreans are so high. She tells us that it is not only in Korea but also in the States we see the same problem. In New York she says on average there are 5 Koreans who end their own lives every month. She says it is 4 times the average. In Los Angeles, suicide as the reason for death among the Koreans is 25% of the total.

She speaks from her own experience and concludes that Koreans have a high level of self control, but that can be the problem, for they do not seek help nor talk about what is bothering them. It is interesting that her Christian Faith was not very helpful. We have Jesus as our mentor and he is the example of what it means to be thankful to God in all circumstances.

Adversity comes into the lives of all of us and we should try to see some good even when we are immersed in so much that is bad. We can look upon what is happening to us from many different angles. There "is a silver lining even to the darkest clouds" in our lives but it does require a preparation to see what for us is all black. One good way is to see how in our own lives the unfortunate events in retrospect have not been all bad. To be able to thank God for adversity is a good sign that we have been able to subdue our egos and can see life not situated in a valley but from the mountain top. Hopefully that will be part of our thanksgiving this Thanksgiving and always.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Learning From Those That Preceded Us

On one of our retreats some years ago we heard about the watermelon man. The small village was going to have a new pastoral worker. He was young and saw that there were many problems in the village. It did not take him long to see how superstitious they were and in one particular case were afraid of a watermelon patch on the outskirts of the village.

One day when he was passing the watermelon patch he gathered a number of the villagers entered the patch and began eating the watermelon. From that day on they were afraid of him.

He was not able to function any more in his capacity.

Another man came and started to live with the people daily . Went about his pastoral work and began to gain their respect. After a good period of time as they were passing the watermelon patch he got the group to join him and very nonchalantly took one of the watermelons, broke it open, started eating and gave it those with him, from that time on the fear of watermelons disappeared.

This is a very simplistic telling of a teaching story that has ramifications in a great deal that we do. I have heard stories of priests who when on an assignment have decided to get rid of some of the statues in the church,without any consultation, and had great difficulty with the congregation from that time on.

A priest in Korea after being assigned to a new parish decided to get rid of the imported furniture that he had in his bedroom. He was very much for living the simple life and the virtue of poverty. This prompted many of the Catholics to get very upset and showed it in their relationship to the priest. We can discuss at length, I am sure, if what he did was really living the life of poverty.

Missioners can make many mistakes in a new culture and even lose the respect of the people. They told us when we went to our first assignments not to change anything for 6 months. The older priests also told us to keep our mouth shut for 6 months. I often wonder why these very wise positions are no longer considered to be warranted. It was telling us bluntly, find out what the lay of the land is before you begin expressing your opinions on the work or make changes in your parishes. In the postmodern world there is no blue print for our actions, so no need to worry about the opinions of others. Yes, that may be true but it will save much time and energy if the past can be a sign post to the future. Life is easier on the shoulders of those who preceded us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Preparing for Baptism in Korea

When it comes to teaching the worst possible way is the lecture method. Using visual aides is better and the best possible way of imparting knowledge we are told is the way of experience. We can talk about how to write an e-mail, or we can show a person with pictures, slides or video but the best way is to go to a computer and do it.

In all the Churches here in Korea we do have programs for our catechumens. They are many and varied. The program for catechumens depends most of the time on the parish and the wishes of the pastor. You have 6 month courses, meeting sometimes twice a week, you have 10 months or more and sometimes you have the RCIA which is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Actually according to the instructions you are not to have an assigned time; the growth of the catechumen in the faith should determine the time for baptism.

Just read an article about a parish in Seoul that also has the catechumens spend time during the period of catechism in service to others. They visit hospitals and different facilities in Seoul, serving those who are sick or have mental and physical problems. They could be messaging the feet of those who are mentally handicapped, go walking with a patient, or recreating with them or just visit with someone.

In all the years that we had catechism classes we never made it part of the course to do some kind of service for others but in retrospect it would have been a wonderful addition. This is an important part of life as a disciple and having this experience during the period of study is all for the good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

There is a shortage of priests in many parts of the world and what seems to happen in such a situation is that the morale weakens and makeshift programs begin to appear. Emergency treatment is required.

Looking over the Korean situation in recruitment is a lesson in organization that has been operative for many years. Here in the Incheon Diocese those who show an interest in the priesthood meet in each of the deaneries. Once a month those interested in the life of the priest or sister, meet on the second Sunday of the month in the Catholic High School in Incheon for a program on religious education and growth in virtue.

Every third Tuesday of the month at the Cathedral Parish there is a Mass for those aiding the seminary and seminarians. There are frequent visits to the different parishes to spend time with the officers of the parish vocation association. They also have twice each year a retreat for all the benefactors and officers of the different associations in the different parishes.

This program was started back in 1981 and has 98 parishes involved and 19,415 members. There is also a person in charge full time for the work.

