Sunday, October 31, 2010

Even With Trials-- Appreciating the Gift of Life

The recent suicide of the popular TV celebrity known as the Happiness Evangelist has elicited many questions and provided a topic for much conversation. A columnist in the  Peace Weekly uses this tragic incident as the introduction to his article, for the  series on the culture of life, which focuses on the frequent occurrences of suicide in Korea.

In comparison to  countries like Greece and Mexico, Korea last year had ten times more suicides, a total of 15,000, about 30 killing themselves daily, many of them either young or old. The number one reason for the deaths of those from 20 to 30 years of age is suicide.

The article notes that in the West those who kill themselves do it, mostly for philosophical reasons, a despairing response to perceiving life as meaningless. In Korea, it is more likely to be alienation in the family or workplace, or loneliness, or poverty and disease that provoke the drastic step. Because of this difference, the numbers of suicides in the West are less but also more  difficult to work for a decrease, but in Korea, we have   larger numbers but if efforts are made, we will see a decrease. It is for this reason that we see suicide as societal murder.

The Korean government  has taken an interest in this societal problem since 2004. But even with a five-year plan to prevent suicides, over the years there has not been a decrease of suicides but an increase. Although efforts have been made to recruit different sectors of society to help in this effort, there has been little change because of a lack of specialists and finances.

Catholics see suicide as a great problem, and we can't remain unconcerned.  Up until now, the Catholic Church  cannot be said to have done all that it could in this area of life that calls for justice and for demonstrating the love we should have for others. How can we remain unmoved by the large numbers of young and old killing themselves? The young are the future of the country, and the old should be enjoying their twilight years without having to contend with problems of health, poverty and loneliness.

There are some hopeful signs. Even though past governmental efforts have not been successful, recently the government has commissioned the Catholic Church to work through  the  'One heart and One Body Movement' in  setting up the Center for the Prevention of Suicides. This should produce some concrete results. The Church will also use Cyberspace, along with education programs for the young, and training programs to get qualified people involved in preventing suicides.

Life is a gift from God, and  the Church should be doing all possible to help those who because of circumstances have difficulty in seeing this.The Church with government  help should be able to work in a manner that befits the situation in which Korea finds itself.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Lay Missioner Overcoming Obstacles

The Catholic Church of Korea has over 1,000 mission stations: small communities of Catholics who do not have a resident priest.  Stations are part of a parish whose pastor  is responsible for their  pastoral needs and makes periodic visits to the station. Distance is the reason for the designation, the site often developing into a future  parish.

Those who represent the pastor in these stations are volunteers who take care of the spiritual needs of the community, and  conduct the mission station Liturgy of the Word on  Sunday. Mission stations  often have permission to have the Eucharist and in the absence of the priest the community leader would give  communion.

This past week the Peace Weekly had a  front page article profiling a catechist, a lay missioner, who was sent to one of these mission stations by the pastor to instruct the community. The mission station was over 40 years old but never had over ten attending the  Sunday service. The reception was anything but welcoming. Not a person said they were happy to have him there and the head of the community himself was cold to him on their first meeting. It was very difficult to accept, and although he thought of going home, the effort of becoming a lay missioner, his dream of many years, was not easily given up.

He  had left a successful occupation to become a lay missioner. He received permission from his wife who also wanted to become a lay missioner but because of their two unmarried sons has put it off until one of them gets married. Leaving  the family was difficult for him; he goes home 3 or four times a year.

After arriving at his first assignment and receiving a very cold reception, he rented a room in the town and told the Christians that he would be saying prayers in the church each morning at 5:00 am. Not one person came until  40 days later someone  appeared at the door of the Church and said he wanted to join. The lay missioner's joy was hard to describe.  All seemed to change from then on.  7 or 8  came every day for morning prayers.  Gradually,  the atmosphere in the mission station changed. On the anniversary of his arrival the community had a placard placed out in front of the mission station acknowledging the anniversary and celebrated the occasion with the missioner by preparing a banquet.  The community had grown to over 70 attending Sunday Mass. Not once did he ever ask anyone to come out to the church.

The parish priest seeing the results sent him to another mission station, a new station with only one Catholic, started the previous year. Within a year they had a congregation of 13.  Just recently he has been moved again to another mission station where he will undoubtedly be just as sucessful as he has been in his other assignments. .

He finds this life very satisfying.  In the future there will be a greater need for these lay missioners as the church continues to grow.  Many of the mission stations need stimulation from the outside which is the work of these lay missioners. The Church in Korea has had few paid lay missioners in the ranks alongside the priests, brothers and sisters, so to have a whole new group coming into the front lines as lay catechists and  missioners will take some time for our Catholics to appreciate. The programs of study for lay Catholics have been around for many years but finding suitable full time positions for lay people within the Church is not always an easy task.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gender Equality Programs for Priests and Brothers

Sex is not taboo but a topic for  discussion and understanding. This was the heading of an article in the Catholic Times, discussing the educational program for Jesuit priests and brothers on gender equality held at Sogang University in Seoul.

Clerics and religious are hearing a great deal about sex lately in lectures and workshops because of the clerical abuse cases. One of the presenters at the educational program for Jesuits, a professor and a woman, treated the subject of sexual harassment and violence under the heading of gender equality. She asked them how they understood the term and then proceeded to tell them what might have been for some of them a new understanding of gender equality.

There was an atmosphere of tenseness that was  sensed. The professor gave concrete examples of what was meant when dealing with sexual harassment. Examples had to do with pouring drinks at the table, holding another's hand, making comments about another's appearance or clothes, and a series of explicit examples of where one has to be careful not to be misunderstood.

The article goes on to tell us that what the participants thought was far from their lives as celibates was actually  an issue that came very close to them in their daily lives. They listened carefully to what was said, often surprised to hear what was considered sexual harassment. It made for a lively question and answer session.
If we are to rid ourselves of all possibilities of being misunderstood. we need more awareness:  the way we move our hands and bodies, the position of the door during interviews, and trasparency of the bulding by windows. One has to be concerned how another might understand one's actions. She stressed that becoming gender sensitive is the  key factor in understanding sexual harassment. 

The Jesuit superior in his talk after the lecture said: "We priests and brothers have to be alert to what is involved with this issue, not only preventing these incidents from happening but fostering more gender sensitivity in pastoral work ....Most of our congregations are made up of women, but they are run by men. It is necessary that those who make up most of the Church are  properly understood."

These programs were asked to be implemented by Jesuit headquarters in Rome and will  continue in the years ahead.  Maryknoll   has similar programs;  at the beginning of this year, all Maryknollers had to attend a workshop on sexual harassment. Sensitivity on this issue, which has caused much harm while escaping notice by many of us due to the bias of most cultures favoring a masculine view of the male/female relationship is bound to make our social relationships, both for men and for women, just  and harmonious.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Talents of Our Senior Citizens Should not be Wasted

According to the recent statistics, 11 percent of Koreans are over 65 years old. A columnist in the Catholic Times is asking what do we make of that. The standards of the  UN tell us that when 20 percent of a society has a population over 65, it is considered a super-aged society, and Korea will become such a society in 2026. We are racing to this figure four times faster than other societies, he says.

This ageing society poses problems for the larger society. The numbers of those working  to support the aged will decrease and the numbers of those that will be in the labor market will lessen, which will have an impact on the economic growth of the country. Presently, the concern is to help those who are sick or incapacitated in some way, which has to continue and increase but without interferring with other concerns.

