Sunday, March 21, 2010

Korea's Reputation for Hospitality

A Parish Foreign Missioner asked a Seoul priest if it would be possible to arrange bed and meals for a group of 106 French Catholics on their way home from the World Youth Day in Australia. They wanted to spend some time in Korea before returning to France. Thinking that it would be a good experience both for the youngsters from France and for the Catholics in his parish, the priest agreed to make the arrangements. He talked it over with the parish council and a committee was set up to take care of the details for the 9 day stay in the parish.

The priest reflected on the various ways his parishioners would benefit from the encounter with these youngsters from a different culture and speaking a different language. He hoped that it would, above all, help to foster a Catholic mentality--an experiential sense of what it means to say we are all one in Christ. Secondly, because he thought that Korea was overly influenced by American values, being with those from a different culture seemed to him to be a good way to further a better understanding of the cultural differences that separate us. Thirdly, they would learn that it was possible to communicate with others without language. And even if some of these expectations did not materialize, we would still have the opportunity, the priest thought, to show that Korea is not "the land of hospitality" in name only. We will have a chance to practice both our Korean and our Gospel values.

That was the plan the priest had in mind. But keeping such a large group of foreigners content for nine days was not going to be easy for his parishioners. And the preparation was not without difficulties. As was to be expected, there was some grumbling, but after three months of preparation everything was in place to welcome the visitors.

And everything did work according to plan. The women in the parish prepared the meals each evening for the visitors; other meals were served in the homes of the parishioners. Youngsters from the parish were assigned to different classrooms and given the task of acquainting their guest with Korean culture: playing games, making rice cakes, painting on Chinese writing paper, writing their names in Korean script. A space in the parish basement was set aside and furnished as a cafe where they could talk, sing and dance.

All in all, the priest was very proud of the parish youth and the parishioners. They learned a great deal and their guests left Korea with an appreciation of another culture and its people that will last for a life time.

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