Sunday, January 31, 2010

Korea Prepares to Help the Foreign Needy

How many Catholic bishops' conferences would have a symposium to discuss giving aid to needy countries? In preparation for today's Foreign Aid Sunday, (a collection for the foreign poor was taken up in all the parishes), the bishops sponsored a symposium to deal with the present situation of aid, and determined directions for the future.

The Catholic Church intends not only in doing something meritorious but in developing a network to help in the eradication of world poverty.
Only recently has she become a giving Church. The amount given is small, for the number of Christians, but this is beginning to change. Not only is the Church interested in the giving of money, but in how and to whom to give.

Some of the problems seen in the symposium was the competition among the different groups: How much has been raised? How many countries have been helped? How many different works sponsored? Although this is to be expected-- the same problems have been seen within the Church; efforts are being made to remedy the situation.

Catholic have given only about 2 dollars a piece in aid to the foreign poor and it was suggested that the reason for this was a lack of transparency in the reports; no people specified, lack of continuity and no results returned to the Christians. The Church has not always been clear in the use of funds as some of the other Non-Governmental Organization have done.

One of the representatives of the Official Development Assistance Watch had a few suggestions for the Church. The Church should be an example of giving aid. The receiving country should not be dependent on aid but should be helped to help themselves. The society being helped should work with those who are trying to rid the country of corruption: Develop their need for democratization, equality of the sexes, and to guarantee that the poor and alienated in the society receive benefits. It is possible to give aid in a bad way, you can subordinate the one receiving to the aid given. You can remove them from the democratic process, and if aid is standardized and given as the West has traditionally given, you can destroy the diversity in the culture.

Aid given in a bad way can strengthen the authority of men at the expense of women. The help can separate the different peoples and different tribes in a country. Aid not given well can help not the poor and the alienated but the wealthy, those with power and the small privileged groups in the society.

In the future, countries joining the world-wide effort to help the needy in other countries may find it useful to learn how this is best done by emulating the current efforts of a country and Church that have in a very short time moved from receiving aid to giving aid. The bishop sponsored symposium has focused attention on doing more in this are of world-wide need and may be a heartening sign of the times. It seems that we can be optimistic that wealthier nations of the world will be more aggressive in giving to the poorer nations in the coming years, and very likely Korea and the Korean Church will be prominent in these efforts.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How To Make Sense Out Of Absurdity

How does one convey the Christian message to the people of our time? The old way of dealing with the message falls on deaf ears, the message was heard and discarded, it is understood to be a bunch of dos and don'ts and the response-- not interested. Disinterest is more evident today. The youth are bored by religion. They are searching but it is unending.This vacuum in lives is seen and experienced and some moved to do something.

In the twentieth century we have had a number Catholic movements started by lay people who felt this emptiness in life, Mr. Francisco (Kiko) Arg├╝ello is one of these. He started the Neocatechumenal Way in the slums of Spain in 1964 with Ms Carmen Hernandez.

In Kiko's own life he felt a profound existential crisis and accepted the philosophy of Sartre: the world is absurd all is absurd. He dedicated himself to art and although he was successful it all meant nothing. "It meant absolutely nothing, to live for what? To paint. And why paint? To make money. What for, If nothing satisfies me? I knew that sooner or later I'd shoot myself, I'd kill myself."

At the height of the crisis he read another philosopher, Bergson, "who says that intuition is a... way..., deeper than reason itself, of arriving at truth. And surprised, I found that, deep inside, my artist's intuition did not accept the absurdity of existence; I was aware of the beauty of a tree, of the beauty of things; there is something there that can't be absurd. Then if the absurd is not the truth, if there is a reason for being... the next step was: then somebody created us.... At that moment... something in me told me that God existed... that God loved me... that I was a son of God. And with great surprise I found...that this God that appeared in my heart, in my deepest soul, was Jesus Christ, the Jesus Christ of the Catholic Church."

As time past this teaching was embodied in a catechetical syntheses, founded on what is called the tripod: Word of God- Liturgy- Community that seeks to lead people to fraternal communion and mature faith. It is a message of Joy and given for free to anyone who opens his heart to receive it.

The priests of the Incheon Diocese this past week had a five day retreat conducted by a priest of the Neocatechumenal Way. It was the old story told in a way that made it clear to all that Christianity is not a teaching of morality or dogma but accepting Jesus into our lives. He came to divinize us. To make us like Him. He made us to be happy in the only way that true joy can be found, living in and with Him.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Reading Habits of Korean Catholics

In Korea the Church started and grew when books about the Church came in from China. Reading not only nourishes our souls as food nourishes our bodies, it can also help nourish the Church, as it did in the early years of the Korean Catholic Church. In the late 1800s, the first book from China to awaken the Catholic spirit in Korea was Matteo Ricci's "The True Doctrine of the Lord of Heaven."A few years later, Yi Seung-hun, baptized by a Chinese priest, brought back books and articles on Christian doctrine that were distributed to Korean scholars, who subsequently dared to preach the Faith openly, converting many people.

At the present time, the Church in Korea is promoting the spread of reading programs to foster a deeper understanding of the Faith and a broader commitment to personal growth that will eventually benefit all of society. There is, however, a major obstacle that must be overcome if these goals are to be realized: Catholics are, for the most part, not interested in reading. But the fault lies,according to an editorial in one of our Catholic papers, not with Catholics as readers or non-readers, but with a climate within the Church that is not conducive to reading. A climate that one could trace back hundreds of years to the time when the only translation of the Bible was in Latin, a language only understood by the educated few.

A graphic and disturbing picture of this wide-spread disinterest in books can be seen by going over a few figures from a survey made in 2007. The survey showed that 58.6% of Catholics during the year do not read anything having to do with Church matters. Only 4.9% have read more than 6 books. However, 44.8% of Protestants have read at least one spiritual book during the year. They are setting an example we need to follow.

Just as in the early days of Catholicism in Korea in the late 1800s, when "the word" was carried from China to Korea, we need once again to renew our efforts to bring the message of Christ to those who are willing to hear. Jesus is the word of God and can be found in the words of the Church and in the lives of the saints but, first and foremost, this word is found in the Scriptures. It is the hope of the Bishops that a renewed interest in scripture study (their immediate goal) will encourage the spread of reading programs throughout the country. If these reading programs succeed in turning a large number of our Catholics into readers of "the word," we may witness a return to the proselytizing spirit of those early years, when books were the means by which the Church began to grow, and might now bring that growth to new heights.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sorok Island-- One of the Few Colonies Left

A newly assigned Korean priest, commenting on his experiences on Sorok Island with patients having Hansen's disease(non-infectious), was surprised by many things he saw on the island. Every day, about an hour before Mass starts, they come for prayers and the recitation of the rosary. Their bodies and faces are disfigured but their voices are better than one usually hears in the average congregation. And the man at the organ has not only Hansen's disease, he is blind. But he has the whole of the hymn book memorized and plays from memory.

The priest remembered when he was in the States taking care of a Korean Parish; he attended a Mass that really moved him. A woman sitting with a seeing-eye dog beside her got up, at the time of the reading of the Epistle, to go to the lectern. Being the lector, she was accompanied by one of the ushers. She read from the Scriptures using a braille book and returned to her seat with her dog leading the way. It was another moving experience for the priest who admitted to many others, preparing him for his life on Sorok Island.