There are many who  reach retirement age in good health, have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and can be of great use to society. We  should find ways to use this overlooked treasure. It can be a whole new way of looking at the retirement years. Finding ways of having these men and women return to society with their talents can be a positive help to the country. The care of the many who need it should be improved and  monies allotted but also to bring back into society many who have  talents and gifts that can help  society. 
In the  front page of the same issue of the Catholic Times we are told that 44 percent of our Catholics are involved in volunteer service work. This was the highest of all the religious groups. Protestants were second with 37 percent and Buddhists had 23%. 64 pecent  of Catholics do this periodically.

Many of our Catholics have taken the mandate at each Mass to go  and give back in some way what they have received to others. 44 percent is a good number but hopefully many more will take up the invitation.

There is much talent among Catholics who are retired and in good health and involving this group in works that will  benefit society should be encouraged. Government  should fund programs for these senior citizen, and the Church, with its close contact with this group on a frequent basis, should be creative in the way they are utilized in the works of the Church.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Young Rebel Becomes Worker For Peace

Korean Poet Pak No-hae, Casper, has just published his latest book of poetry after 12 years of silence. The interview with the poet was written up in this week's Catholic Times.

He was  given a life term for breaking the security law of the country, served over seven years in prison and was pardoned in 1998. As with many of the young people, he wanted to see a better life for the workers, but the country was not ready for his views. After leaving prison, his life changed to one of  silence and concern for the poor in various parts of the world: Africa, Middle East, Asia and Central America. He became an advocate for peace.

Because Korean words meant little to those he encountered in his world travels, he used his camera to  express his feelings. He has 130,000 pictures, which are now being shown in an exhibition in Seoul until the 25th of this month. The poet handed all of his  pictures and poetry to a group of young people to select for the exhibition. Of the 5000 poems they selected 304, and from the130,000 pictures, they selected 160. They thought that some of the pieces that he liked were too much from the head and not enough from the heart.

The article quotes the poet as saying: "Many young people come to me baring their hearts. There are no adults in our society. We  have all kinds of nice words being used, idle solace and lying hope is lavishly given. However, it is difficult to find any who is taking a whip to the souls of the young. These unnecessary human beings, called losers, berating themselves, are looking for those who by their lives can help them but can't find anybody."  He hopes that seeing the pictures and reading the poems will serve as a confessional for many.

The poet mentions four crises in the world: the environment, wars, the disparity between rich and poor, and lack of spirituality. It is to confront these four problems that he presents his revolutionary message.

He says that his last 12 years were not only filled with writing poetry and taking pictures but there was also a change  in him.  He lost his fear, he says, and he is prepared now to go to God. He realizes that it is love that allows him to keep going. He finishes the interview by saying that his mother left him two things: his faith and his poverty. 
He wonders what it means to live life like Jesus. The interview ends with the words of Pak No-hae, "We do not see in the degree we know but  see in the degree we love." 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finding Reasons to Congratulate

A columnist writing on spiritual themes in the Catholic Times recalls a man  who came to see him once a month. He had little joy in life and no passion for anything and would continually find fault with others, with his family and was down on himself, as well.  The columnist did not hear from him for 6 months and then he received a call that he was coming to see him with his wife.

"My husband has changed a great deal, hasn't he?" was the first thing the wife said. And then the husband asked his wife if he could be alone with the priest for awhile. As soon as she left the room he grabbed the  hand of the columnist and started to cry. thanking him profusely. The columnist didn't know what in the world it was all about.

Six months ago during the last meeting he suggested to the  man that he select a word and during the day meditate on the word. He said he would but it was not said with any enthusiasm. That evening when he returned home, he saw next to the TV a wrapped package on the nearby table.  He asked his wife what it was and she  simply said it was a gift she received at church. Picking up the package, he saw a holy card with the word congratulations on the front of the card. He read it over and over again. Although a common expression it now brought tears to his eyes and the word kept reverberating in his head and heart.

That word was a great inspiration to him. He began to see everything and everyone with this word in mind: his  family, his work, his own self, his wife and daughter--everything was  deserving congratulations. He asked his wife for the holy card and pasted it on the wall of the bedroom.  On leaving the bedroom he would repeat the word to himself.

His family, those at work, everyone and everything as a reason were occasions for him to have a congratulatory attitude. His whole life had changed, he said, because of that one word. The columnist admitted to having a light-hearted chuckle as he finished the column by congratulating himself.

As we know, life is a gift but for many different reasons we are not conscious of what we have received and not ready to congratulate ourselves and others--thankful for the gift. Analyzing the Chinese characters for  the Korean word 'Chuka Ha' (congratulations), we see what the ancients saw in the first word: a person at an altar petitioning heaven, and 'Ha' adds   something material to the mix. It is a very realistic rendering of what we mean by congratulations  even today. We ask for joy for the one we congratulate and show it by some outward sign.  Congratulations are rarely out of place. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Old Ways of Fishing No Longer Work

A  priest living in  Seoul recalls going to his grandmother's house in the country; it was a great joy to him in his early years. In an article written for priests he remembers the days of  net-fishing with friends. A couple of them would hold the net, and one would scare the fish into the net by splashing water. It wasn't easy, for they had to be careful not to have the net hit bottom and losing the fish. He recalls the recriminations for not doing a good job and allowing the fish to escape.

Reflecting on those early years of fishing, he remembers when  evangelization was easy.  Korea was a golden fish pond then and there was not much searching necessary; they were often coming into the Church on their own accord. However, evangelization is now difficult and the number of tepid Christians is increasing. Many parishes have tried street  preaching and various programs to increase the numbers of the catechumens. In his own parish, the priest mentions that they tried prayer, fasting, and other approaches but with little success.

He tells us that without too much wisdom, he  reproached the parish council, the Legion of Mary and all those who were responsible for the efforts. The community took it very hard as if it was their problem for the lack of results. However, with the passage of time he realized that it was not  the problem of the Catholics. The pastor was comparing it to the time as a child when he went fishing with the net and let the fish escape. He was blaming the Christians for something that was not in their hands to accomplish. He felt like the Pharasee in the parable of the tax collector and Pharasee: self-righteous.

The fruitful years of evangelization have ended so the efforts have to change. Over the years, we have heard theologians tell us that we have to do more in evangelizing ourselves before we can bring our message to others. Here in Korea we talk about the new evangelization, re-evangelization, and the evangelization of the culture. But it all begins with ourselves.

Pope Benedict said in a talk ten years ago to catechists from around the world: "Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to fruition and realized. Each man’s fundamental question is: how will this be realized – becoming man? How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness? In a word, the new evangelization should be introducing the art of living a path towards happiness."

The concern and the joy of seeing so many coming out to the Church will be less, and thus there should be a greater interest in building up our communities to be signs of people on fire with love, and more time spent in evangelizing ourselves to understand and be open to God's love in our hearts. This should show itself in the way we interact with others in the communities we live in. It should also stimulate us to go out to those not of our community, with a desire to make all of society more human in every way. This new evangelization begins with us. It means presenting the art of living given to us by the example supreme, who is himself the path, by living that life ourselves.

At the beginning of his public life, Jesus says, I have come to evangelize the poor (Luke 4:18)--meaning, I have the response to your fundamental question. I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness. I am that path.