The Koreans are very good at organizing and in putting persons in charge who do a good job in stimulating the members of the different groups. You get a feeling that there is a great deal of life and growth. Success breeds success and in Korea even though there seems to be a decrease in vocations I do not think you would say this of the diocese of Incheon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Bible and the Catholic New Year

Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, next week begins Advent and 'C' year. From today until the start of Advent, we are in Bible Week. This is an effort on the part of the Catholic Church of Korea to make the Scriptures part of life for the Christians.

The Catholic Church has learned a great deal from the Protestants in their love for the Scriptures. The Protestants have energized the Catholics who know that the Scriptures belong to the Church and the Protestants have made it their book. Catholics are not there yet but there is a thirst and hunger for the Scriptures; the attempts of the Church in Korea have been successful in renewing the familiarity with the Bible and making it part of daily life.

The message for this Bible Week was: "We have to empty ourselves of our egos and fill our inner life with the words of Jesus . If we do that we become one with the word and able to live the life of Jesus' priesthood." Priests have to make the effort to use Scripture in preaching. The sermon of the priest should help the Christians satisfy their hunger and thirst for the spiritual . "We all partake of the priesthood of Jesus and reading , prayer and studying the Scriptures will form us so that we will have a strong vision of what our mission in life is."

In some parishes we have the custom of copying the Scriptures in a notebook and presenting it for some type of reward. There have been many who copy the whole of the Old and New Testament. You have web sites where a book of the Scriptures is selected and the parishioners access the web site to add to the last section that they see on the monitor. This continues until they finish and start another book. I do not know if this is a good way of familiarizing oneself with the Scriptures but it does show one type of effort that is made to make the Bible part of Christian daily life.

We have magazines on the Scriptures, all kinds of programs, seminars, retreats. The Catholics are bombarded with efforts to have them live with the Scriptures and it has worked. Eph. (6:17) "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, the word of God." James (1:22) "Act on the word . If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves." These two quotes are contained in the message from the Bishops' Committee, a prod for the Christians not only for Bible Week but for their lives.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Founding of a Mission Station

Looking over the Peace Weekly for the week of Nov. 8th I saw an article on two brothers who donated a million dollars to the Catholic University in Seoul. Reading the whole article I realized that the father of these two men was the founder of our mission station here in Gyodong back in 1951 to 1954. He was the first catechist and in his house we had the first Masses said by a priest from Seoul Fr. Youn. The article mentioned that the younger brother is now a priest in the States.

This was right after the Korean War started and the father and the family fled from Hwanghae Do, North Korea. He landed here in Gyodong and lived for a period of 3 years in which he took charge of the mission station. It was the oldest son who paid us a visit a few years ago and left a monetary gift.

The article mentioned the difficult life they had leaving North Korea, they were poor and not having enough to eat was a constant problem. This was the driving force of their concern for others.

One brother went to the States in 1966 and the other in 1979 and both are now presidents of their own companies. It has not always been easy for them but they remember their past and continue to be of help to those less fortunate. They feel this is the reason they have prospered in the States.

This mission station actually did very well in the beginning years but all the efforts were not successful. The intention of the early Maryknollers was to help the poor . They started a pig coop but in pig raising as with many other farm attempts not every thing goes well. The manager collected money from the members of the Coop to buy the pigs and feed but the problems that they had were too much for the coop; the raising of pigs was not succesful and the debt was too much. The manager threw in the towel and left for parts unknown. Many who lost money decided the Church was not to be trusted and many left. Over the years the memory of the pig coop has faded from the memory of many but we never had the numbers they had way back in the beginning. Possibly that was providential in that we had a purification of motives, unwanted but not all unfortunate.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Public Opinion and Truth

The Daily paper yesterday reported on a survey of public opinion made by a Protestant Group on the 'good feeling' that Koreans have toward Protestantism. There was a slight increase in the numbers from 18.4% to 19.1% from the past survey. On the numbers that have a 'bad feeling' towards Protestantism the numbers dropped from 48.3% to 33.5%. Part of the lack of good feeling towards Protestantism was the hostage situation in Afghanistan back in 2007 which got a lot of bad publicity.

These surveys do serve a purpose- vox popoli, if truly a reflective voice of the people, have a lot to tell us, but in most cases determined by the situation in the country and the way incidents are played up in the media. Many years ago in our mission station the Church's attempt to help the poor did not work; the failure did inflict pain on those involved and the Church was scarred for many years to come.

In Korea one of the aspects of the Catholic Church that many hear, either in their Churches or by word of mouth, is that the Catholic Church is Mary's Church. We have statues of Mary in homes, in front and in Churches. The media shows grotto's with the Statue of the Blessed Mother and people praying, and even on this site there is the Statue of Mary the Mother of Maryknoll. It is not difficult to go from what they see to make the Catholic Church the Marian Church and the Protestant Church, Jesus' Church.

