Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Visit to North Korea with the Eugene Bell Team

This is a report from the Maryknoll Korean local superior, Fr. Gerald Hammond,  on his recent trip to the North.

I am delighted to report that our April 2011 visit to the DPR of Korea was one of the most successful we have ever experienced.
 On this visit we were able to confirm that the quality of care given patients by local medical officials is steadily improving at the six multi-drug resistant tuberculosis treatment centers supported by EugeneBell in North Pyongan Province, South Pyongan Province, Nampo City and Pyongyang. Local caregivers we met with on this visit were also enthusiastic about EugeneBells training program. The decision to adopt WHO standard MDR-TB mediations last year has increased medication costs more than 50% per patient per year (approximately 1,600 USD). Due to the more powerful prescriptions however, we found that treatment outcomes have improved dramatically. EugeneBell enrolled 55 new patients this visit but sadly, had to turn away hundreds more for lack of enough medication.
It was an honor and blessing to be able to offer the first Easter Mass in the northern half of Korea in more than 60 years. Maryknolls work began in North Korea. For more than half a century Maryknoll missioners have prayed for an opportunity to return. Every Mass in North Korea, thus, is for me a homecoming of sorts. I was delighted too that Father Emmanuel Kermoal of the Paris foreign Mission could join me.  The Polish Ambassador, H.E. Edward Piertrzh made the Polish Embassy available for the Mass.
Approximately sixty people from more than a dozen nations from Pyongyangs small foreign community attended the service. Many of those who came were not Catholic but everyone seemed delighted to have a chance to participate in public worship in North Korea.
Though unused to attend church regularly, everyone did their best to participate with the help of an overhead projector. Their enthusiastic responses to the readings reflected a deep hunger for the hope and peace offered to them through the Easter liturgy.

We all enjoyed singing several hymns including Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” “O Lord My God and Amazing Grace. No one seemed eager to leave after the service. After the Mass, Ambassador Piertrzh hosted everyone to a traditional Polish Easter breakfast 

On every visit to North Korea, it has always been my policy to make a full disclosure of my identity as a priest, as well as the identities of Catholic organizations whose medical work I represent. Thus, the North Korean officials who facilitated our visit were informed in advance about the Easter Mass. No one raised any objections. Instead, our official hosts seemed genuinely pleased that we had been able to arrange this special religious service for the foreign community on our visit, perhaps the first recognized Easter Mass in the history of their country.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Different Levels of Spirituality

A popular columnist who gives advice to readers of his weekly newspaper column, and also to those who go to his website and the more than 40,000 readers of his book, was interviewed recently in one of the secular daily papers and in the Peace Weekly. He admitted, with a chuckle, that he didn't know if he should be sad or happy because there are so many who have a need for counseling.

He is a pastor of a parish in Seoul and, in addition to his weekly  column and his website, lectures once a month in his own parish. His method of counseling is unique. If a woman tells him that her husband is breaking her heart, he asks her why she continues living with him. If a woman is having difficulty with her mother-in-law, he recommends that she put a picture of the mother-in-law on the wall and vent her feelings. If a mother tells him that her son is giving her trouble, he tells her not to worry about him and go on with her life. Many Catholics are suffering, he says, from a "good child complex." When they suffer in silence, believing it to be the 'good' response to troubling incidents, depression often follows, and sometimes serious disease.

Since he writes in this vain some priests criticize him, he says, for advocating anger and  hate. He answers that the Catholic Peace Weekly continues to serialize his columns and has no problem with his approach. There are many who cut out his column and paste it on the refrigerator door. 

He says it is necessary to develop not only the good emotions but also those that are not considered good. If we do not defend ourselves, we can come under the control of the others' emotions, he believes, so at times, the emotions of hate, anger and jealousy are all necessary for the sick and imperfect.

The interviewer then brings up the passage from Scripture that tells us to turn the other cheek.  What is that all about? he asks. He answers that in the spiritual life there is  the diseased level, the healthy level, and the holy level. If you recommend the holy level of awareness to a person who has a diseased level of awareness, there is a big gap. Also one has to be careful when a person begins to complain about their situation--being sympathetic can easily slide into seeming compliance with the complaint. And it may be necessary at times to use shock therapy, he says, to get a person to come out of  their cage of self-imposed limitations and stand on their own two feet.

Jesus told those who were sick and poor to ask and it will be given, to knock and it will be opened. But he told his disciples to give everything away and to follow him. He was asking them to go to another level. If one is to climb a high mountain he has to strengthen the muscles of his legs first. That is true also for the muscles of the spiritual heart; they have to be strengthened to be able to turn the other cheek.

He has decided that the next book he writes will be called "Leave the Bird Cage." He says that when we get angry and realize the reason for the anger is in ourselves, then that is when we will be able to leave the cage we have made for ourselves. The Church is a place where we treat the sickness of the heart. If we have made a cage  for ourselves, then when we go to church we make it a place of judgment instead of a place where we find healing.  A place where we encounter God. A place where we find peace and rest.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why is Happiness a Mirage for Many?