It's helpful to remember that the deepest poverty is the lack of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, both in the materially rich and poor countries. The inability to experience joy presupposes the inability to love, leading to jealousy and avarice--all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.

This is the reason for the new evangelization; if the art of living remains unknown, nothing else will work. This art can be communicated only by the one who brings to us the true fullness of life--he who is the gospel personified. To show this fullness in our own life is to teach this gospel, this art of living. This is the new evangelization.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Future of Catholic Missions In the World

Today we celebrate Mission Sunday in the Catholic World--the very reason for the existence of the Church. The  Church in the Asia realizes how difficult the task it has been given. In the Peace Weekly, a missiologist reflects on this difficulty and attributes it to the cultural roots of the East.

In Africa and South America, although the cultures are unique, the Church environment was sufficiently congenial to those cultures to allow the Church to put down roots.  Asia is different. The Church did not understand the culture, which led to the rites' controversy in China, and this in turn,  the loss of evangelical vitality. 

During the recent Lay Assembly of Asia, held in Korea during the 400th anniversary of the birth of Matteo Ricci, there was an opportunity to review the mission efforts of the Church in Asia. Although the Church here is small, their heroic efforts in the witnessing of Christ were acknowledged. 

The missiologist mentioned that he was on the preparation committee for the assembly and was moved greatly by the different national representatives when they talked. They were enthusiastic  and their faith commitment was evident.

A representative from Pakistan said that despite difficulties of mission work in Pakistan the Catholics are dialoguing with Islamism and do not consider them enemies but brothers. In most  countries where Islam is predominant there is continual friction between the two faiths. In this environment, you have to risk your life in preaching Christ, but they are sustained by their belief that it is the Holy Spirit that is leading them.

Catholic Times' editorial  on Mission Sunday mentioned that the problems we are having in mission work stem from a failure to understand this mission we have been given. Although we are always conscious of our call to mission, during October, especially, we are given the opportunity to renew that interest and our commitment to mission work. 
Are we to go along with the way we have done mission in the  past? And the answer can be found, it suggests, in the life we choose to lead--our whole life must be prepared for mission. Since the society we live in has changed, and our way of thinking and our living patterns have changed, our way of delivering the message  also has to change.

The exemplary lives of Christians were always the best way of delivering the message. With all the different ways of commemorating this month of mission, we should begin by renewing our efforts centered on the meaning of  who we are as followers of Christ. The ultimate mission method is to live our Christian life correctly and completely. The editorial concludes that this  is the indispensable  tool for mission work of the future.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lectio Divina Not of the Head but the Heart

In this month's Kyeongyang Magazine, a Benedictine priest brings us back to the topic of Lectio Divina (Holy Reading). This simple and unique ascetic practice of reading scripture not with the head as study but with the heart as the living word of God was passed on to us by the early monks. When read with a quiet mind and an open heart, the words of scripture are easily kept in memory, staying with us all day and uniting us with God.
With this ascetic practice, the words of the scriptural passage the monks were reading took deep roots in their hearts and enabled them to live a  fuller life. Combining Lectio Divina with the Eastern way of meditating brought about the Holy Reading Retreats we now have in Korea.

The Benedictine  laments that  in recent times many of our Christians, feeling a spiritual thirst and an emptiness in their life and wanting to satisfy it, have been  attracted by  other forms of spirituality and have ignored a true and proven  way.

The early Church  stressed that Lectio Divina is an important help for all Christians in living the words of scripture. Gradually, however, this legacy was lost and only remained with the monks. This was seen especially in the monastic life of the monks in Egypt, in the inspirations they received and in the life they lived. This method of prayer continued up until the time of  scholasticism and  the Renaissance, but  then began to disappear only to be revived by the Second Vatican Council.

The practice of Holy Reading includes meditation, prayer and contemplation. This prepares one with a 'spiritual ladder': from where we are now to  contemplation. The first step of the spiritual ladder is reading, full attention to vocal reading and listening to the word. The second, meditation, is to keep repeating in mind the words we have read; this period is also called rumination. The third, prayer, is giving our  hearts over entirely to God, and the fourth, contemplation, is to rest with a quiet mind, feeling oneness with God.

A noticeable feature of Holy Reading is that it is simple. There is an emphasis on purity of heart; it is at that time that we receive God's knowledge (Gnosis). With the  continual repetition of the word of God, we are living with the word and in the word and then, suddenly, one day we appreciate the meaning of the words we have been living with--bringing us closer to God and receiving strength, wisdom and discernment.

Our Benedictine is concerned that with all the different approaches to Lectio Divina and the interest we have today in Holy Reading, there is a strong possibility that it will become merely an intellectual pursuit. The reason the early Christians and monks made it an important part of their spiritual life  may be completely forgotten.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Standing Aside to Look at Life and Oneself

 In the Kyeongyang Magazine early this year a retired priest gave his reflections on life and leisure. During his last years in the seminary, he realized  there was something missing in his emotional life. He attributed  this to the poverty of his family, not being able to finish school, and the difficulties of the war years. Without a better emotional life bringing a necessary balance into his life, he believed his personality would not improve.

While in the seminary he felt working with music would help him cultivate a more balanced emotional life, so he started with the guitar. He went to the  accordion and just before he retired, he  borrowed a saxophone, but when the owner asked for its return the interest in music disappeared.

In the beginning of his priestly life, he enjoyed tennis and fishing. For reasons of health, he volunteered to go to an island where he took up writing and poetry and continued this interest into his retirement years, when he published a book of poetry.

He  took up calligraphy and oriental painting. He was intent on doing everything possible to cultivate his emotional life. During his sabbatical year, he  even studied oriental painting.

Leisure allows one to step back and look at one's daily concerns. It is like the painter who steps back with a cup of tea in his hand to look with a mature eye at  what he has just finished painting.  Just as oriental painting has to have blank spaces if it is to have life, in our own lives, if we are to have fulfillment, we have to have this leisure--life's blank spaces.

When one steps back from his daily work, he can see it from a different perspective. He can see the 'I,' the ego, with a different eye for it is not uncommon that we deceive ourselves. When we become too attached to the work we can forget who we are and who we are working for. When we are conscious of  the bishop and the Christians and what they will think, we can lose our identity and develop a false self; we fail to practice virtue and walk the road to holiness.

There is a possibility of getting so involved in the work for God that we forget God: the work becomes our satisfaction, our glory. He reflects that  during the years as pastor, it was his ideas and plans that he wanted implemented; he wasn't interested in hearing what his pastoral council advised. Being a late learner, he realized at retirement that it was often when he didn't get  what he wanted  that God's will was done.

He tells us that having a little pressure in life is not all bad; it keeps us from being sloppy and falling apart. (This reminds me of a ditty from the seminary days: No stress, no strain, no unusual moods, stay loose but don't fall apart at the seams.) To show us what he means, he introduces us to  his blog that he has kept going for five years-- Spirituality from the Water Spring,  This keeps him young at heart. His approach is a good example of the contemplative attitude toward life which is becoming harder to follow in this competitive and result-oriented society..