He recounted one of those experiences in some detail. From his rectory he could see the tides coming in and out so decided to take up fishing. He bought some cheap bait and on his way to the water's edge met one of the Catholics, Anthony, who if seen walking the streets would have been taken for a vagabond. He invited the man to go with him for some fishing, which was very good that day. Happy with their catch and being in high spirits, they went to eat and very much enjoyed the meal. All in all, a very satisfying day for both of them.

In the time-honored Korean tradition of relaxing with friends in one of the many Jimjilpangs that dot the typical Korean city, they went to one close by and relaxed in the soothing atmosphere of a hot air room, where Anthony had his hair cut and the priest massaged his back in the Korean style. Anthony said he felt like a new man. One cannot doubt that the physical pampering helped him feel this way, but I suspect that the more important reason for this change in attitude came about because someone looked past his outward appearance and treated him as a human being.

Sorok Island is one of the few leper colonies left in the world. The disease can be cured; it is an infectious disease not easily contracted and not inherited. To lessen the hurt that is felt when the word leprosy is heard by those with the disease, Hansen is used--discoverer of the bacterium-- The feeling towards those with Hansen's disease is still such that those who are cured have difficulty joining society: prejudice is still the way society looks at the disease.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mixed Signals From a Mixed Up Regime

North Korea has declared all religious activity to be subversive, an attack on their governing principles. And yet they maintain there is religious freedom in the country. An article in the Chosun Ilbo mentions that before "liberation" came to Korea, there were (in addition to the many Buddhist temples in the mountainous regions) 2600 churches. In Pyongyang alone there were 270 churches, which led to the city being called the 2nd Jerusalem.

Information on the situation of Christians in North Korea is sketchy. We do know that the government considers Christians "crazy" and part of an underground movement to overthrow the regime. The Open Doors Movement is committed to helping these persecuted Christians, but it's a difficult task. Again this year, North Korea was listed--8th year in a row--as having the severest persecutions of Christians among all nations of the world.

In 2009 Kim Jong-il is reported giving orders that resulted in the mass arrests, torture and killings of many Christians in an attempt to eradicate all Christian activities. Of the estimated 200,000 in prison for political activities considered hostile
to the regime, 40,000 to 60,000 are Christians.

Protestants have been very active in trying to help all persecuted Christians. Each year they send balloons to North Korea with leaflets and make efforts to get Bibles into the hands of the Christians using words commonly in use in North Korea.

An American Protestant Missionary, Robert Park, in an attempt to bring the plight of persecuted Christians in Korea to the attention of the world, recently "...crossed the China-North Korea border into North Korea...carrying with him a letter addressed to the North Korean leadership in which he wrote: Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities and assistance to those who are struggling to survive. Please close down all concentration camps (gulags) and release all political prisoners
therein, and allow care teams to enter to minister healing to those who have been tortured and traumatized." (as reported by Pax Koreana)

North Korean authorities acknowledged, indirectly, the existence of an un
derground Church when they reported catching some spies. Their official news agency reported that "They broke up a hostile radical group that was using the mask of religion in the underground church to ferment conspiracy."

How long this tyrannical regime can continue to exist, with its abysmal human rights record, without provoking more discontent from its citizens is puzzling to many. Some day in the near future there will come a day when the history of this country will be written and, maybe then, we'll have the answer many are asking: How could such a proud people have put up with this hellish life for so long?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Journey From Inferiority to Acceptance

One of the priests in the diocese writes, in the Pastoral newsletter, of a young man he knew some 10 years ago who worked in a sewing factory. Because his family was poor, he had to drop out of high school and go to work. He hated the work and worried what others would think of him if they found out he was a menial laborer. Not wanting anyone to know, he left his house each morning with a brief case and dressed as a college student. Living this lie greatly affected the man's appearance and character, the daily stress showing on his face and in his demeanor. He wanted to find a better job but did not have the strength of will to make the changes.In the evenings he would go to a discotheque to forget his problems and dull the pain.

An overwhelming feeling of inferiority was his daily torment, and now with the desire to change his life only a faint memory, he felt chained to a life without the zest and joy he had once hoped for.

One day he became friends with another young man working at the sewing factory.This friend invited him to a meeting of the JOC (Young Christian Workers) in the parish. By attending their meetings and participating in the readings of the Scriptures, he felt his feelings of inferiority begin to disappear and learned to have a proper appreciation for the value of manual labor.

There is no denying that many young people today are embarrassed at their lot in life. They are poor, worn out, and tired, becoming dropouts in society. They are overcome by many of the evils of society: dependence on liqueur, pornography, gambling etc.--having lost, it seems, the freedom to say no to these temptations of society. Because of peer pressure, it is becoming difficult for them to avoid these temptations.

In my early years in Korea, I can recall the times when I would pick up a shovel and start to use it--but not for long. There was always someone there to take it from me. College students returning home for the holidays would not want to be seen working like a farm laborer, or be seen carrying an A-Frame (a wooden rack for carrying a load on one´s back). After all, they were now college students. This has changed as traditional values disappear and a more egalitarian society starts to appear. It's not unusual now to find many who enjoy working with their hands without any feelings of embarrassment. How much of this is due to Christianity is hard to judge. But for many Christians, knowing that Jesus had been a carpenter undoubtedly helped remove the stigma commonly attached to those who worked for a living using their hands in hard labor.

Monday, January 25, 2010

From Receiving To Giving

Before the 1980s, the Catholic Church in Korea had been for many years on the receiving end of the giving and receiving divide. She has wisely used the resources received and now, since the '80s, has been supporting other countries that are facing hardships. No data had been gathered on the amount of money given out until this past year when Caritas Coreana made a study detailing what had been given. Outside of aid given for evangelization and to North Korea, they have on average given a million dollars annually for overseas aid.

To help collect the data, 16 dioceses, 1,542 parishes, 165 religious societies, 28 apostolates, and other organizations participated. This survey, the first of its kind initiated by the Church, will be of great help in building a network of helper organizations to facilitate the work of overseas aid in the years to come, without any overlapping.

If we count the
total number of Korean Catholics, the amount each donated annually comes to about two dollars. If we count only those who go to Sunday Mass regularly, the figure jumps to eight dollars per Catholic. About 60 percent of this aid is from collections in support of different projects. It's not very much but it is the beginning of an outreach to others now going through what Korea had to suffer for many years.

In 1980, the outreach found its way into only four areas of the world. In ten years,
this figure went up to 12; in ten more years, the year 2000, there were 33 areas of the world being served.
Catholic Korea, like the country as a whole, has come a long way in a very short time. From being a Church on the receiving end of assistance, it now is an outreach Church involved in giving to those around the world who are most in need of assistance.

This outreach will continue, and guided by the data collected by Caritas Coreana the Church intends to be of more service to more people. Where the data reveals shortcomings in outreach per
formance, there is no doubt that they will be corrected.

In the beginning of our work as missioners, after the Korean War, we all were beneficiaries of receiving whatever help we needed from Maryknoll. Enough money was sent to take care of our living expenses, run the parishes, provide for those working in the parish, and to aid the sick and poor. For many years now, this has come to an end and we are now in a giving mode. This is also
true of many sectors of the Korean economy. Korea is one of the few countries that have made this transition so quickly from a receiving to a giving country. There is no doubt that the church, and the country, will continue to give, and give even more than before, with each passing year.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not seeing all of the Culture for Life

The Church in Korea is working to establish a culture for life and showing how we, unknowingly, are often involved in a culture of death. The Catholic papers and articles in Catholic Magazines have begun to acquaint us with what we mean by making a choice for life and not death. The Church has called on the government to ban abortion, human embryonic stem-cell research, and to abolish the death penalty. They are fighting the movement towards euthanasia, suicide, the emphasis on outward appearance, all these areas of life in which we are not choosing life but death. There is one area, in which possibly, we do not think is part of this culture of death and that is smoking and drinking immoderately.