We can state the obvious that we do not worship Mary; respect her for being close to Jesus and desire her help to know Him better. She is the disciple par excellence, given to us as mother from the cross; we desire to imitate her way of following our Lord. To every one of the reasons for respecting Mary there is always an easy rebuttal. The discussion gets no where. And yet it is possible to know what the Catholic Church teaches about Mary.

It is surprising with all the word of mouth negativity that the Catholic Church gets in Korea as Mary's Church the results are not all that bad. Public opinion is what sways most of us but it is not an objective criterion of truth. The politicians, the financiers, business people, and even the medical establishment often act determined by polls, surveys, and public opinions, but if that is the only standard used to arrive at truth we have serious reasons to be pitied.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The Happiest Mother in the World"

There is a very heart warming story of a family of two twins who both had developmental problems in the recent front page of the Peace Weekly. The mother told God " to cure her two sons if not let her remain until they get married."

In 1998 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and given 6 months to live. This came to the mother like lighting from the blue. Her twins were 16 years old. They operated and with chemotherapy three years ago was told there is no trace of cancer.

The twins have grown to be robust young men. One of them showed genius talent in music and studied the piano and is now in graduate school studying musical composition. The other showed extreme talent in mathematics and is now an assistant driver for the school from which he graduated.

They are both very faithful in their religious life. Even more so than the parents if that can be said. The mother tells how at the second birthday they still couldn't say any words. She brought them to the doctor who told her to see a psychiatrist. She was told that they were autistic but she had no idea what that meant and thought that if treated they would be cured.

She took the children to special schools and since they lived in a one room and the husband was a taxi driver, did not have much to live on. Up until the age of 5 they could not speak and did not react with others. She notice they had musical talent and bought a piano into their one room house. She also gave them woodwinds to study and got them to study composition and harmony. They attended competitive contests for the handicapped and received big prizes on a number of occasions.

They both attend morning Mass and one twin is a Legion of Mary member and the other plays the organ for the young peoples' choir. They are very busy young men. At the end of the interview one of the twins ran to his mother laughing- "Mom,I told you not to worry." At that moment , the interviewer tells us "she was the happiest mother in the world."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Collaborators with the Japanese?

It is the victors that write the histories that we read, much of it doctored by those who write it, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not. The way the Japanese write about Korea is quite different from Korean understanding of itself.

During the years 1910 to 1945 of the Japanese occupation 4,389 Koreans, are listed as collaborators in a new Encyclopedia that was printed. In the words of the publishers: " they inflicted physical, material and mental damage on Koreans."

In the list were 7 Catholics, one bishop, 4 priests and 2 layman. The bishop was the first bishop of Seoul, (Paul) Ro Ki-nam , (John) Chang Myon was prime minister from 1960-1961 a Catholic lay leader. The publishers mentioned that a major consideration of listing the collaborators was how much they actively, voluntarily and consistently cooperated with Japan.

Working in the country I remember hearing about members of the parish who worked as policemen under the Japanese. They were often leaders in the community but there was always some one to tell me of their past. It is important that we look for the truth and make this known. Autopsies are unpleasant but at times necessary, but as with all things it is the prejudice of the truth tellers that often colors what is said and often the reason for dismisal of what is 'uncovered'.

It is important for a country to be honest about its past but it is human nature to hide what is embarrassing to the country and speak loud and clear about what is its glory. This is true of all groups be they family , church, societies or countries.

In parish work I can remember stories of those who sympathized with North Korea and how many of them suffered at the hands of those in the South. Communism was the devil and this was so much part of the thinking that many atrocities were committed in the name of anti- Communism. This was after the defeat of the Japanese and the division of the country into North and South. Many of these were independence fighters against the Japanese with strong sympathy for the North.

As Catholics it is always a problem on how to balance forgiveness with truth. Knowing all the truth makes it easier to be merciful but most of the time we only know partial truth. We have been taught to forgive and when wrong doing is acknowledged, this is not difficult. Some of those who are listed in the book of collaborators can't say anything to defend themselves and how many of them would in a court of law be acquitted is anybody's guess. It is part of our Korean history and there is much more of that history that we are still not prepared to face. The time is still not ripe.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Schooling for the Returnees to the Farm

Years ago while working in the country, a family moved into the parish- a college graduate who came to live on a farm. It was a strange sight for many were moving to the city to find work and here was a college educated person who wanted to live and work on a farm. He was different in many ways, very creative and surprising many of us in the way he wanted to live.

The Peace Weekly had an article on the 4th farmer's school in which 36 received certificates of graduation. The program covered:

1) The value of living close to the earth.
2) Our farms, the situation of farm life, and returning to the farms.
3) Eating in the country, and taking care of health.
4) Listening to lectures on different facets of farm life.

The farmer's school is sponsored by 'Save the Farm Program' of the Seoul Diocese. It is an attempt to show the value of farm life. One of the leaders of the movement who is also a poet said: "We who are Catholic at least should not indiscriminately handle food or throw food away, it is dealing with life and it is like treating God in that fashion who has given us life."