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making Young People Feel at Home in the Church

There is a great deal of talk  within the Church on the falling away of the young people as they get older. Symposiums in many dioceses are now trying to determine what can be done to keep them within the Church, some suggesting that there needs to be more attention given to improving the faith life of the young.
The Synod in the diocese of Incheon concluded that "Family education is the most important factor for the holistic growth of young people, especially for growth in the faith...Parents have a great responsibility for educating their children in the faith but usually leave this duty to priests, religious, and to religion teachers. Furthermore,  parents restrict their children's faith life and church activities during the preparation time for national entrance examinations."
This is the difficult reality the Church in Korea is faced with. Understanding the obstacles is necessary before we can begin to discuss the situation. The Peace Weekly, in a review of a symposium in the Suwon diocese, mentions  understanding the obstacles is a prerequisite before anything can be done. 

One of  the participants said, "The future of the Church is the young," but, unless the Church implements this understanding with concrete proposals and programs this slogan will remain only a slogan. We have done little in our parishes to make a viable culture where the young will feel comfortable and  thrive.

The diocesan bulletin made the same point with cases of problem children. There is the tendency to put them all in the category of children who have difficulty with puberty or to consider them all juvenile  delinquents--another example of a failure to understand.

The youth in the Church are just like  the other youth  in society they associate with daily. To create a more welcoming environment for our young people, the Church needs to create a culture that is not so radically different from what youth are generally exposed to in the society at large, provided that it does not deviate from the standards of good conduct. Coming to Church will then be something our youth can identify with.

If adults were to look at what the young people see by putting themselves in their position, not expecting them to automatically accept the established adult culture, adults might be more accepting of youth culture. Youth culture can be divided into two categories: school culture and popular culture. In school culture, demands are made on the students, which are accepted at times, compromised with and opposed at other times. Knowing that students will often respond negatively with the school controlling culture, adults should not be surprised at their response outside of the school milieu.

A participant in one symposium pointed out that we are living in a materialistic society that emphasizes its sexual aspects. Even though we are an economically developed country, we have no sex education programs in the schools or in our churches; our young people are getting their sex knowledge from pornographic videos, magazines, books and the internet, among other sources. Consequently, we have one of the worse records in sexual conduct among the young.

The Church should be a place where young people are helped in making decisions involving sex. A step in the right direction would be to have seminaries offering courses in sexual education, the Church providing training for those who teach in Sunday school programs, and setting up centers where the young can go for consultation. The Church should take the lead in order to counteract the free-for-all sexual culture that we have made.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Society Makes Parenting Difficult

A columnist on the opinion page of the Catholic Times reflects on the news that about 12 percent of the  grammar,  middle, and high school students  need therapeutic help for their emotional health. 

The pressures to do well at school and the lack of conversation between parents and children is seen as the problem. This condition seems to be more prevalent with the middle school children than with high school students.

Children complain that parents get angry without much provocation and don't spend enough time with them, so they have no one to confide in and express their concerns, which makes their life more stressful than it should be. There is little to alleviate this pressure, and the impulses they have are often  expressed in strange ways. Last year in Korea, more than 200 children killed themselves, a sign that not all is well in the family.

The columnist recommends that parents deal with children the way priests deal with penitents in the confessional.  Even when he hears the confession of a murderer, he does not reproach the penitent; he listens  and gives the penance. In this way, when we leave the confessional we leave with a light heart, and that is the feeling the child should have-- Our Lord with the lost sheep has given us an example to follow.

The atmosphere in which children have to study and the constant competition makes it difficult for them  to have the proper disposition. Even after graduating from college, they do not have a bright future but the possibilities of  low-paying jobs and unemployment. Better than saying: "Just a little more patience. Do your best," it would be better to say: "It's been difficult, hasn't it? You have really had it rough."

When the child is faced with hopelessness, there will obviously be problems. To avoid this,  parents need to find out what is bothering the child by being attentive to changes in behavior, especially to unexplained mood swings, and always be ready to talk and offer help and encouragement.

The columnist has had opportunities to deal with children who have run away from home and is always surprised to learn that the parents had no inkling of what the child was thinking and feeling. When they find out, they take it very hard often shedding tears of remorse. The excuse of many parents is that they did not think the child was open to talking or did not think they needed to be concerned. If we are seriously interested in keeping children from running away, parents should be more aware of what their child is thinking, feeling and doing, and above all show them affection.

She concludes that it is natural for parents to have great expectations for their children but when this becomes all important the child will feel pressure. More important is to pray that they grow as  loving children of God.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Family Atmosphere In Parishes Far From Korea

Before coming to Korea, I worked briefly for the society in mission promotion, and one of the tasks was to visit parishes. I can recall visiting one town with a population of only 10,000 and yet it had six or seven parishes, one being the territorial parish, the others were ethnic parishes. This situation is changing today because of the lack of priests and acceptance of multiculturalism.

Change from ethnic to territorial parishes is an ongoing process in the United States; it was because of these ethnic parishes that entrance into American life was made much easier for many Catholics, and served to keep them in the Church.  It gave many a home away from home and friends to help them make the transition to life in the United States.

The life of the ethnic parishes was less trying on the immigrants because they were associating with others with a common background and culture. Here in Korea practically all the parishes, obviously, are ethnic parishes that  happen to be territorial parishes because we have so few Catholic immigrants. When this is the case the spirit of a parish is much more like a family and the demands on the parish staff would be much greater than when you have many different nationalities forming a community. Most of the parishes even today would have two Religious Sisters working in the community.

This week's Peace Weekly reports on a parish that is celebrating their 18th year as a parish, with 22 different events within a period of five days. There will be a scripture memory tournament, a music concert, fun and games for the children, athletic contests and many other events.

One of the events was called the Sincerity Game, with the priest and sister taking questions from the Christians on any subject. Both the sister and priest were presented with a Bible at the start of the session by one of the parishioners (intent on getting a few laughs) and both had to promise to speak the truth. The session lasted for almost two hours with  all kinds of questions; from start to finish the hall was filled with laughter. Some of the questions asked what life was like being a priest and sister, and there were also questions that suggested some dissatisfaction with the way the parish was run. But there was no question that all had a good time and experienced the event as harmonious and peaceful.

The Korean Catholics are familiar only with this type of community. When they emigrate to another country, they want to maintain this camaraderie which they would not ordinarily find in the territorial parishes. The bishops would like them to join the parishes already established but this would be asking a great deal of the Catholics. At present, the priests from Korea are taking care of these ethnic parishes, and as long as Korea is blessed with an abundance of priests, there should not be any problems.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Celibate Married Couple

The Peace Weekly TV station is preparing a drama of a married couple that were martyred at the beginning of the 19th century. They were not your usual husband and wife for they promised before marriage that they would live as brother and sister. They had both wanted to make that commitment to God so Fr. Chu Mun-mo, the Chinese priest who was the first to begin pastoral work in Korea, arranged to marry them. 

It is not difficult to imagine the difficulties encountered by such an arrangement on the part of  this couple: Lee Sun-yee, Nugalda  and Yu Chung-cheol, John, two strong-willed individuals that chose this commitment in their life of faith, a way of life that was not accepted by society. Both came from wealthy and educated families, but Nugalda had to oppose the wishes of her parents to go through with the marriage. It was an act of a very liberated woman, at a time when you would not expect it from such a new Christian.

A woman's freedom is limited in Confucianism; gender equality is not a value and many married women are treated more like slaves than companions, with few rights. When women in this society opted for a virginal lifestyle, it was a step that meant a great deal more than one would assume.
Nugalda and John lived in the Honam district of Korea. They have always been venerated by Catholics, and their shrine has many visitors. The process for beatification of  124 has been sent to Rome, and our two martyrs are on the list. However, they are not the only couple that  decided to live as brother and sister. There is also Kwon Therese and Cho Peter.  At the request of Therese, on their wedding day, Peter was asked if they could live as  brother and sister.  Peter acquiesced  and although he was not practicing, from the time of his marriage  his whole life changed: he helped priests to enter  Korea, have them stay at his house, and became a zealous worker in the community.