One of the members of the Committee For Life of the Seoul Diocese has mentioned the many ways that we have not been helpful in building a wholistic culture of life in Korea and he picks out the area of smoking and immoderate drinking. These are not considered important enough to merit the interest of the other areas but should.

The World Health Organization recently has reported that smoking causes the death of over 5 million people in the world and 70% of these live in Africa and Asia. In Korea 50,000 die each year from smoking this is 20% of the total of those that die every year. A figure we can not but be surprised to hear.

Drink causes the death of about 20,000 each year in Korea. If we consider those who die driving while intoxicated or are killed by drunk drivers, we get a figure that is similar to that from smoking.

The World Health Organization has made it known the havoc that smoking and drinking has on the health of our citizens. It does not take life quickly but gradually, and of a large percentage of the population.

Speaking very honestly the committee member says the Catholic Church has been very tolerant in comparison to the other religious groups in our society on smoking and drinking. The Protestants have been very much against drinking and smoking in Korea and so the word in society has been that being a Catholic is much easier than being a Protestant.

What ever the past reasons were for the Catholic position this is no longer valid. The writer goes on to say that the Catholic Church should no longer be so indulgent in accepting smoking and drinking immoderately, knowing the havoc this is causing so many people . The Catholic Church has always been very much in the forefront of the movement for life and this indulgence with smoking and drinking should no longer be tolerated.

The Catholic Church should now make this 'no smoking' and 'drinking in moderation' one of its areas of concern in the building up of the culture of life. And Catholics should be out in front living this life as an example to others.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Either/Or Thinking" in Church Construction

The way we use money is a point of contention in society at large and in the Church. We have those who use the words from Scripture: "What is the point of this extravagant waste...It could have been sold... and the money given to the poor." And then we have the words of Jesus: "The poor you will always will not always have me." We can choose to see one or the other or try to see both. It may be more a matter of a prudential judgement in individual situations rather than a black and white theoretical position for one or the other. A Catholic priest makes his point clear in one of the newsletters:

A prophet with a torch was running towards a new shrine, asked why he was going in the direction of the shrine with a torch he answered to burn the shrine down because the people were more interested in the building than of God.

In Solomon's day while building the temple, he levied taxes on the people and had them do compulsory labor. Representatives of the people went to the King to complain but to no avail: part of the reason for the division of the country into North and South.

The way they collected the funds in the building of St. Peter's Basilica was a trigger to bring about the division in the Church of the West.

The different religions have to build for their communities of believers but if this is not done with moderation and wisely, religion will be criticized and suffer.

In Korea because of the great numbers of Christians it is necessary to build churches and other buildings for parish use. Often when there is not a necessity we seen buildings put up and not used.

The priest mentioned in a recent trip to Europe he saw these large churches that were empty. They have become museums. Many are difficult to maintain. The Christians that do come out are very stingy in what they give go the church, so there are many financial problems.The Christians see that a great deal of money went into the building of the church and rectory and they do not desire to give any more, but choose to give to the poor in society. The priest mentioned that hearing this from the people made him sad, not that they were not giving to the Church but because their hearts were now far from the Church.

Many Koreans still do not own a house. The polarization of our society is taking place with a split between the rich and the poor. More people are getting poorer and many are feeling the burden of giving to the Church and drop out. Those in pastoral position do not want to burden the poor but they have to realize how the poor feel.

We can see from the Scriptures that Jesus was always on the side of the poor. If we distance ourselves from the poor we distance ourselves from Jesus.

In building a church, the church of our hearts can be destroyed. We hear this often and in not a few cases, a fact of life.

Probably there are those who see this as the price we are willing to pay for the growth of Catholicism here in Korea. Hopefully we can find ways to do both.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Everything is Good" Even Death

Daily we see death in situations that some have difficulty accepting. Why would a good God allow the destruction and death we have seen in Haiti? A question of the ages, one that continues to be asked at the death of a young person, a person who has so much to live for but dies: a question even if not vocalized on the minds of many.

Fr. John Lee Tae Seok 48 years old, worked in the Sudan of the South as a Salesian missionary, a doctor , a teacher, a musician, a man with many talents doing so much good, loved by many, building hospitals, taking care of hundreds of sick daily, started a school , brass band, and died here in Korea of cancer on Jan. 14, after fighting cancer since 2008. In God's providence all things work together for the good and as a Christian this is the hope that we have when seeing the ups and downs of life, the good and the bad. Fr. Lee even at the end, with his family present, was able to say: "Everything is good," consoling those who were at his bedside.

As a child Fr. Lee read the life of Albert Schweitzer and was moved but more so by the words of Jesus: "Whenever you did this to one of the least of my brothers you did it to me." He went on to medical school and after his medical degree entered the Salesians. While in Rome for studies and ordination to the diaconate he spent a few months in the Sudan for exposure to the works of the Salesians in the Sudan. After ordination he returned to the Sudan to begin his work as a doctor, starting dispensaries and working tirelessly helping the sick and those in need. A man of many talents he was instrumental in building a school, and even starting a brass band in the area in which he worked.

He wrote two books during his years in the Sudan: "The Rays of the Sun in Africa are Still Sad" and "Will You Be My friend?" Fr. Lee mentioned in the two books two questions that he often received: "Why did you choose to become a priest for y0u could have helped many people without being a priest ?" "You have many poor people you can help in Korea why come to Africa?" The answer he gave was that he really didn't know, it was the beautiful fragrance of the life he believes was the reason. Beauty is an attraction all by itself, and a life for others had great beauty for Fr. Lee.

They called him Fr. Jolly in the Sudan because his surname was Lee and his Christian name was John, and for the Sudanese putting these together became Jolly. A name which fits him well, since he always had a smile on his face. His life was short just ten years of priesthood but they were years filled with doing good.

There are many ways of preaching; the least effective is using words. Using visual aides and getting to a person's senses we have more success, but the best way is to get persons involved and to experience what is being said. Fr. Jolly was able to live what he preached and his memory of what he did will be an alarm bell to many of us who have not been able to do anything else but use words.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gutenberg Bible or Buddhist Meditations?

Out of great love, many people spend a whole life time, without any recognition in a work few will ever hear about. Dr. Park Byeong Seon (Lugalda) was such a person until she discovered the oldest extant book, made with movable metal type, in the French National Library.The Catholic Apostolic Lay Council has just recently presented Dr. Park with a plague and monetary award in recognition of her many years working on Korean antiquities in France.

Before she left for France for further study, one of her professors asked her to keep her eyes open for books taken from Kangwha during the French occupation of the island in 1866. In a previous blog we mentioned the sack of Kangwha by the French naval fleet in retaliation for the killing of 7 French missioners and the burning of the royal achieves on the island. One of the books taken was the first printed book with movable type: a very precious part of Korean history. A book that was classified with other Chinese books until Prof. Park's discovery in 1975.