The program is to show that we have come from the earth and will return to the earth: giving us a new appreciation of the earth, soil, water and air, and the totality of God's creation. There have been 142 graduates and some have already returned to the country.

The farmers in Korea have always had the respect of the populace. They were important members of society and up until the industrialization composed about two-thirds of the population.

Korean farms are very small in comparison to other countries and with the imports it is difficult for them to make a living without the government subsidies. Most are in debt and have low morale because of what they hear of the future, many have opted for the city.

The farms will be left for those who want to leave the competitive life style of city life. It will probably be people who have lived in the city and after retirement want to return to the country. In this small island I have heard it said that over half the land is owned by those who do not live on the island. The city dwellers have bought much of the land and in the future many will return to live the gentleman farmers' life.

In Korea we have people who have what they call weekend farms. They rent a piece of property and over the weekend come with the family to farm it. They see the beauty of living close to the land; this taste for beauty and God's creation will take hold of many who in the later years will return to the country, be content with the little income, but good working conditions.

The movement towards organic farming is growing strong. It is non-polluting, good for health and preparing for the future. The government is there to help. Daewoo, a Korean conglomerate tried to lease half the arable land in Madagascar but it was cancelled by the new government. This is another sign that it will only be the big players who will win in this 'one world'. It will be those who don't accept this way of thinking that will be attracted to the small farms in the years to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lay People's Sunday In Korea

In 1784 , a Korean with his scholarly friends , through reading, became acquainted with Catholicism. This Korean Yi Seung-hun (Peter) was sent to Beijing China to be baptized, and on his return with his compatriots started the first community. Today's Catholics are very proud that their start was not by foreign missioners but by their own lay people. This means a great deal; an image they remember in their life of faith.

Yesterday was Lay People's Sunday in Korea, a day given to reflect on how faithful they have been to the example they have been given by their fore bearers in the faith.In our small community the catechist gave the sermon which is the one day of the year that they are expected to be in the pulpit.

The Lay Apostolic Council of Korea sent sermon material to all the parishes, addressing the 5 million Catholics in the country. A point that is being made, editorialized in both Catholic papers, is that the Korean lay people are very generous and active in their prayer life and service to others, admired for this by other countries but one of the weak points is that there is a spilt in their religious life and daily life. They may have concluded that it is sufficient to be doing works of charity and forgetting that they have a responsibility for the life of the society in which they live. In the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul he expressed it very clearly: "A new state of affairs today both in the church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time render it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle."

It is easy for one to think that he enters the community of faith to pray and to have fellowship but this is not all that we are called to do and most of the blame has to reside with the pastors of the communities for not making this clear. The Peace Weekly ended the editorial on this note.

The Catholic Times in a similar vain emphasized lay people should be on the front lines. They hold the key to the Church's life and strength: a bulkhead against the excessively materialistic world, rampant individualism... the break down of the family, contempt for life, this can't be stressed enough. In a word lay people are to enable all of us to live a fully human life- this is the main responsibility of the laity.

I have found that in Korea a great number of priests are very active on the front lines trying to improve the life of our citizenry and part of the reason for their activist role is that our Catholics may be too interested in the workings of the Church and not taking their part in the battles in our society.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Man in Love with the Poor R.I.P.

This past Saturday our small community was represented at the 20th anniversary of a Maryknoller who died, while working in Korea. The bishop of the diocese celebrated the Mass with over a hundred Catholics. Even though most of the Koreans are busy making their kimchi this time of the year, the effort was made to be present at the grave site.

The Maryknoller was born in affluent circumstances; probably the reason for his single-mindedness when it came to helping the poor and alienated. The quote on the head stone was very apropos of who he was: "What you have done to the least of these you have done to me."

He was in his approach to the problems that Korea faced not very Korean. He wanted to shock and felt that was the only way one takes notice. He wrote a book that was confiscated by the government during the days of dictatorship; Cardinal Kim of Seoul recommended the book only for the non-faint hearted. His work for the laborers and alienated is still remembered and has left footprints in the Church's memory and in the hearts of many.

A problem one always has in following our Lord and Church teaching is how much can and should you say when you know it will turn off others who feel strongly on the issues and belong to the same community? Sometimes it is not content but the means used to express the position. And sad to say sometimes it is the very content that upsets. At least in theory it should be less of a problem the closer we are to Jesus. Below are a few paragraphs from the preamble of the book that was confiscated.

We are conscious Lord , the centuries of "progress and development" are like spiritual cataracts blinding our inner eyes so that we no longer see your image and likeness in the person of the poor.

The children cry for bread and we give them pious words; they plead for justice and we urge resignation.

Our wealth and industrial power, our weapons and high standards of living are like spiritual barnacles on our souls. We no longer feel the presence of our brother Jesus behind the dirt, hunger and ignorance of a Third World child. Why do we insist on crucifying Christ time and time again?