Marriages during the early days of the Church in Korea were only allowed between Catholics. They  were very strict in following this teaching, and when  not followed the parents would be denied the sacraments. This was why you would have families go through much trouble to find a Catholic mate for their children and this continued up until about 50 years ago when dispensations became common.

Plays and musicals have been made about the life of Nugalda and John, and also an opera. We now have the TV drama, "The Celibate Couple," which will be shown this coming month on Peace TV.

In the society we are living in today this kind of "spiritual marriage" goes contrary to our present values. That the Church is thinking of making a drama on a subject of this kind is counter-cultural. Today we have an appreciation of sex that was far from the understanding of the society in which the Church took root. The efforts of this loving couple  to honor their promise did not come easy, judging from what we know of their life, including the letters they sent home.

It's good to remember that Intimacy is not another word for sex, but a possibility for husband and wife even without the physical. This is something for us all to ponder, living as we do in a culture that speaks quite differently.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Difficulty in Being an Evangelist for Happiness

On the  Catholic Times opinion page this week, a columnist refers to the words of a song, "I am not laughing, no, not laughing," which reminded her of the recent suicide of the author and TV celebrity, the "Happiness Evangelist," well-known for her books and lectures on how to achieve happiness, and for hosting a popular TV program on the same theme.

After her suicide, the first response of many of her fans was stunned disbelief and then confusion.  How could someone who seemed so cheerful and had so much energy kill herself?  "Where in this world can we find happiness if this is the result of a life dedicated to finding happiness ?" was the typical response of many. This was the pessimistic response that came pouring out from many quarters. Some said, "if  the  evangelist for happiness killed herself why not me?" Who has an answer to this extreme opinion? Faith is the answer of the columnist.

This evangelist for happiness often mentioned in her talks that the word suicide in Korean when taking the two syllables in order means to kill the self, but when inverted it  means 'let's live.' She often remarked on this double meaning. Whether you are unattractive, poor or uneducated, that is no sin. There is only one sin, she would say, repeating it often, and that is not to live fully; she stressed the importance of the will in achieving this fulfilled life.

There are many people who are smiling on the outside but crying on the inside. The writer calls this masked depression. The evangelist for happiness was not afflicted with depression but had many physical complaints and was being treated by doctors, but the pain was so great that she had difficulty living the life she preached.
The columnist refers to a questionnaire in which 70 percent of workers from 20 to 30 years of age  said they have felt masked depression. That most people feel mildly depressed (getting the blues) at times in their life is no surprise; how indicative this is of  depression is not known, but not being able to live fully is certainly a problem for many A familiar quote from St. Irenaeus notes that "The Glory of God is man fully alive." It's our calling as Christians.

She concludes by asking, is it necessary to be a Christian and know the gospel to find happiness?  No, she says, it is not necessary because happiness is an emotion. This emotion, however,  is of no help when sickness, loneliness, old age and death come into our lives. It's here that our faith life presents us with  the necessary answers. Faith fills the emptiness in our lives.

Usually in life when you select something you say no to something else. However, when  you say yes to faith you are also saying yes to life.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Catholic Church of Korea's Understanding of Beauty

The Korean Catholic Church has been concerned in recent years about the way it has dealt with the art in its possession. The Church has not shown the interest that the art specialist would like to see. Dr. Hong Gemma, in her doctoral thesis, "The Church's Progress in Sacred Art," has some revealing things to say on the subject; a  review of the thesis appeared in the recent Peace Weekly.

Over the past two thousand years, the Church has inherited a great patrimony and should  continue to contribute to the religious, cultural, and artistic desires of our modern age. However, in Korea, according to Doctor Hong, the record of the Catholic Church's sensitivity toward art and artists has not been good.

Our understanding of art has been limited, she says, to using it to decorate our churches, to help us in the liturgy and to pray; it remains only a material tool to be used when needed by the Church, and does not express the values of the Church. This passive notion of art can be seen when we look at the interiors of our churches and see a monotonous display of  repetitious art, much of it imported from the West as a result of the foreign missionaries working in Korea.

Surveys have revealed that Catholic preference in art follows traditional lines; abstract and non-conceptual  expressions are not readily accepted. There is a need now, Dr. Hong believes, to discover and use the works of new artists, as well as doing away with the distinction between  sacred and secular art. The notion of inculturation in art should not mean going back into history but finding out where we are now with our  Korean sensitivities toward the beautiful, and not copy from the West or be limited by the past.

We have built many churches in recent years, but it is not easy to find anything  that is representative of Korea in architecture or in sacred art.  Money is not allotted for the artistic aspects of our buildings;  plans are not carefully thought out  and lack sufficient consultation.  Dependence on donations from Catholics results in a smorgasbord of styles and a lack of  artistic harmony within the churches. She suspects that most Christians are not interested in sacred art which means less money for the upkeep and preservation of art within the Church.

But some of the blame, she feels, must go to the priests and parishioners who do not appreciate the place of art in the liturgy. When a new priest comes to a parish, and the art within the church does not meet his approval  the art is removed, defaced or is ignored, causing discontent with the artists. If this situation is to change, she sees the need to educate priests in art appreciation, for in Korea all depends on the priest: the planning, the building and the selection of the works of art come under his authority. Because priests have this very important decision-making power, she recommends that learning the skills of artistic appreciation begin early in their education, for it is not something that comes automatically.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What Do We Mean By 'Well-Being'?

 The word 'well-being' comes into our conversation regularly said the  writer in  the weekly Catholic Times Desk Column. Since  the end of 2003,  Koreans apply the  word  to  apartments, food stuffs, cafes, and the like.  It means happiness, peace, living well. More than honors and the successful accumulation of material goods, the word was used to describe bodily and mental health, which means, for some, leaving the busy life and instant foods for an environmentally friendly world that conduces to a fruitful and beautiful new way of living. 

Recently, the columnist says, the well-being concept is increasingly being criticized, not so much for its attempt to change the quality of life but for its interest only in the material and what money will buy. It is those with the  leisure of  money who can  enjoy well-being--more accurately, perhaps, well-having. He mentions the book written by the German Philosopher Erich Fromm To Have or To Be. When the lifestyle focuses only on the 'to have' it just increases one's greed.

We have to ask ourselves, what is true well-being?   Is it to have more than others, to eat well, to have the goods one wants? The writer thinks it is to have a healthy inner life. There are many who have a strong body but the spirit is not healthy. And just taking care of the body does not necessarily mean your inner life will be healthy.