The book is referred to as Jikji printed by a Buddhist monk in 1377. It is an anthology of the teachings of Buddhism for meditation. There were two volumes, one in the French library is the only one found. Prof. Park proved that it was printed 78 years earlier than Gutenberg's Bible printed in 1455. Besides this one volume she discovered the 298 volumes dealing with the rituals and protocols of the Royal Court.

Prof. Park is now battling terminal cancer. She received no help from the Korean government during over 50 years of work in France; it was her work of love for the country and doesn't want any sympathy. She is having difficulty paying her hospital bills and the country is beginning to pitch in to help her during these difficult days. She would like to have one more year in France to finish what she has started but she knows it is in the hands of God.

It is a fact of life that we know a great deal of history written by those with power and financial backing. To the victors belong the spoils and one of the spoils is to tell the rest of the world what they think happened. The Gutenberg Bible is considered in the West to be the first movable metallic type printed book but the Koreans have a Buddhist work of meditation that precedes that by many years.

The attempts to get the books back can be attributed to Prof. Park's persistence. International support is now shown to countries whose cultural treasures have been pillaged. The Korean government will also become involved with the many other citizen groups working for the return of these priceless items. It would be a fitting end to Prof. Park's scholarly life to have this one year in France and see the return of these books to the country in which they belong.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happiness in the East and West

As children we often concluded that the East was the East and the West the West: two different ways of looking and thinking."Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." This of course, is not exactly what is being said, but before the exchanges and the globalization there was a certain laziness and ease in believing this to be true. Human nature, however, is pretty much the same wherever you find it.

We have in Korea those who address their problems very much like those in the West. A Seoul diocesan priest does this with his own website from which topics are selected to appear in the Catholic newspaper. The questions he receives he answers from a Korean perspective.

On a question dealing with happiness, we have to first understand what we mean my happiness, if we are not going to get side tracked. It is easy to think that if we have the material things that we desire, we will be happy. Efforts to better ourselves are healthy but we have to be careful not to think it is everything. In life when we depend on material things to make us happy there will always be something better and this will ultimately bring sadness.

According to the writer the unanimous opinion of those who have studied happiness find that it comes to those whose existence is important to others and secondly is loved and is accepted by others.

The writer mentions that he often gives lectures and asks those in the audience how many are happy with things as they are; very few raise their hand. How many would like to change what they have been given and almost all the hands go up and finally how many have the capabilities of changing what they have, and no one raises their hand.

In conclusion we should try to change what we can change but what we can't change we should try to see it with a different set of eyes and with a more positive attitude, if we do, we will not be filled with unhappiness and even though it be a small amount, happiness will begin to enter.

The writer being a Catholic priest would certainly have a great deal of his attitudes formed by his faith, education, the books that he has read and his experience. This would be true of all of us. The world is becoming one and the mix is such that it would be very difficult to try to keep the East or West as two different ways of seeing life and the world.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is Western Influence on Korea Ending?

In the study of Korean, as with any foreign language, there are many surprises. The similarities to our mother tongue are welcomed, not expected, puzzling on the first encounter, but this is after all the Orient.

When hearing the Korean words for the planets they were just that, Korean words for the five major planets: the words that appeared on the calendar from Tuesday to Saturday. Why they were there I didn't know, but was shortly to learn. They were the same as the Latin names of the week. How did this come about? Who borrowed from whom? They dispute the way it came into the country but the 5 elements which are important in Korean thinking: fire, water, wood,metal and earth were the names given to the major planets: Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn and these in turn became the days of the week.

The ancients had the idea of the seven luminaries: the sun, moon and the 5 major planets that can be seen by naked eye. The Korean word for Sunday as in the West, is taken from the word sun, Monday from moon, Tues. from Mars, Wed. from Mercury, Thurs. from Jupiter, Fri. from Venus and Sat. from Saturn.

The 5 elements that Chinese society considered important are from Taoist thought, they have a prominent place in Chinese medicine, divination and other areas of life. In Chinese Metaphysics these 5 elements make up the matter of the universe, and with the yin yang form an important part of Chinese and Korean thought.

Korea did not accept the 7 day week until the last part of the 19th century. They had a ten day week and the change probably came through the introduction of western science by the Jesuit presence in China and the influence they had at that time. How it all came about is disputed but it was not coincidence.

It is difficult to judge how much the East has taken from the West. The Internet and globalization will continue to increase the interchange. These days it is common to see English words in the papers without any explanations of their meaning. Yes, the influence of the West on Korea is great, but China will probably surpass this shortly and we will be advancing to the days of old. Korean students studying in America exceed the numbers in China; now that China has become a super power this will very likely change as will the relationship of Korea to China.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What in the World are Name Days?

In my early days in Korea I learned among the Catholics their name day was more important than the birthdays. The name day is the feast day of the saint whose name one is given at baptism. I never actually averted to my name day until I came to Korea. It was thanks to the French missionaries that the custom started and was very strong among the old Catholics. Even today the priest's name day is celebrated with some fanfare.

The Peace Weekly has an article in which a parish priest has made this a part of church life. He felt that it wasn't right just to have the priest's name day celebrated and ignore the many parishioners who also have a name date; so in the parish each first Sunday of the month was a day to remember those commemorating their name day during that month.

The parish would send out cards to all those whose name day would be celebrated during the month and invite them to attend the main Mass on Sunday. They would sit in the front seats and
receive communion under both species. At the end of Mass the priest would give each one a rose and a blessing. The choir would sing a song of congratulations.

There are always 30 roses that are prepared in the front of the altar for those that might attend.
In this parish the custom started right from the beginning of the the parish back in 2005. The invitations are sent out to all those who have a name day coming up during the month even if they are not coming out to church. The pastor mentions that there have been many who attending the name date ceremony have used that occasion to join the community after having left it years before.

The younger Catholics do not have the same attraction to their name day and it is with traditions like these that will see the custom of remembering your name day continue in the Church of Korea. It is a good custom because it is also a time to renew your acquaintance with your patron saint, meditate on his life and recall the mission that we were given at baptism.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Tragedy We Face Daily In Christianity

On Monday the 18th we will begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Last year we celebrated the first hundred years of its inauguration. The Octave will conclude on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on the 25th of January. The 'how' and 'when' of unity depends on God, the 'why ' we know, the desire and efforts depend on us.

Last year Cardinal Nicholas Cheong of Seoul said in celebrating the Octave: "I feel inexpressible happiness at this moment. Now we recognize each other as brothers and sisters, confessing the same Christ...We can have different clothes and different ways of worshipping our God. However, our God, whom we praise with one voice , and the Gospel cannot be separate."

The Church in Korea is taking Ecumenism seriously. The bishop in charge is showing great concern to work with others in getting rid of distrust and prejudice among Christians and to work together in witnessing to the Gospel. The bishop wants us to stress the positive and work together in the common mission we have from Christ, which is more important than all that separates us.

My feelings are that the bishops are more concerned in this area of ecumenism than are those in the parishes, priests and lay people. Last year the Korean Christian representatives had the responsibility of composing the prayers that were to be used during the Unity Octave throughout the Christian world.

At the end of last year the different Christian representatives, Protestant, Orthodox and Catholics went on a pilgrimage of unity. They had an audience with the Pope and shared their concerns with Cardinal Kasper, who is in charge of matters to do with ecumenism in the church.
From there they went to England and talked with the Anglicans, the Salvation Army and Methodists. The bishop said they learned a great deal but what was most important was the feeling they were relating with each other as brothers in Christ.