Why is Good Friday a 1900 year long day with you, Jesus, nailed to a cross of poverty, prejudice and neglect?

You still cry out, "Why oh why hast Thou forsaken me?" Yes, we-not God- have forsaken you. Pleasure and wealth have closed our ears to your plea. Forgive us, God, for we know not what we do.

We drown your gentle whispers to our hearts with barrels of liquor, tons of chemicals, nights of vice , and days of avarice and greed.

Do not abandon us, even though we have abandoned you. Prod us, reprove us, punish us, enlighten us, flood our soul and eyes with your light and vision, that we may awaken from our sleep of centuries, and look out upon the world with truly Christian values, Christian eyes, and Christian hearts....

May he rest in peace, and may we also like him, have a greater love and desire to help those who do not have the blessings of a normal human life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A New type of Pilgrimage

We live in a very fragmented world and few seem to want to put the pieces together. Religions are not known to help and often are given much of the blame for the walls and divisiveness. When it comes to religions, many go back into the past to haul out some of the horrific stories and those they see in our present times, and do little to situate the events in the history of the times; it is what they are doing today to unify human kind that should be of as much interest.

A diocese in the southern part of Korea is involved in an experiment which in the words of the bishop is unique. The Buddhist, Won Buddhists and Catholics with the different civilian magistrates of the areas have staked out a pilgrimage route of 180 kilometers ( 112miles), that walking for 8 hours a day would take 5 nights and 6 days to walk. They stop at the Catholic sites, Buddhist temples and the cultural land marks along the way.

This was highlighted by the Peace Weekly in the recent edition. The bishop of the diocese joined 1200 pilgrims on their inaugural pilgrimage; the sponsoring group has been incorporated and these three entities will work to develop the route: the religions, the civilian magistrates and the cooperation.

The bishop gave the talk at the Buddhist temple and the Buddhist monks gave the talk at the Catholic shrine. Because of rain on the second day only 200 continued. The bishop stayed with the group for 2 days and finished before he left with a Mass two days from the start. How this will develop, no one knows, but it is a dream of becoming closer to nature, becoming more of what they would like to be , and respecting each other in the process.

Pope John Paul did give us an example of breaking down walls and the Diocese of Jeonju is showing that it can be done in Korea. It is showing respect for other religions in a very religious way: to maintain your convictions and respecting the convictions of others, should not interfere in being brother and sister to the other.

The Korean Civilian Magistrates are not opposed to helping other faith groups if the citizens are helped which is a different way of looking at the relationship of State and Religion. There will be many praying for their success and looking to see how this can be spread to other areas of life.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our Option for the Poor, a Work of Justice

Many of our parishes in Korea have programs that serve the larger community in an area that there is a felt need. This is often determined by surveys and questionnaires. There are kindergartens, school programs for those who have to work during the day, study rooms, teaching of English, the parish close to us has a dry cleaning service for the poor and the truck makes the rounds of the area. The St. Vincent de Paul Society is very active in many parishes.

A pastor wrote up the work he did to help travelers and street people in a parish he was at some years ago. They had a place to wash their clothes and take a bath. He remembers a street person who in May took off 16 pieces of clothing to ready himself for a bath. There was so much dirt that the priest said the drain was actually clogged. After finishing his bath he took out 10 dollars and gave it to the priest. He was told there is no charge for the use of the facilities but he insisted, and told the priest to use it to do some good. The priest thought he was so thankful because some one had accepted him and treated him kindly and showed this by his offering.

There was another street person, a young man, that came to the bath facility who finally did get a job delivering newspapers, and slept at the agency. Sometime later he again appeared at the bath room. The priest asked why he again went back to the street life. He said he was lonely sleeping and eating by himself. He missed the companionship of the street....

This service to the poor was not seen by all the members of the community in a positive way. "What is the need to help these people?" " They have not earned the right to be helped." Those who needed to be helped are those that are useful to society, apparently, was the criterion for helping.

It is sometimes difficult to ascertain how others look upon what is being done for the poor. Many have the very common idea that we bring upon ourselves the problems that befall us. This may be true in many cases and for many this is sufficient reason to refuse help and give the help to those who are more worthy. These people are just lazy and need to be treated in a way that will get them to snap out of this dependence on others.

There are so many variables that have to be considered and we just don't have the competence to judge who is worthy or not worthy of our help. Our Lord was very persistent in telling us not to judge. A person that needs help is needy and we should do all we can to relieve his or her need. We are told that we can not understand another person until we have walked in their shoes. This is a good advice and should makes us less judgmental and more merciful of the alienated in society.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Filial Piety and Family Life in Korea

One sees in recent years, many grandmothers and grandfathers living alone in Korea. That was a rare sight before the industrialization. In the little mission station were I am stationed we have a surprising large number living alone. Poverty is part of the problem for many do have families but the elders do feel freer and less of a burden on the family, living alone.