The well-being comes with a well balanced life. This would also be true in the spiritual life: word and prayer, evangelizing, service, love,  friendship, etc..  When there is a balance we have health. In the Beatitudes, we start with poverty of spirit.   The search for health and leisure that comes with material goods is not bad, but it should be preceded by a care for the health of the spirit if we are to have happiness.   Christians do have a different set of priorities that precede the quality of life that many consider important. Well-being for a Christian has to include God and our relation to him.
Another article mentioned a cartoon in which a member of the well-being advocates was doing everything necessary to achieve this so-called well-being.  After getting up in the  morning, he would do his yoga exercises. He ate organic vegetables and had a healthy breakfast, listened to classical music and went  off to work. During the day in the office, when time allowed, he would do his yoga. He would, obviously not smoke and not have more than a glass of beer or wine when offered and was socially expected.                                                                             
On his way home from the office, he almost had an accident with a motorcycle. He shouted at the cyclist with every foul word that he could bring to mind. The well-being lifestyle that he was hoping to achieve by focusing solely on the external aids to well-being and neglecting the inner life is always going to be a problem, unless we strive for a more balanced approach to life--including the spiritual as well as the material. Not an easy task. With the problems and stress that come with living in this competitive environment, the dream of well-being may not be easily achieved.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rose by any other Name? Words Are Important

Professor at Sogang University begins his article in the Peace Weekly reminding  us how important it is in society to use correct names and   terminology. We are dealing often  with  identity of an existence.

While studying in Germany, he recalls introducing  a girl who joined  the same language class as Ann, and she was quick to correct him telling him it was Anne and not Ann,  somewhat upset at the mistake.  He  mentions when students in his class mistake a syllable in his first name, to something very similar but not his name, he realizes it is of no great moment, but he  doesn't like it.

Terminology that is  not used correctly  not only leaves a bad feeling,  are mistaken, and can also be used for evil purposes.  

From here he jumps  to the Bioethics And Safety Act, the Government regulations that have to do with bioethical issues in Korea. He spends some time mentioning that using the term 'cluster of cells' instead of the proper terms are   not of little importance.  Not using the proper terms  for the fetus  after the    sperm fertilizes   the egg, and before it becomes a fetus and  calling it  a 'cluster of cells '  is done deliberately.

The reason for doing this after reading the regulations he says is because they want to use the fetus for experimental purposes. The writer feels that the way the regulations are written it is not to  respect life or seeing the value of  life, and preventing harm to the fetus,but enabling  the  study of the fetus for  the engineering of life for the market. It is another way of making money in the market with the sacrifice of life.

We have come to a point where we do things for reasons of financial  utility. We are always ready to improve our market possiblities. If we have a possiblity to do well in the market then we are willing to sacrifice the moral element. And this engineering of life is no exception.

He feels that we are traveling like the Titianic in the direction of an iceberg. We as a society should, first of all, respect life;  use  the proper  words in describing  the process of birth   from conception on.  If  we do not we will be using life as a means to an end.

This whole area of bioethics is not a subject  easily understood. Fortunately, in recent years we have been hearing of adult stem cell research that has little ethical problems associated with it. The Catholic Church here in Korea actively supports adult stem cell research and  is involved with their study. However, when it  is embryonic stem cell research  this is unacceptable even when the intention is a good one. In Korea they count the time in the womb as the  age at birth, which means everyone is one year old from birth. It is a reminder of the dignity of life right from the time of conception.  Foolishness for many  but the wisdom of Korean  culture should  make us reflect on a truth  not so difficult to see.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Good News of Adoptions by Koreans

The adoption policy in past years was embarrassing to many Koreans.  In the 1970s and 80s, Korea was the number one exporter of orphans. On the opinion page of the Catholic Times, a seminary priest- professor reveals that in 2007  Korea had more internal adoptions than foreign adoptions, which helped remove the stigma of their adoption policy of past years.

Korea still has, the priest says, many children who are being adopted by foreigners, especially handicapped children; a fact he would like to see changed. Furthermore, many who  adopt in Korea are childless couples that want to continue their family line and often do not want this known. In order to assure that the adoption remains hidden from public notice, some even drop all contact with the organization that enabled the adoption. The adoption agency considers this a serious problem. There can be occasions when the adopted child is not in a loving home and not treated well but being used. Oversight by the adoption agency then becomes impossible.

The writer explains that the adoption is not welfare work that gives foster parents a child. Adoption is giving a child who doesn't have its natural parents a substitute home that will take care of the child's subsistence, be protective of the child, take care of emotional and material needs; the child becomes what is important. It is not to fill the needs of the adopting parents but the needs of the child.

The priest goes on to thank those who have adopted Koreans who have a different skin color, and all the more thankful to those who have adopted the disadvantaged in body or  mind. However, he feels that, all else being equal, they would have an advantage being adopted by Koreans and especially by loving congenial  families with growing children, which would help the adopted child to adapt more easily to the new environment.

There are many conditions that are required before considering adoption, such as the economic condition of the adopting family. But even more important would be their mental and spiritual preparation--those who know the value of life and want nothing in return for their love, regarding it as a mission and sacrifice. Adopting is not an easy task and the priest mentions with pride that Christians who have adopted both Protestants and Catholics number about 40 percent.

He finishes the article by proposing to those who are sorry for having an  abortion that it might be a good thing to adopt a child. Society as it gets more tied up with the material, and as sexual mores become  more permissive, will probably lead to more unmarried mothers giving birth, more abortions, more children discarded because of money problems. The need for more adoptions will surely follow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Difficulties of Unmarried Mothers In Korean Society

Catholic Committee on Life met last month to discuss how the Church can help unmarried mothers create a better environment for their children. A member of the Korean Women's Policy Research Institute said: "Korean unmarried women with children is a lifestyle that does not follow our socially accepted ideas and moral standards; from the time  they are pregnant, give birth and choose to raise their children, they have to face the disapproval of society. Because of this disapproval many are induced to abort the child or give it up for adoption."

Statistics from the institute reveal that in 1995 there were about 90,000 households with unmarried mothers; in 2000 it increased to over 120,000, and in 2005 it was over 130,000. Of those staying in homes for unmarried mothers, about 42 percent opt to give the child up for adoption and about 58 percent chose to raise the child. The reasons for choosing adoption vary.

About 34 percent chose adoption because of financial difficulties; 30 percent because of concern for the future of the child; 10 percent because they thought they were too young to be a mother. Those who chose to raise the child most  said they wanted to raise the child simply because it was their child, others love for the child;  others thought giving the child up for adoption would have been sinful.

In 2010 there will be over a million and half single family households and only about 10 percent will receive government aid. The single-mother family has three times more trouble than the married-mother family. The representative from the institute argues persuasively that all the children should be seen as the responsibility of society  and be given the necessary support.

Two Religious Sisters working with  unmarried mothers mentioned that since about 60 percent of the abortions are unmarried mothers, the movement for life has to consider this when working with young people.  Furthermore, educating  the young to have safe sex is to ignore the moral issues that are involved.  Even though these issues are becoming less relevant to many today, education that stresses the value of purity and chastity still is important.

Another sister responsible for a home for runaways says the connection between unmarried mothers and those who have run away from home is very close, which is another good reason for averting the break up of the family and for educating for a healthy family life. A worthwhile goal that will require more effort on the part of the Church if it is to be accomplished.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Evangelization by Means of Culture

Cultural evangelization was the lead article in this week's Peace Weekly.  The development of the whole person has been a concern of many parishes in recent years.  The  dictionary meaning of culture is: the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties, especially by education. The article would like to see the Church take more interest in helping their members develop these cultural pursuits in order to bring about better communication with the larger community outside the Church.

The Church in the past gave witness to the Gospel by focusing its interest in medicine, education, welfare, and  human rights; now it's time to give witness to the Gospel by focusing more on culture. Recent efforts to do this have proven successful. 