The whole area of ecumenicism is fraught with all kinds of difficulties and misunderstandings. It seems like an impossible dream. The problems within the different Christian communities are not just little squabbles but areas of great concern, life and death issues.This is probably the areas we will have to work with, if we are to see any progress in becoming one in a larger context.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Manuscripts Taken from Korea by France

In the year 1866 seven French Missioners were martyred, two were bishops, along with over a thousand Catholics. This was the last persecution of Catholics and was the the persecution that provoked the French naval forces to invade Kangwha as a punitive measure against Korea. The French forces attacked and occupied the island for about 6 weeks in the autumn of 1866 and burnt down the royal achieves that were kept on the island. They took back to France some of the manuscripts that were in appearance of better quality; these are now in French possession and they refuse to return them. They are called the Oekyujanggak manuscripts: Having to do with the protocol and rites in the Joseon Dynasty.

The Peace Weekly had an editorial on this dispute with France. Many civilian groups are working for the return of these manuscripts and the weekly is asking the government to keep pressing France. The editorial mentions there is a great deal of double talk on this whole issue on the part of the French.

The news reports say the French government admits that the books were confiscated by the French while occupying Kangwha and that it was an "unfortunate confiscation," but the French government can't return the books because they are now part of France's national assets.

The books were found in the French National Library in 1975 by a Korean professor, living in France, who was working in the Library . Up until that time France wasn't even conscious of their existence.

The Catholic Church in Korea does feel a responsibility to show concern for the taking of these manuscripts by the French and is hoping that they will accede to the requests of Korea.The reason for the occupation of Kangwha was because of the persecution of the Catholics and the killing of 7 French citizens, members of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society. The Paris Foreign Missionary Society has given all their material they had accumulated during the many years of persecution, to the Church in Korea and without any conditions on their part. The German Benedictines also did the same. France has agreed to digitize the books but the return of them is more to the point.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Korean Table Culture

The process of eating is a very important part of life, both of the body and spirit.Koreans can eat what in other cultures you would not dream of eating and not even think it possible. This over the years develops into a culture of eating and a way of behaving at table.

Is it that they enjoy eating so much that they can eat even those things that are not eatable? They eat insults, fright, age, money, their hearts, heat, cold, effort, great loss, points in a game, goals in soccer and many other things.

I have always admired the eating habits of Korea for the table is set up in a way that no housewife is embarrassed if more show up than were invited. You have all kinds of side dishes placed on the table with the ever present eating utensils--chopsticks. So with a rice bowl and your chopsticks you are ready for the common table.

Yesterday the men in the mission station wanted to send off the pastor of the parish, who is being assigned to youth work in the diocese, with a farewell meal. We went by our van and picked him up and went to a raw fish restaurant overlooking the ocean.

We all sat down at a table that was prepared for us with common dishes of all kinds of sea food, both raw and some cooked. This was the appetizer followed by strips of raw fish. Each would have a small dish with some condiments, mustard and pepper sauce, in which to dip the strips of raw fish. At the end of the meal there is another common dish, a fish stew, boiled on little stoves set before us and eaten with the rice that finishes off the meal. Of course this is taken with Soju the preferred drink for Korean males. It would be comparable to the Japanese Saki.

The meal takes about two hours to finish, with a lot of talk and sharing. The comradery is shown in pouring the drinks of our table mates and making sure the glass is never empty. This is one areas I would like to see changed to our American style of pouring one's own drinks but the eating from the common table has a meaning that our western way of individual dishes does not. The talk is more intimate and conducive to a bonding that for me is missing in the western table manners. The drinking of course does help.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Incheon Priest Ordination Ceremony 2010

On Tuesday of this week, in a large indoor gymnasium, the diocese of Incheon ordained 22 deacons to the priesthood. This is the largest number of priests' ordained for the diocese in their history of 50 years, which they will celebrate next year.

Actually the number of priests ordained were 27 because 5 religious priests were ordained at the same time. During the ceremony 18 deacons were ordained for the diocese and one as a religious. This means next year we will, with God's grace, have 17 new priests.

The question is asked will this continue? Why is Korea different from other countries in the East or even from the States? These are not questions one can answer knowledgeably. It is a fact that Korea continues to do well even with the prosperity that the country has achieved. Many thought that this would not be the case. Those who showed an interest in the priesthood and wanted to enter the new class starting in March from Inchon was well over 30. Only 12 were accepted, because the grades in the college entrance exams were not considered high enough for the seminary. This does show the interest is there and in the next few years we will have about 1o ordained each year.

The respect for the priesthood and the Catholic Church in Korea is strong. When Cardinal Kim died, his last words: “Thank you, we have to cherish each other,” were heard and seen in many different situations in Korean society . Cardinal Kim's successor Cardinal Cheong was selected as the most influential religious leader in Korea last year. This all helps the standing of the Church in Korea, and would add to a climate in which Catholic young men, who have a love for the Church, would find naturally attractive and a help in making their decision for the priesthood.

As an example of this respect the priest would have even among some Protestants, the pastor of our parish, with whom I went by car to the ordinations, stopped for a meal on the way to the 2:oo pm ceremony. The owner of the restaurant, a Protestant, took payment for my meal but the pastor got his on the house. This motivation of respect received, is certainly not very high, as motivations go, but one believes the ten years required before ordination would be sufficient time to purify the motivation to one worthy of a disciples of Jesus.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Korean Catholic Alternative Press--Internet

The Church in Korea does not have a history of Catholics kibitzing on what the bishops do in administering their diocese and the Church, at least publicly. The Church in Korea is not accustomed to this, and could be seen as a lack of respect for those who have the responsibility for teaching. And yet we know speaking out politely and with respect, to those who are in a position of authority, is an act of love and loyalty. The nahnews, has in one of its recent coverages of the bishops' Pastoral Messages, made some comments on the contents with suggestions to the bishops.

All the dioceses have a new year's message for the Catholics of their respective diocese. It usually comes out at the beginning of the liturgical year. A reporter for nahnews went through the messages of the last two years and had some points of suggestion.

The reporter's words seemed to say that the bishops are rather vague in the way they write their Pastoral Messages. In the eyes of the reporter the bishops are only interested in problems within the Church and do not have a vision for the relationship the Church should have for society. It was mostly a pep talk to the Catholics to renew their faith; statistics say the Catholics are losing some of their ardor in spreading the faith and are not as faithful as they were at Sunday Mass attendance.

The way the messages was written would make it difficult to evaluate it the following year. The reporter would like to see concrete suggestions that can be evaluated as to its success and less vagueness and indefiniteness in the writing of the messages. He did acknowledge that each diocese will have its own diocesan offices deal with the concrete plans, but the reporter thought this should appear in the message in someway. The writer would like to see more direction in the messages, with concrete targets and goals that can be evaluated the following year. He would also like to see the bishops mention in their messages what the dioceses will be doing to help in these plans.