One pastor, writing about visiting an area of his parish met a grandmother on the the ridge of a rice paddy and began a conversation. She mentioned that a son had returned to the village and was now busy repairing the homestead in which his mother was living. He was hearing the sound of the hammer driving the nails in the repair of the old house.

He told the grandmother that must be very happy news for the mother to have her son back and living with her. The grandmother agreed and said she was living alone and hates it, would love to be with the family of her son and daughter-in-law.

Some time later he met the grandmother working in the same area and asked how the son and grandmother were doing: "She must be very happy person now that she is with the family?"

"Well I am not quite sure that all is well. Her son doesn't listen to her and does what ever he pleases, and it is more difficult now than it was when she was living alone."

Living alone has problems but also living with their sons and daughter-in-laws is not always peaceful. There are some elders living alone that have family, if this shows in the family register, the person living alone is not entitled to help from the government.

In teaching of catechism one of the unfair questions that I have asked Korean men is what would you do if there was a difficulty in the family between your wife and mother? They will try to resolve it, but if not possible what then? The son has a difficulty in having to choose between mother and wife. This would be true in all cultures but the Christian understanding that they leave their parents and become one with the wife is not an idea which fits easily into their understanding of filial piety.

There are 7 reasons in Confucian thinking that allows a son to get a divorce and the first is a daughter-in-law not obeying the parents. Filial piety in Christianity is a strong precept but the Korean society probably sees it on a level even beyond that of the Christian. Korean society is not helping to strengthen family life; poverty and the expectations that society has required of families I would see as part of the reason.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Life of a Missioner in Korea

After ordination, for one year, I work on development work for the society and did a lot of visiting of parishes in an effort to introduce Maryknoll . I was not a very successful promoter but by far most of the encounters with pastors were very pleasant and helpful.

In order to help me get acquainted and to break the awkwardness of doing something with which I was not familiar I would usually start by asking questions. One of the questions to a pastor was: "Father what have you learned over the years that would help a newly ordained priest?"
One priest very quickly told me: "Father buy a chair and sit in it and when your ass gets bigger buy another, and sit." I was certainly stupefied by the answer. I can still remember the parish in which this happened, and have thought of the occasion many times. It was the response of one who must have been hurt much during his years . It has remained with me and has proved that this attitude towards life is possible.

Cyncism is a very unattractive flaw and the older we get a possible response to what we hear and see. Living in Korea and being in pastoral work for many years this response would be rather forced and not natural. The Korean Christians are very respectful of authority, do we have the Confucian culture to thank for this? There is a great deal of formality but this also oils the wheels of relationships.

We know how to react to others. Koreans who are members of a community are extremely respectful of those who are leading the community. There is always a gift when some one comes to visit. I just heard today that those who wear black even during a famine never go hungry and never pay the bill when invited out, there is also a third. I suppose that we have those who can become cynical even in this society but I do not think that it is an easy step for a missioner. The Korean Catholics do have a tendency to spoil their priests, not very helpful for a follower of Jesus. Our Maryknoll Bishop here in Inchon for many years use to remind us that "we came to Korea to do good and we did very well. "

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Korean Basic Christian Communities

The Catholic Church in Korea for many years has been working to energize the small group movement (Basic Christian Communities) within the church but according to the recent editorial in the Catholic Times it faces many problems. The apathy of the priests and the lay people was given as a reason for the difficulty.

Probably the Church has trusted too much on the passive knowledge that the Catholics have received at the liturgy, from the readings and the sermons. The Catholic have to meet together in small groups to discuss and carry over to their daily lives what they have learned. In the country, dealing with country matters in the city with the city matters, those with little education with little education. What is important is that they read the Scripture and see their life in the light of the Scriptures. This requires them getting together in small groups and trying to see, judge and act in company with those they are meeting with.

The 5th General Meeting of AsIPA ended on the 28th of October. There was a delegation that attended from Korea and the program was written up in this weeks Catholic paper. "By AsIPA the initials for Asian, Integral, Pastoral, Approach. Asian, for being part of the local culture, and rooted in the daily lives of the people. Integral, to bring all the various aspects of parish life into the community and mission with Christ. Pastoral, caring for all that live around us by all of God's people, regardless of their race or religion. Approach, the tools must build community, enable participation, and build confidence, using Scripture and acknowledging the presence of Christ in our midst." The AsIPA is an Asian adaptation of a program developed in South Africa for Bible-centered small Christian communities. A desk within the Federation of Asian Bishop's Conferences (FABC) Office of Laity and Family oversees its development.