Programs in many parishes are varied and mostly  free. One parish in Seoul has talks on playing the organ, flower arranging, learning Chinese Characters, calligraphy, sign language, acupuncture, photography, and the tea ceremony, among others.  Another parish has talks on philosophy, art, and the raising of children; ordinarily, these programs are a  big financial  burden for the individuals, but they are being offered to all completely free.

There are parishes with musical concerts weekly. One parish presented a musical that was attended by over 700-- all were welcomed. There are public concerts with very high standards, presenting the best in the musical field both from inside and outside the country. The ticket prices are much less than you would pay in a concert hall.

Many parish libraries are also open to all, with movie DVDs and free lending service. Some parishes have small art galaries and small theaters where plays and musicals are presented continually.

These are some of the ways the Catholic community is attempting to communicate with the larger community outside the Church. Many  without any religion come easily to these  events, opening a door for them should they be interested in the Church. It has also proven helpful in getting those who have fallen away from the Church to return. It is a method of evangelization that will be used more often now that the interest in the Church is less than in the past. The efforts of  Church workers were not as necessary since people then were coming to the Church on their own initiative. This is much less the case today.

The  wealthier and larger parishes in the city are doing well with this kind of evangelization;  smaller, poorer parishes are not as open to this type of evangelization.  It requires a long term commitment of people and resources which some of the smaller parishes have difficulty accepting.

The Church has always been interested in whatever makes for a more fulfilled life, and music--traditionally a pursuit which has served to provide this fulfillment for many--has been an important part of Catholic life.  Our churches have been veritable art museums for the world, and education has been close to the heart of Catholicism. This interest in the culture is a simple outgrowth of the sacramental way of  looking at life. Since direct evangelization has not been as successful as in the past, the efforts at the indirect will likely be more common in the future.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finding the Right Frequency In Which to Dialogue Is Not Easy

A columnist writing in the Catholic Times on spiritual themes reminds us that  failure to communicate well is often a failure in accepting and sharing what another brings to a conversation--a failure that is sometimes described as not tuning in to the "right frequencies" the other is projecting.  It is similar, the columnist believes, to what happens when an impatient child plays with the dial of a radio, going back and forth rather frantically, and when not finding what he wants, becoming frustrated.  Getting just static, the child feels defeated and turns off the radio.  A bit later he again turns the radio on only to be greeted with the same static; the columnist asked what he was trying to do.
"I can't find what I want anymore, the boy says." Finding out what station the child wanted, the columnist slowly turned the dial to the number of the station the child wanted--and without the static.

Frequency is not only part of the world of radio but also necessary in our conversations.   Deep and satisfying conversation requires the correct  frequency otherwise you may have  static and frustration. When a person is  concerned  about  the right or wrong, and the other with  the good and bad,  dialogue is difficult.  Also what  is good can be  seen as bad to another; what is wrong can be seen as right, and the right thing may not be considered the loving thing. Often one can't  accommodate a firm commitment to justice with the emotion of love.

This is the dilemma we are faced with in much of our interactions with others. Even in families, where we would expect it easier to tune in to a common emotional frequency, the experience of many tells us that it is, not infrequently, more difficult.  But honest, deeply shared dialogue wherever it occurs can foster a deeper relationship with others. It is an art that some have learned and many have not; when it becomes part of how we live in the world, it can give us comfort, inspiration and great joy. However, achieving  this heart-to-heart dialogue is not  easy. For Christians our prayer life  prepares us for sharing at the deepest level what we all share in common by virtue of being Christians. It should guide us always into earnest and frank dialogue.

Commication problems, as we all know, are part of life and cause much anguish. Many times it is the non-verbal frequencies that precede the verbal that sometimes are so loud that our words are not heard. We forget that our personal experiences also have a great effect on what we hear or fail to hear. McLuhan's message that the "medium is the message"  has something important to teach us.  Faith as a medium should help us to tune in to the right frequency more times than not. Once we rest in this medium of faith as the primary message, all other messages that are exchanged will be seen as contained within this primary message. Efforts to go to a deeper level in our conversations  are worth all the  time and energy that we can muster.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

King Sejong's Great Gift to the Koreans

Today, Hangul Day, honors the creation of the Hangul alphabet by King Sejong in 1443. It is celebrated each year on January 15th in North Korea and on October 9th in South Korea. Koreans are justly proud of their script: The literary world has given them reason by recognizing its greatness as a writing system, some placing it among the most original and scientific of all alphabets and one of the easiest to learn. It was the intention of Sejong to devise an alphabet that would help all Koreans to become literate. And today Korea is close to having a literacy rate of 100 percent, one of the highest in the world. 

 A columnist on the opinion page of  the Catholic Times  goes back to when she was a teacher. At the beginning of each new term, she would ask her students who they thought was the most respected person in Korean history. After they began to give their varied opinions, she would interrupt and say: "Repeat after me, King Sejong. After that you are free to say what you want."

The script  combining the vowels and consonants  can make about  70 thousand different sounds. With one symbol, they can express one sound without  any other phonetic sign.  It is  considered by many linguists one of the greatest achievements of humanity. There is no other alphabet that is  philosophically, rationally,  and scientifically constructed and so easily to learn. Korea is close to having a rate of literacy of 100%, a great achievement. The praise that is  heaped on the  Korean script is truly exceptional. It is also considered by many to be a reason for Korea's  great achievements in recent history
A unique feature of the Korean script is the correspondence  of the way the script is written and functions. The shape of the consonants and vowels are not only different,  but they in some way are associated with the  way we make the sounds with our lips  tongue and mouth. It is a unique way making an alphabet. However, that is just the beginning for  even belief in the unseen world came into the formation of the alphabet. Each one of the vowels and consonants are a Ying or Yang, and the five basic consonants  represent the five elements. Those who enjoy  studies in linguistics   have an unlimited field  in which to work.  It is a complicated way of composing the alphabet with joyful results  for the efforts.

It was the King's compassion, she says, for the common people who could not read that prompted him to create this easy-to-learn script. It is for this reason that he receives the respect and gratitude of all Koreans.
The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, created in 1889, is given to those who have helped foster literacy in the world.   Just recently an island in  Indonesia with a spoken language but no script has imported the Korean script for their 60,000 inhabitants--yet another export of Korea.

The writer concludes her article by telling us that when she goes to the center of Seoul and sees the statue of the Great King Sejong she bows deeply in front of the Statue  thanking the king and God for this marvelous gift to  the Koreans.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Centering in on Personal Hurts Will Not Solve the Problems.

It is difficult to accept the truth that what we do will have consequences, especially when the consequences are not to our liking. Our thoughts, words, and actions willl have consequences that will affect both ourselves and others.

On the spirituality page of the Catholic Times, a columnist tells us about a man he was acquainted with who asked if he and his wife could have a talk with him. The day before they had a serious argument, and though they lived under the same roof they were far from being husband and wife. When they arrived, they didn't even look at each other.

The columnist sensed right from the beginning that both were trying hard to win him over to their side of the argument, to prove that the fault for their disagreement belonged to the other. If the columnist could only grasp this 'fact,' so each of them thought, then all would be settled.

Although with age, our memory is less reliable, both were able to state their grievances noting exactly the month, the day, and even the time of  day they had the argument, and what happened before and after the argument.