Having someone on the sidelines making suggestions and giving a critique shows interest, concern and love for the Church. It should be a mark of maturity. The Korean Church should be able to take this change from the way things were done and accept it as a fraternal response of those who want to see the Church be more of what it was meant to be. We do not have a history of an Independent Catholic Press, with the Internet this is a possibility open to all. Each is free to add their personal suggestions to the matters at hand. It could be a blessing or a misfortune depending on how this will be accepted in the years to come. Loyalty to the Church should be a value that is understood by all and not doubted by anyone within the Church.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

First African Priest Formed in Korea

The first African priest, to have finished the required course of studies for priesthood here in Korea, was ordained in his home country on Jan. 9th. He is a native of Zambia, Africa, his name, Ernest Mwila. Ernest finished the same formation program the Korean priests are required to finish before ordination here in Daejeon Catholic Seminary.

He was inspired by the Korean Sisters who were working in his country with orphans and those suffering from AIDS, and decided to come to Korea. He entered the seminary in Daejeon in 2002 and at the end of 8 years was ordained as a member of a religious order. The Korean bishop was thinking of being the ordaining prelate, but Ernest wanted to return to African and be ordained there.

The bishop of Daejeon gave Fr. Ernest a statue of Saint Kim Andrew and told him: "In the future when you are facing problems that seem too much to handle remember St. Andrew who studied to be a priest in a foreign county, and came back to his people to spread Jesus' message and died a martyr."

One of our Marknollers, while on his overseas training program in Korea, attended the seminary in Seoul. After seminary training he returned to the States to finish his course of studies. This is a good way to familiarize one with a different culture and acquaint one with the difficulties of living out side of one's own country, while at the same time continuing his education. The benefits to the students at the seminary is also a by product of this interaction; the cross fertilisation can't be anything but good for the Church.

The desire Fr. Ernest had to return to his own country, even though the bishop and the seminarians were prepared and even hoping he would be ordained in Korea, was something very laudable. He thanked all those who were kind to him over the years, and said that he will return to his impoverished country to plant love and hope among his people.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Motivations: from Thanks to Conversion

After teaching catechism and preparing our catechumens for baptism it usually is a natural step, finishing the catechumenate-- period of teaching catechism-- to receive baptism and enter the community of faith, participating in the sacramental life of the Church. However, it does not always work that way.

Living in a mission station we do not have many who show an interest in the Church, probably one or two a year. This year after teaching for over a year I felt that the father and daughter that had been preparing where a rather unique type of cathechumen. Usually, those who do not show an interest after starting the program, drop out or it becomes obvious they are not interested because of their absence from the classes and not attending Sunday Mass. However in this case the two of them were very faithful at both the classes and the Sunday Masses. There were few questions and showed little desire to be baptized.

Both of them had come out to the English classes that I was conducting and were very faithful. They asked if they could attend a catechism class so they started to study. After studying for over a year, I did not feel that I could accept them even in the "first initial stage of conversion".

Motivation is important and it is not infrequent that people come out to the Church because they are attracted by the building, they like the priest or the sisters in the parish, or are asked to do so by their parents or friends. This father and daughter I felt wanted to thank me for the time spent teaching English. This is no big problem, for you feel that the motivation will change and they will be open to the graces given by God during the catechumenate. The problem comes when you have done a sufficient amount of teaching and the motivation is still, ' thanks for the efforts in teaching English', what does one do? I have told them to take some time off and see what God is saying to them in their hearts. If they see some changes we will resume the steps to baptism.

Motivation is an important part of our faith life. We can do many things for many different reasons but we know that love trumps them all. In giving, St. Paul tells us to not to give out of necessity but with joy. We all have to work to purify our motivations in what we do daily and to get to a point where what we do is done out of love, and even the very laudable motive of thanks can be elevated to another dimension if we remember that it is all grace. Hopefully this father and daughter will begin to feel the love of God and want to respond in the months ahead.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Greeting People in Korea

Leaving a hospital after treatment an essayist expressed his shock at being addressed as 'abeonim' (the word father) by one of the nurses. The salutation of the nurse made him feel sad, although he new it was done with respect. I found the response strange but it does show how important titles are in Korean society. He was in his forties and a father but to be addressed as such was unsettling to him.

He mentions that he was in an office working as a civil servant for many years and addressed in a way befitting his position as an official of his grade; with the arrival of new staff those in the office found it difficult to address him in the same way they addressed the new arrivals, so called him doctor. It was difficult for the office people to address one who worked for 18 years in the office with the same title as those who were just recently joining the staff.

He mentioned being addressed as 'wonjang' (director, the head of a school). He was in a position that entitled him to the name but as he said, it is attributed to all kinds of people in Korea. He uses the example of going to a baduk club where he gave his skill level and was told to play with the 'wonjang'; the man who came was not older than twenty, he asked the writer to start with 3 pieces on the board. The writer did not think he was entitled to the title he had given himself and a little bit put out that he was asked to start with a handicap of 3.

In Korea you can address a person you meet for the first time with the title teacher, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, or these days: Mr., Mrs. Ms and Miss-- Koreans have descended from one ancestor so all are related. However, in giving one of these titles you have to be careful that it fits the situation and the person.

In the extended family the names are complicated and many of the Koreans would not be familiar with all of them. He mentions even after marriage, before they had the first child, they addressed each other rather evasively. He never used the frequent 'Yobo', translated freely meaning 'dear' but literally 'look here'. After the first child they used the name of the child to address each other--the mother of so and so. This sounds strange to foreigners, but probably the sacredness of the name is implied, using the name may have overtones of possessing the person. This is a conjecture on my part and mentioned with little evidence.

I have always had difficulty with using titles. As a foreigner and a priest I do use the baptismal names of those I know. I have rarely added the honorific to the name as a Korean would. They would say Maria Ssi or use another honorific. Many years ago I asked the sisters in the parish whether what I was doing was permissible, and was told the parishioners will have little difficulty accepting it from a missioner. Even those with big positions in society I can address with their baptismal names. This has made life very easy, it is convenient, with little stress and apparently no problem for those addressed.(Being a foreigner they make the necessary allowances).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Parternership in Korean Catholic Church

The importance of age in Confucian society is obvious; Korea is one such society. Seniority was the way the society kept order in relationships; it is easily determined, and it works-- there need not be any quibbling for your birth certificate settles it. This makes for a hierarchical understanding of the work place. Korea's success can in no small way be attributed to this order they have in society. It is very Confucian and familiar to the Koreans.

In recent years the Catholic Church of Korea has been experimenting with team ministry among the priests: priests working together as equals, collaborative ministry, partnership. It is at odds with the hierarchical, and seniority system that Korea knows well and surprisingly the Church off and on, in recent years has shown an interest in this new form of ministry. There has been a lot of talk, some attempts and now a diocese is going to implement it for all the parishes in the years to come.

It is often said in jest, one Korean versus one Japanese, the Korean wins, you put two against two and the Japanese win. There may be some truth to this. This is one reason, it would seem, the collaborative ministry idea will not be very successful, but Korea does surprise.

The Diocese of Pusan has been experimenting since 2007 on collaborative ministry in parishes. This year the bishop will have 7 parishes in the Ulsan area working with this and in the future he hopes all the parishes will have a team ministry approach to the work. The bishop feels that up to now we have not see the synergistic principle working in our parishes, with this change he feels we will. By synergy he means that with two working together they will accomplish more than if they work separately--the results will be multiplied.

The intention is to have two priest working together as a team. The pastor will have the responsibilities under law for the parish. He will represent the parish in the larger community and where it is required by Church law, but in all the other workings of the parish they will work together and plan together as associate pastors. The people have desired this and they have had success with the experiments in this area over the years.