Korea for many years has tried to develop these small group meeting. They have many different names but they all come down to talking with those they know in the Lord to see if they can come to a way of acting on what they have learned from Jesus. Our Bishop representative from Korea commented that : "We in Korea have remained in the area of sharing our thoughts on the Scripture but we have to go beyond this and tie what we have learned from the Scripture to our daily life. If we are going to have a new vision of Church we have to learn what the success of the Philippine Church is able to teach us. "

The Korean Church has the example of small group meetings in the larger society. The Protestants have their weekly gatherings in the homes which does serve as a stimulus and a prod but society has also in the meantime become more complicated. People have less time and more woman are now working outside the home. It is getting more difficult to find time to meet. There will be attempts to adapt to the situation and if the priests and the laypeople do see a need for it, we will be seeing change in the near future.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Love of Married Life

One of the columnists in the Catholic Times had an article on marriages in Korea, prompted by the many marriage invitations that she has received . It made her reflect on what is love and what is marriage? Below is a summary of her thoughts.

"When the world gets shrunk to one person and that person is lifted up close God that is love. Those who have been in love understand; marriage on the other hand if not going well can change to where it looks like a loose fitting shoe, with the possibility of turning into hate and weariness."

There are some that say marriage has no meaning. There is no longer any tingly feeling in the relationship, the fantasy has evaporated and the times and daily life have removed the pleasant taste.

During the romance period there was the desire to learn all about the secret part of the partner's life, but you learn that there is no mystery and the illusion has disappeared. The other's defects and shortcoming you did not want to see come to full view and you retreat from the mystery and fantasy of married life.

But marriage is not only this but a beautiful promise and one can see it as the greatest gift that God has given to human kind. The important part of the joining of two people for life is the chance to grow more like the other person, and with the passage of the years like fruit, a ripening. The love hate relationship that the couple has experienced has made them closer and stronger in their relationship.

The relationship of the couple is the school in which they have learned the meaning of love, and the learning will continue until death. The time together is teaching them what love is. With time the love grows stronger from the many difficulties they have to endure. She entreats those who are married to live not according to their own ways but the ways of the other.

The love they experienced during the romance period was just a preparation for the true love in marriage. Do not see marriage as paradise but that is where it is heading . She finishes her reflection with the very meaningful Korean expression: "affection of hate".( There is affection even accompanying the emotion of hate) "Marriage is maturing together with the years, the most beautiful sight there is in the world."

We hear discussions on whether we have outgrown the institution of marriage. There are those who see it as an impossible joining of two people for life. It is sad that for many it does not work but can we say it is the fault of the institution, or that the spiritual growth that was necessary in the living together of two people did not keep pace with their chronological age. In my first years in Korea most of the marriages were arranged . The feeling at that time was that love comes after the marriage. I wonder even today if that is not the better way of looking at married love. The Church should possibly give us more examples of this married love, canonizing more of those who have lived a beautiful saintly married life.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why a Chrysanthemum Festival?

The small community here in Gyodong came back this afternoon from the Sunday Mass and Chrysanthemum Festival in the parish- the parish day of thanks. All who have been working in growing chrysanthemums brought their masterpieces to be judged by the pastor. It began on the first of November and finishes on Sunday the 8th.

The chrysanthemum flower has many different varieties and colors. It was a very popular flower in China that goes back thousands of years, entered Korea and from Korea to Japan, and the rest of the world. Besides the beauty of the flower, it has medicinal uses, culinary and even insecticidal uses.

The judging of the plants should be interesting. There will be plants with just one big bloom and others with a lot of blooms. I heard that they are judged by form, texture, color size and the condition of the flower.

One priest in a small country parish decided to become a chrysanthemum farmer to make his church known. Most thought that there was so little to do in a small country parish that he began farming. However, he says that after he was assigned to the parish many visitors coming to the parish asking for the whereabouts of the church were told they had never heard of it. The community is not that large and it was hard for the pastor to understand why the parish was not known. He decided that he would make the parish known by having a chrysanthemum festival and invite all those in the community.

Many in the community helped out in getting ready for the festival. He also went out to help others in exchange for their work. Eating by himself was not as pleasant as eating with others who came to help. He realized the worth of labor, the pleasure of working with others, more appreciative of God's designs , and bending his back towards the earth helped him to appreciate humility (humus earth). Also there have been those who have decided to enter the Catholic community.

Our Festival in the parish was a success. There was no need to make the parish known but rather a festival to celebrate the beauty of this earth. Besides the exhibition of the flowers, parishoners' works of calligraphy and art were also exhibited. We enjoyed beautiful music during the Mass and the seminarians after Mass entertained us with 'samulnori' ( four instrument pastime)-the Korean traditional percussion music using the four instruments: bass drum, an hourglass like drum, a small gong and a large gong. All done with a great deal of movement which gets those attending wanting to move their feet and hands to the rhythm. We all left with a deeper appreciation of God's beauty in many different forms.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Perception ..something to think about...

Maryknoll News- Of, For and By the Maryknoll Priests and Brothers had an interesting article in which the editor asked us to apply the experiment to Maryknoll.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 48 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace, stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and , without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes: A 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.The man collected a total of $32.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from the experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made.... How many other things are we missing?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Communion and Communication

There are 7 Catholic seminaries in Korea today which have helped to increase the number of vocations but it has also divided the priests into different groups. When the only seminary was in Seoul, all the priests knew each other, and then the Kwangju seminary was built, dividing the priests into two groups. Today we have 7 different places of formation, and for a country that is so homogeneous and organized this is hard for some to accept.

