Every year in June our Maryknoll Jubilarians are invited back to Maryknoll, New York, for the celebration of their ordination anniversary. This year we will have four celebrating 50 years of priesthood. They all arrived here in Korea in 1960, and all are still here. Three are retired but active and one is the local superior Fr. Gerard Hammond.
In an interview with the Peace Weekly, Fr. Hammond expressed his thoughts on his 50 years of life in Korea. His wish is to have a chance to return to Pyongyang Diocese some day but until then, he prays with the church of South Korea for our brothers and sisters in the North.
The Pyongyang apostolic prefecture was given to Maryknoll in 1927 where the Maryknoll priests had been working since 1923. It was up until that time a part of the Seoul Diocese, and even today there are Maryknollers desiring to return to the diocese that the older missioners were forced to leave.
Maryknoll, at one time, had 96 missioners working in South Korea; today there are only 18. Fr. Hammond feels there is still work that missioners can do in Korea, and he has found work that he can do himself that will help the North Koreans. Starting in 1996 he has been to North Korea about 30 times to help the alienated and those who are suffering from tuberculosis. He works with the Eugene Bell Foundation helping to eradicate TB from that country. In Pyongyang, they bring medicines and equipment to about 40 hospitals, and he will be returning on May 15th for 10 days if given permission. The total amount of financial help Maryknoll and retired Maryknollers and sponsors are able to give each year to the North is $200,000.
Although few in numbers, Maryknollers in Korea are all involved in contributing to the welfare of both Church and society: some are helping by hearing the confessions at the Maryknoll House of those priests and religious who visit the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea. Some are working with the elderly or with the mentally handicapped, giving spiritual direction in a seminary, filling the ongoing need for a mission station presence, retreats, leading partnership programs and working in China--among countless other concerns that develop each day in a missioner's life. And this does not exclude those who are retired; they are still, in their own way, very much involved in the work of mission.
Fr.Hammond recalled the time when he was assigned to the Cheong Ju Diocese in 1960. He was the assistant to Bishop Tji Hak Soon , who later became the bishop of Wonju Diocese, the only bishop who spent time in prison because of the totalitarian government at that time. His teaching for the young missioner, and he has never forgotten it, was that two qualities are necessary for a missioner to Korea: patience and understanding; both being prerequisites to understanding Korean customs and culture, to seeing the Korean way of doing things. Without that attempt, Fr. Hammond says, you cannot be a missioner. Everyday when he gets up, he reminds himself that "today I have to have a heart like the Koreans."