In Korea, Maryknoll has had a number of these attempts at team ministry but they all have failed. The problem with the failures is they are used against future attempts. It would seem all would see the value of working together as equals. It was Jesus' approach to the work. Most of the failures could be from a lack of preparation in working together and the motivation of those involved. Hopefully the Pusan efforts at team work bear fruit and be a stimulus to the whole Korean Church.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Catholic Church of Korea and Conscience

The Catholic Church of Korea is traditional in the way it teaches the message of Christianity. In all the areas of the catechism she does a good job; there is an area, however, pointed out at times for criticism by Catholics: the treatment of conscientious objection in present day Korean Catholicism-- the issue was approached in a previous blog.

A columnist in the recent Catholic Times spoke about the teaching of the Church on conscientious objection. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does say: "Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way."

The second Catholic conscientious objector, now serving time in prison for refusing military service, is ignored by the official Church is the complaint of the columnist. The media, the Internet, the Catholic newspapers have maintained silence on the issue.

The writer gives us the results of a questionnaire that was presented to our Catholic seminarians in 2007. For reasons of conscience those who refuse military service should be allowed to have alternate service--46% agreed-- 48% disagreed. If we consider what the Church teaches, the results of this questionnaire are troubling. Moreover, those who knew the teaching of the Church on conscientious objection were only 30%. The writer concluded the lay-Catholics would be less knowledgeable.

The latest young man who refused to enter the military was a member of the Seoul, Catholic College Students Association. In the interview he had with the reporters, he made it clear the reason for his refusal to enter the service was his Catholic Faith. This is a dilemma that the Catholic Church in Korea faces, and will eventually have to take an official position that is clearer than that of the past.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Metanoia- Important Word For Our Lives

In the recent Catholic Peace Weekly , a priest with a doctorate in missiology mentioned his experience with a man in his religion class. The student had made a success of life, he was in his sixties, a model student sitting in the front row. However, on the face of the man he saw discontent. "Why is it that those in the upper classes don't exchange greetings with us , why is there so much 'do this and do that', I don't understand! Isn't this something that the school should deal with?" He was very critical and always complaining but there came a change.

This came about at the daily Mass they had at the school: each one of the students would express their thoughts on the readings and relate it to their lives. One day a man expressed himself in the following way:

"I am a person who by studying on my own was able to get a high position in government. I was a happy man , all was well . Suddenly a great misfortune entered my life. The son, I was greatly attached to, died in an accident while in the army. That incident was too much for me. I hated God and could not go to Church. Those that killed my son I could not forgive. It was during this time that I began to reflect on what God wanted from me. I gained some courage and decided to come to this school. I am still crying over the loss of my son but I have forgiven all those involved and looking forward to what I can do in the parish and society."

The man in his sixties complained and grumbled less. From his mouth you heard the words: "I don't know. " He was always a good student but now he reacted with the students in a different way. He was the first one to greet the students and color returned to his face. The sharing he heard at Mass brought change in his life.

The column starting in the Catholic Paper is written by a priest who has studied mission theology and is stressing that we have to experience God in our lives if we want to be a bearer of his message. We have to be open to God's graces, and the experiences of others, this will change and enable us to give what we have received.

In recent years I have begun to realize that the the word repentance , penance, remorse and the like, are words that we translate into English from the Greek word metanoia, which means a change of heart. The words we use, both in Korean and English- penance and sorrow of heart, are static words, it doesn't necessarily move from sadness to action. Metanoia is a very active word, requiring a change in what we were, to something we were not. Using the word metanoia for the words we use for repentance in the Scriptures would help to bring about a change in our thinking, a feeling of incompleteness. The day is probably not too far away when metanoia will begin to appear in our dictionaries. "To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often." (Cardinal Newman)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Korea's Problem With Foreign Brides

The priest in charge of the labor work for the diocese of Seoul had a disturbing article in the Catholic Times describing the plight of the foreign women married to Korean men. The number of women who have immigrated to Korea for marriage in 2008 where 11% of the total. It is no longer strange to see mothers with different facial complexions mixing Korean into their talk. There are now, as of 2009, 103,484 children born from these unions in Korea.

We usually hear about the problems of these women through the mass media. Many express much sympathy for these women but a statement by a group of priests familiar with the problem said: "the way we see the problem has improved ...but still our understanding has to change."

These women are faced with a great deal of difficulty right from the beginning. Many try to throw off their poverty by international marriages: it is relatively easy and inexpensive to get into the country. Many Korean men go through marriage brokers to find a wife; they have to use a sizable amount of money and the health and the age of the men is not a concern of the brokers. Consequently, the meaning of marriage, the duties and obligations are not considered important. Not only is the language a problem, but the different cultural barriers means the children have a good chance of being neglected. The poverty and the violence in the family causes many to break up, which becomes a problem for society.

Because of these problems the government and many NGOs are actively involved in helping these immigrant families. Even with all these efforts there are many women who are in very difficult situations: separated by death, divorce, or expelled by the in-laws, they end up trying to make it on their own. Their future is bleak, they are full of fear, have little strength, the violence they have heretofore experienced, does not compare with the fear they have facing the future.

These women are not just the object of our compassion, but they should be helped to become part of society. The work of their rehabilitation is important for their good and the good of society.

The government has now made it necessary for those marrying a Korean to know the language. It is a need to help the brides adapt to Korea .This is an area in which the Church is taking a very active part. The efforts of the government and the different groups in our society should bring about change. Those in responsible positions in the Catholic Church dealing with immigrant problems had a recent round table discussion, in which they have made known their proposals for improvement. The Church, and other parts of society know Korea is no longer a one cultured society, consequently the way of looking at the country has to change.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Children Born in Her Heart, Not by Pain

The Catholic paper had an article on a family that adopted 6 children after they had raised two boys born through pain. The other 6 were born in her heart: the mother's words for the birth of the adopted children into their family.

In Korea the blood line is very important. This was explained in a
previous blog. This is breaking down, Korea is no longer sending that many children to other countries for adoption as in previous years. The family that was written up, not only adopted 6 children but was instrumental in getting 25 Korean families to adopt; this was recognized by the government and were given an official commendation.

Korea was considered by many to be an exporter of babies overseas. This is changing for there are now more in country adoptions than those sent overseas. The example of this Catholic family written up in the Peace Weekly is a sign that efforts are being made and with success. Publicity is a good means of spreading the good that is being done by many in Korean Society.

In Korea a child born out of wedlock is a great shame for the parents and they do not want it known, however, 32% of the single mothers in 2008 decided to keep their children, an increase over previous years. There are also many in-country adoptions done secretely. The government is making subsidies for single mothers available that will be more realistic, so there are changes that have helped the in-country adoptions. I have even heard of a young man who went to a home for unwed mothers to find a wife. He thought that a women who had the strength to overcome the stigma of being an unwed mother and refused to abort, would make a good wife.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Accolades for Gyodong High School

There was a surprising bit of news here in Gyodong recently: the high school with only 62 students had everyone of the students in 3rd year entering college. The The Joang Daily headlined the article: Remote island school triumphs-Gyodong High students win college places without relying on costly private tuition.

Exams are important in Korea, a history that goes back centuries. Many changes have been made but we still have the remains of the system in the civil servant exams, college entrance exams along with military exams . Each student is required to take the exam for college entrance, and the efforts to prepare for the exams are many and can be expensive, for those living in the country it is difficult to compete with those in the cities.