The religious probably have more difficulty with this since they are more accustomed to community. It is not as easy to fraternize with their fellow religious since they are formed in different seminaries.

One religious mentioned that we need "commonio and communicatio", communion and communication if we are going to see renewal in the Church-a sign of health. He would recommend that all the priests in the country after finishing their studies go to the same seminary for a period of "communion and communication". He knows this idea has been around for a long time and does have many who are in favor of the proposal, but he realizes that there are too many obstacles to overcome and in the long run not feasible.

Cardinal Avery Dulles introduced the 5 models of Church in which one was community, (mystical body). These images were not independent of each other but made for an integral approach to what the Church was. All part of our image of Church. A Church where we are all joined together in the body of Christ.

Without our consciousness of communion it would be difficult to communicate on a deeper level . In the Church today there are divisions and misunderstandings; there are problems in parishes , dioceses and communities and most of it comes because of a failure to communicate from the heart, conscious of our oneness in Christ.

The dream of having all the priests go to one seminary for a year of communion and communication is a dream and it will remain so but the desire to see more communion and communicatio in the Church is a very realistic proposal and one that we should all entertain.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Divination in Korea

How many of the Catholics go to fortune tellers is not easy to determine; on the bus you often see adds for fortune tellers mentioning: "Christians welcomed". Some of the Catholic go from curiosity, some with friends, others for entertainment purposes but then you have those who do want some affirmation on what they are doing and knowldege of the future.

When I hear of a Catholic who has gone to a fortune-teller there is a sadness that liberation was not complete. Usually in Korea we here the word ' philosophy hall' which gives it a very erudite feeling . In this day and age we have the Internet which allows you to frequent the tellers with ease and anonymity. The price is right and the desire of human kind to know the future is part of the attraction.

In years past in one of the parishes, a very active and intelligent member of the parish with a good paying job asked me about changing his name. He felt that it was not helping him in his quest for success. I have forgotten what I said but I was surprised at the question and desire to change his name to achieve success. This is probably more common than one would expect even among our Catholics.

The four pillars (Saju) is probably the most common type of fortune-telling where the ' teller' wants to know your date of birth: year, month, day and hour. From there he will procede to give you his prognostication. The whole process seems to be very complicated. Over the years I have heard about the 'tee' which is the Korean zodiac with the 12 animals quite different from the Western Zodiac. They also read your face and work with the yin- yang theory and the five primary elements which appear as the days of the week in the Korean calendar- an import from the west by way of China. The tellers can weave these all together to come up with something that does satisfy those who frequent these diviners.

The Catholic Church has been very clear in its opposition to divination, the Catholic Catechism number 2116 states: "All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone."

In the Christian Initiation of Adults we have the first stage which includes the minor exorcisms. Baptism is a liberation from all that does not give us freedom in Jesus. We get rid of fear and one of the big reasons for fear is the unknown and the sense that we are controlled by it. The truth should make us free and freedom from superstition is a great part of that freedom. Superstition is not reasonable and is harmful.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Accountability Not Always Pleasant

Over the years there has been a number of surveys made of parishes here in Inchon and the results used in the pastoral work. A great deal of time and money was spent in trying to do a very in depth and objective study of the situation, but the time was not ripe in most cases for the implementation of what was discovered. Top- down leadership does have certain benefits, but unless the willingness of those involved is present, little happens.

The effort to become more efficient is part of the Korean organizational ability. We usually have a period of less than six years in a parish, and the continuity with the previous direction is not always present.

One of the parishes in Seoul with the help of the diocese made a study of a parish of 6 000 registered Catholics- considered an ordinary parish in the city of Seoul. This was reported to be the first parish in Seoul that has made the results public. Hopefully, the time is ripe to spread the information to other dioceses and parishes throughout the country and efforts made to implement the findings.

The results were somewhat surprising in that the number one reason for leaving the Church were problems between members of the community, alienation- 30.2%; money and time- 22%, difficulty of confession - 13.5% those who have no interest in religion was 3.9%.

The Peace Weekly mentioned that some of the respondents felt that it was difficult to see the priest; those who were leaders in the parish gave an impression of self- righteousness that militated against expressing one's opinion within the community.

Many feel there is a lack of information on what ails some of the parishes and this information would be of help to those who are interested. In my experience the information is there for those who want it now, but none of us likes criticism.

The Maryknoll Society some years ago wanted all of us involved in Korea to show that we have exercised our powers and discharged our duties properly. A lot of time and effort went into the work but it all became a dead letter. We are too sensitive and do not like to hear bad news. It was an attempt at transparency, answerability, compliance but without results.

Hopefully the efforts expended in the one parish of Seoul will be taken seriously and efforts made to carry out what was learned.