Thursday, March 18, 2010

Disappearance of a Part of Old Korea

In my first assignment as assistant there were two villages of potters in the parish. As was true in some other Korean parishes I worked in, most of the potters were Catholics. Many of them shared a history that went back to the persecution when many of them took to the mountains and made a living making and selling clay pots. With the advent of plastics and stainless steel containers these villages disappeared.

Reading about a mission station of potters brought to mind not only my own experience with the potters, but the transportation difficulties that permitted a priest to visit some of these mission stations only twice a year. He would stay in the station for a few days, meet all the Catholics and say Mass and hear confessions, and if there were any catechumens they were prepared for baptism. It was a big day, a feast day for the mission station. Even those who were working in the cities would make time to come back for the liturgy and for the exam that would be necessary before receiving the sacraments. This system, started by the Paris Foreign Missionaries, allowed the priest time to talk individually to all the Catholics in the parish. Waiting for a turn to talk with the priest, they also had time to talk and renew acquaintances with friends. This "big day" that many looked forward to has now disappeared from the life of our Catholics.

There have also been many changes in the way of running a parish. Parishes are much bigger and the daily routines of many Christians have changed--they are busier and have more distractions to deal with. As a result, a change had to be made in the way of doing pastoral work. In my early days of working in Korea, simply going to Church was a treat for many. There was no radio, television or newspapers in the mission stations so meeting other Catholics at Mass served not only to renew their spirit but as a means of exchanging news. .

Looking back on those early days, I am again surprised by the resourcefulness of many in living through such difficult times. They had none of the conveniences of the present, and yet they were joyful and had enough toughness to persevere. They would walk for miles at night to attend a church function and would wait for hours for a bus that was late without any annoyance. At night, you could hear them ironing their clothes, using wooden beaters, after they had spent hours down at the river washing the clothes. It was for many a busy and a joyful life.