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.

1 comment:

  1. I went to work there in the summer as a volunteer. It's changed me so much in so many ways. The pope, when visiting Sorok, said on that island that pain and suffering all has a purpose.

    I wish i knew that purpose