When couples are fighting or not talking to each other it is wise to seek out specialists to  help resolve their problems. However, knowing what to do with the head and not getting rid of   preconceived ideas will shortly return them to where they were. The  columnist  recommends they both go to the interviewer extraordinaire, our Lord, before they precede to the specialist. When they are able to change the thinking from their own hurt to the   hurt they have inflicted on the other the columnist feels the interview will be successful,

It  is always good to remember that our actions can have profound consequences that influence, for good or ill, not only ourselves but our children, those we associate with, and the society we live in.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Poverty Not Always Easily Seen

 A country pastor writes in the  Kyeongyang Catholic magazine about poverty and how he sees it, living a middle class lifestyle. Even  those  who are trying to live a life of poverty, when it comes to consumption, most of them would fit more accurately in the middle class.

Priests  rarely  come in contact with the very poor in parish life. There are those who need  help for the  basic necessities of life, but it is a small number. Members of the parish who partake of community life have to have at least the bare minimum of economic freedom for the leisure required for community. This means, for practical purposes, that priests can be unconcerned about the poverty that afflicts many in society. Kyeongyang  Magazine

He considers poverty under three headings: absolute poverty, relative poverty, and subjective poverty. Absolute poverty refers to those who need help to meet the daily needs of living and this help usually comes  from the government.  Relative poverty refers to those who have incomes lower than the average, and gives rise to the discord between those who have and those that do not--the working poor. The conflict between these two groups  enables the government to be less concerned about those in absolute poverty.  Subjective poverty refers to those who feel they need more.

The Church has  declared  a preferential option for the poor.

"All things considered, this is also required by “economic logic.” Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty), not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of “social capital”: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence (Charity in Truth #32).

 Korea  has a living standard that is the tenth in the world. According  to the statistics, we have over 3 million working poor. This does not include those who live by themselves, the handicapped or the young who have the responsibility for supporting their family. The working poor have difficulties because prices keep going up but their income does not keep pace, making it difficult to pay for rent, education, and food.

The priest ends the article by discussing the place of the Church in the fight against poverty. The Church does budget money for the poor and works with the St. Vincent de Paul society and other groups in the parish to help them, but he feels there is not enough being done.

The Church needs to set a good example in fostering labor with dignity. Care must be taken that we treat fairly the employees involved in parishes,  hospitals and schools and that we do not have relatives of Church leaders in jobs that militate against fairness in hiring. The Church has to examine itself continually to make sure she is living up to what she proclaims, if she wants to be listened to.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lessons Learned From Matteo Ricci

This year, the 400 anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, Jesuit (1552-1610) has seen a number of events, seminars and  academic meetings on this  extraordinary missioner to China. He never entered Korea but influenced the life of early Korean Christians through his books. The importance of Ricci's contribution was discussed during the recent International Academic Meeting here in Korea, with excerpts from the talks appearing in the Catholic Times. A summary of the talks follows.

Ricci not only introduced  European knowledge to China but also introduced Chinese religion and philosophy to Europe. Ricci's method of evangelizing, according to one scholar,  can be briefly stated: He introduced European knowledge and Renaissance culture to the educated Chinese, respecting Chinese customs and rites and adapting  them, what we now call inculturation. He pursued the road of friendship with the educated and started a new way-- working from the top down. In 1773 the Jesuits  were disbanded by the Church partly because of the problems in  their accommodation in the Rites Controversy. The influence of Ricci, however, continued to have a  great impact  on the educated classes both in China and in Europe.

One Scholar described the mission work of Ricci as based on friendship. According to this scholar, his death at the rather young age of 57 was precisely because of this ability to make friends; his openness to them meant that he had a steady stream of visits from the learned which brought a great deal of fatigue into his life. The scholar believes this was the reason for his early death.  Valignano was Ricci 's mentor and was  considered the father of the missions in China but our scholar thinks  Ricci deserves  the title.

Another scholar points out that Ricci did not follow the usual missionary example in the 16th century, where missioners followed  the sword, but  he fashioned a peaceful accommodation to the culture that was very successful; it was the dialogue approach to mission.
One of the participants  mentioned  the mission life of Giulio Aleni, a talented and learned missioner whose life of  Ricci became his textbook.  He was a second generation Jesuit in China, who  followed the way of accommodation and even complemented  some of Ricci's methods.

Credit was also given to Alesandro Valignano, a Renaissance man and humanist, who was directly under the Jesuit Superior General  in Rome. It was Valignano's approach to mission that Ricci espoused in China. His approach, one scholar said, was a foretaste of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council 400 years later. Based on the theology of St. Paul, his understanding of mission moved him away from stressing the authority of the Church and persuaded him to place, instead, more emphasis  on the people they were dealing with, which was quite a change from the thinking of the previous generations.
When Valignano became aware that many missioners in Japan weren't even able to give a sermon to their own Christians, he required  two years of language study; not surprisingly he  noticed a big difference in what the missioners could  do.
It is from these early missioners that we have received a wealth of information. Today,  missioners follow in their pioneering footsteps and are thankful  for making working in another culture  much easier.  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trip to North Korea with the Eugene Bell Foundation

 Father Hammond , Maryknoll Local Superior, e-mails an account of his recent trip to North Korea. Besides his duties here in the South, which are  many and varied, he  is always ready to make the exhausting trip to the North with the Eugene Bell Foundation. His first person account follows:

The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Health invited a delegation of 5 members of the Eugene Bell Foundation to visit North Korea from September 7-14. This was my 45th trip to North Korea in 15 years.

The purpose of the trip was to visit 5 Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis Care Centers in North and South Pyongan Provinces, and a Pediatric ward, also in Pyongyang and one in Nampo.
The following was the schedule.

Schedule of Eugene Bell Technical Mission
7-14 September 2010


Briefing with MoPH
Departure for Shinuiju
By Train
Sonchon MDR TB carecenter,
N. Pyongan
Departure for PY
By Train
Arrive PY Station
Songsan MDR TB carecenter,
S. Pyongan
Pediatric ward,
S. Pyongan TB Hospital
Kangso MDR TB carecenter,

Mass at Polish Embassy
Ryongsong MDR TB carecenter,
Sadong MDR TB carecenter,
Debriefing with MoPH
Departure for Beijing

l  MoPH: Ministry of Public Health         PY: Pyong Yang

After the Mass on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, in the library of the Swiss International Aid Agency in Pyongyang, I met  the Polish Ambassador to the DPRK. He invited me to offer Mass at the Polish Embassy the next time I would be in Pyongyang, so I contacted him on Sunday, September 12, that I would be in Pyongyang. The Ambassador made all the arrangements for a 1 PM Mass at the Polish Embassy. A Mass booklet and hymns were printed for those attending the Mass.

Over 52 people attended the Sunday Mass, including 8 children. An altar, with candles and flowers, was prepared, and I brought the vestments. After Mass all were invited for brunch in the Embassy garden. It was a grace-filled time to be with those that needed spiritual help and to be speaking to such an alert and enthusiastic group of worshippers. They represented over a dozen different nationalities. Everyone seemed reluctant to leave after the Mass so I remained at the Embassy till 6 PM.

The Ambassador hopes that when I return in the last two weeks of October that I will be able to offer Sunday Mass on October 24 for the diplomatic community and UN personnel. Clearly, a deep spiritual hunger had brought these people together under such difficult circumstances, and I felt blessed to be able to minister to them even for such a short time. God willing, I will be able to do this again soon as we are tentatively scheduled to return for another visit in late October.