The relationship of the Catholic Church of Korea with France goes back to the time France was sending their priests to Korea to do missionary work. Recently, Korea received the visit of the ordinary from the diocese of Le Mans who has, together with the diocese of Andong, promised to be in a relationship of solidarity and affection.
The 4th bishop of Korea was the martyr Saint Simeon Berneux, who was born in the diocese of Le Mans. The French Church years ago helped the Korean Church by sending us its priests; now is the time for the Church of Korea to help the Church in France.
This was written up in the Peace Weekly, with an interview with the bishop of Le Mans and with an article on the first priest who will be working in the diocese, Fr.Lee Yeong-kil. While the ordinary was in Korea for his visit, Fr. Lee was his interpreter.
Fr, Lee had been sent to France for studies and received a doctorate from the Paris Catholic University. He is now pastor of a parish in the diocese of Le Mans. To his many parishioners interested in the Korean Church, he tells them: "Koreans have a great interest in the Catholic Church. Their Catholics are very enthusiastic and try to live the life of faith. Confucianism has also helped them have respect for the elderly. These are the strong points of Korean Catholicism. Now that God in his providence is guiding us in this relationship with France, isn't this what we can give the French Church?"
The Church of Europe is far ahead of the Korean Church in academics, but when comparing the spirit of the times that is opposed to the Church and the small percentage of those attending Mass, the Korean Church is far ahead of the European Church. Korean priests can help to change this situation, the columnist believes, by bringing some of the Korean enthusiasm to the French Church.
The big surprise to the bishop of Le Mans was seeing Koreans meeting in their villages to read and discuss the Scriptures. French Catholics, he said, do not read the Scriptures.
Fr. Lee says that from the time of the uprising in France of May 1968 (the largest wildcat strike in history, involving more than 10 million workers) the people have shown a coldness toward the Church. The protesters took to the street with placards: "We are against all that are against." A good interpretation would be: give us freedom to do what we want. Since the Church is against so many things, this was seen by many as motivation to turn their back on the Church.
In France, it is difficult to find any spiritual group meetings like the Legion of Mary, and village groups are not seen. The few who go to Sunday Mass return immediately to their homes. French Catholics would number about 80 percent, but the majority don't practice their faith and don't know much about it.
Recently, Fr. Lee had a barbecue party with his Catholics, similar to what is done in Korea, and the response was enthusiastic. Our way of fellowship does appeal to the French, he says. We can learn the scholarly ways of the French, and the French can learn from our dynamism and vitality. We can both benefit from the exchange.
The Koreans, with their background in the Yin-Yang philosophy of life, seem not to have trouble with many things that bother those in the West. Being against means that you are for something; and when you are for something, it means you are against something. There are two sides to the one life we have to live.