Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"You Did it For Me."

On Saturday the 26th of March we had the 10th anniversary Requiem Mass for  Fr. Benedict Zweber, a Mayrknoll priest who worked in Korea for over 30 years. The Requiem Mass, in the last church that Fr. Ben built in Incheon, was celebrated by the priests who  knew Fr. Ben and considered him a friend. The congregation consisted of  those who remembered his work for justice, for the poor and those who suffered.

His first assignment after ordination was Korea where  his brother had died years before. He was a very successful missioner with a great love for the country and people. During his 30 years in Korea he built many island mission churches in the diocese of Incheon, built a hospital, electrified one of the islands, and worked to recover land from the ocean for the poor farmers. He took to heart the words of Jesus from Mathew's Gospel chapter 25:40-- "you did it for me."

Koreans  on  the islands were living in poverty, and he became their father, doctor and lawyer, and helped them in any way they needed to live decent human lives.  The orphans and Amerasians  he helped to go overseas to adopted parents are too many to count. With Fr. Alfred Keane, a fellow Maryknoller, he was also able to help pass a bill that aided Amerasians obtain visas to enter the US.

During the difficult political times in Korea, he was also on the side of the underdog and worked  tirelessly with others to see a new political reality. His sensitivity to problems of justice in society  and the plight of the poor was well honed.   I can recall on one occasion when he said that to use bread to clean the fingers after using the oils for Confrimation bothered him greatly. Something that was easy to understand for one who worked with the very poor.

After being called back to the States to work on recruiting for vocations and raising funds for the society, he volunteered, at the age of 66, to go to Russia to do missionary work in 1997.

When he first arrived in Russia, he lived for three weeks in  Vladivostok before the  bishop assigned him to the island of Sakhalin, where there were many Koreans and he began another chapter of his missionary life. He followed some Korean priests who had difficulty getting a visa to work in Russia. He worked to open two more parishes on the island and also served an American community working in the production of natural gas on the ocean floor near Sakhalin. He was responsible for building  the Church of St. James on the island, even though dealing with terminal cancer of the bones. The church was dedicated on August 15, 2001, shortly after his death.

I attended the Mass with a follow Maryknoller, Fr. Richard Rolewicz, who represented the Maryknoll Society. One of the first members of the congregation I met that day was a young man who, as a baby, was sent to the States for an operation on his heart. (An operation they were not able to do in Korea at that time.) Hearing that I was a classmate from seminary days, he wanted to thank me and show his appreciation.  Many, like this young man in  the congregation, remembered the Maryknoller with fondness and gratitude.


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