Parents living in the country or an island such as Gyodong, if finances permit, will send their children to the mainland and the better schools. It is obvious that those who have the benefit of better secondary education do a better job in the college entrance. This means that many students live apart from their parents, this makes the triumphant of Gyodong High School quite an achievement. When the better students decide to leave for studies in another area, the capability of the student body is diminished, efforts of the teachers not appreciated and the students and teachers discouraged.

There were fifteen students that earned admission to four-year universities and the rest to community colleges. Some of the schools were some of the best in the country. It is a credit to the principal who was recently appointed. The citizens of Gyodong asked for him to come to the island since he was just made a principal; being from the island they felt he would take a great interest in the education of the students. That is exactly what happened and the achievement was recognized by the media. Last year there were only 4 that were admitted to university. This means that they have to study for another year to take the exams again, usually attending academies.

In Korea, high school is not mandatory unlike middle school education. 97% of South Korea's young people complete high school which is the the highest percentage of any country. All the classrooms have high speed Internet access, the first to have this capability. It does show the interest that Korea has for education and its efforts in that field

Passing the school recently I saw placards out in front of the gate, directing our attention to the success. It will probably mean there will be fewer parents deciding to send their children to the city in the years to come.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sister Jean Maloney, Maryknoller, at 80

Maryknoll Sister Jean Maloney was written up in the Peace Weekly, acknowledging her many years of work for the marginalized in Korean Society. Those who know Sister have called her the Korean Mother Theresa.

She entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in 1950; after her first vows came to Korea in 1953, and worked as a nurse in the Maryknoll Hospital in Pusan. This was a very difficult time, she worked on the language in the morning and worked until late at night as a hospital nurse. The hospital was taking care of over 2000 patients every day; because of the devastation from the Korean War, many needed food and were afflicted with many contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Sister said: "It was very difficult, for we couldn't care for all that came and when we had to send them away and they did not come back the next morning, I was deeply troubled that they possibly had died because of our lack of care for them."

From Pusan she went to start a new clinic in Jeung Pyeong , Chung Puk Do, and after 3 years returned to Pusan. In 1963 until 1974 she worked in Kyeong Ki Do, Kang Hwa island, where she established Christ the King Clinic and was the administrator and director. At that time she not only worked in the hospital but in the parish and with workers.

It was during this time in Kang Hwa that the textile factory,1968 incident, developed: the girls who were members of the YCW (Young Christian Workers) were fired for starting a union. This incident was the first in which the Church was involved and was the start of future involvement in the problems of laborers in our society.

It was her involvement with the workers and experiencing their difficulty that made her decide to go to Seoul and work with the workers in an area where they were living. During this time she worked assisting AMOR ( Asia, Oceania Meeting of Religious). They planned an exposure trip to a 'red light ' district where they heard the stories of these women and were greatly moved. It was another change in the life of Sister Jean. " I had thought that I had nothing to do with these women but after hearing their stories I couldn't get rid of the idea that I was a hypocrite. I cried for many days after and wanted to go and live with them."

Sister Jean started counseling many of these women and with the help of another woman decided to start Magdalena House, a place of rest for those who were involved in the selling of sex. She remained in that work for 13 years, helping these women escape their life of prostitution, giving them hope and a feeling of self worth. She lived with them, ate with them, and cried and laughed with them.

Sister has now been given another work by the Maryknoll Congregation; she will accomplish this work as she has done all the others, with a heart full of thanks to God for allowing her to continue her work in Korea. On this Feast of the Epiphany may she be blessed with many more years in being a light and service to others.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Another Reason to Have Joy in the New Year

After 345 days the "Yongsan Disaster" was finally dramatically concluded. Yongsan is the location of the building in which five victims and one police officer were killed, in a standoff with the police who tried forcibly to evict them from the building that was set to be demolished .

The funeral for the victims will be held on Jan. 9. The development companies and Seoul City agreed on a compensation package and will take care of the funeral expenses. The bodies of those five who were killed were awaiting burial in the mortuaries. With this agreement, all will return to normal at the Yongsan site of Masses held during the confrontation. When the good news came, a Mass was being celebrated at the site with the temperature 13 below zero. The Masses and demonstrating will stop, with a final Mass on the 6th of January.

Details of the agreement, such as the amount of the settlement will not be disclosed.

The Prime Minister visited the bereaved families and offered apologies.
The settlement came through the mediation of Seoul City Mayor:
"I am grateful to the religious leaders who assisted in the arbitration and citizens who watched over the incident," Seoul Mayor said. "The city will proactively tackle problems in urban redevelopment in the future."

The Catholic Church was very active in trying to come to a just conclusion to the stand off between the families, the development companies and government. The Cardinal alluded to Yongsan many times and Bishop Choi, who is the bishop in charge of the Bishops' Justice and Peace Committee, also went to the Yongsan site. If it wasn't for the Catholic Priests Association for Justice and Peace, we probably would not have come to this rather belated compromise. The demonstrating will end but it is very clear in the eyes of many that all is not well when it comes to development and the rights of those that are in the way of this development.

Hopefully the words of the mayor will mean something in the future when those with little public backing, the week and poor in our society, are forced to leave their place of work or living, for development projects.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Korean Pep Talk for the New Year

The following paragraphs are the New Year's greeting to the readers of the Catholic Peace Weekly from the editor: saying goodbye to the year of the ox and welcoming the year of the tiger with blessings to all. The following is a summary of what he said.

Last year, although all was rather gloomy, we decided to begin with a cheerful heart. This year we are told we are recovering, but it is best not to be too optimistic. If we have, to live as not having, if we do not have, to live as having. It is necessary to begin the new year without many words and with determination.

We had problems from the outside and now are facing them also from within the country. It is like a boiled bowl of gruel, boil it too much no one eats, boil it properly and all will benefit; we must face the problems with a cool head.

Koreans when belittling ourselves compared the country to a rabbit. When our spirit returned we compared the country to a tiger. Our ancestors compared the country to a tiger. Should we not again look at ourselves as a tiger.

A tiger is a cruel wild animal, has sharp teeth and shrewed, it is easy to be fearful of the tiger; our ancestors, however, attributed to the tiger a warm tenderness: this we see in our folk tales and narratives. At the sight of persimmons the tiger fled , trying to reach some children in a tree, used a rotten rope and fell into a millet patch , smoked a pipe, and enjoyed leisure. The tiger comes across as a humorous character. A friend to us in travel, faithful, returns favors , he comes into our lives as a friend.

This is the year of the metal (white) tiger. Although we are afraid of the tiger we are in a friendly relationship with the tiger. Let us all imitate the tiger: strong, shrewed, with sharp teeth, and yet fled the persimmons, smoked the long pipe and enjoyed his leisure. Let us be like the tiger, hide the claws and be a friend to travelers.

We are too sensitive. Even with a very small commotion, we are quick to get nervous. A well bred and reserved person , who doesn't lose his cool , is considered a person with dignity. When the country is is in turmoil let us keep our presence of mind, take all in stride, learning from the tiger.

Looking over the words of the editorial it was easy to see that he is addressing a populace that understands his allusions. It was one culture; they all knew the proverbs, the folklore, and knew what resonates within their hearts. This is changing. There is a sadness in seeing this change, but it is a globalization that can't be stopped. One can see the vanishing of a way of life as the country because more multicultural with the passing of the years. A Happy New Year.