"Happiness is ridding oneself of power and calmly becoming empty, and suddenly happiness appears. It is not something you grasp but  receive as a gift" These are the words quoted by a journalist of the Catholic Peace Weekly at the beginning of his interview of the Jesuit  chairman of the board of trustees of Sogang University. The title of the article was "By remaining in the presence of the Lord, happiness will come to us."

Today those who are happy are rare, says the Jesuit. As a teacher living with students and as a priest ministering to Catholics, he feels there are few persons who are  really happy. Constantly in competition and seeking to possess, they strive to become what they think they should  be. Absorbed with getting all the specifications necessary for a  well paying job in a good company they realize the happiness was a mirage.

Actually, to achieve happiness is much easier than making money or getting educational accreditation or enjoying power, All you have to do, he says, is adopt a welcoming, non-grasping attitude. He introduces us to a poem that tells us about a child who is told that if he is able to grasp 3 petals falling from a cherry tree before they touch the ground, he will be happy. The child at first  could not do it. When he tried to grasp for the petals, his moving hands stirred the wind around the petals and blew them away. The child of the poem learned that all that was necessary to catch the petals was to stretch his open hands out in front and let the petals fall onto the hands.

Indirectly, it is the search for truth that brings happiness. The only effort required is to rest in God. If we are in a restful state the Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth. When we understand what truth is we become happy, and can directly experience what happiness is. The journalist asks the priest what is the formula for finding  happiness. He laughs on hearing the question. Looking to find happiness, he says, would be going in search of a second-hand, unreal happiness. Happiness does not come with the possession of something but rather with the reception of something by first emptying ourselves, and keeping our eyes wide open.

Those who do not have an anchor cast deep into the meaning of human existence will be like a flame before the wind or a castle built on sand. To have recourse to the origin of existence,  prayer and self discipline is necessary. For those who believe they have no time, are too busy, and find life too difficult for much prayer and self-discipline, he recommends an hour a day of quiet time in prayer. In this digital age we cannot go back, he admits, to a more leisurely time, but this lack of leisure time is one of the reasons that happiness eludes us.                                                       

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Muslims in Korea

A priest-professor of patristics (the study of the early Christian writers) at the Catholic University and guest columnist in the Catholic Times this week, reflects on the death of Bin Laden and how his death was received in different parts of the world. He noted that his death was greatly cheered, not surprisingly, in the United States as a victory for justice.

Here in Korea, much of the press were clearly excited and not suppressing their joy that "the darkness was not able to overcome the light." The professor quotes Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Pope's press spokesman, who said that Osama bin Laden was responsible for promoting division and hatred among people, causing the death of many innocent lives and exploiting religions. However, a Christian never rejoices at the death of anyone, he said, but should reflect on the serious responsibility that bin Laden had before God; we should also think deeply on this responsibility ourselves.

Because of bin Laden many think that Islam is a hothouse for terrorists, some even seeing the Crusades as a Christian jihad, a holy war against non-Christians similar to the terrorist activities of the extreme Islamist of today. The Pew Research Center has reported that 23 percent of the world's population is  Muslim. Knowing this, can we continue to say that Muslims are terrorists?

In Korea there are currently 130,000-140,000 Muslims, and of that number about 45,000 are native-born Koreans. We should be careful of the way we think of our Muslim Koreans, many of whom, simply because of their religion, have been harassed and made to feel like outsiders. We have many different nationalities and religions living together in Korea so we should try to understand and share our different cultures.  
Islam and its culture entered Korea during the 13th and 14th centuries. During the Koryo period there was already a thriving community of Muslims with their own culture, and language. At a public ceremony in the time of King Sejong, the Muslims were present, reading parts of the Koran and wishing the King good health. But gradually during the ascendancy of Confucianism in Korea, Islam died out. 

The professor reminds us that we have been living with other people and other religions in our country for a long time. And we should not, without justifiable reasons, criticize others even though their way of life appears strange to us. We should instead try to find the  common elements that unite us. 

Pope Benedict tells us that the commandment of love is what should unite us with the Muslims. They are my brothers and sisters, and they should not be seen as terrorists. The professor, summing up his reflections, asks:  Isn't it often true that we make others terrorists by the way we treat them, by our prejudice and distorted views, and by the violence we use against them?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Aromatherapy in Korea

The guest columnist in the Catholic Times starts his article by telling us that God made everything out of nothing but humans have also made many things. Those with a religion do not take objection to what God has made because of our faith life. However, what humans have made we should not just take as presented but examine it  to judge on its  goodness or not.

Often we mix the two of them, he says. To accept what we have made without any study or verification is not to act wisely.

Plant life was given to us as a gift  for our sustenance. It is not only for our daily  food,
but for our mental and bodily healing. The abundance and beauty of nature, oxygen, ions  etc. the gifts we have received from God are awesome. It is our task to protect and use these gifts. To  use them  in excess and to abuse them is to go against the will of God. These days in the medical world instead of using the word substituting which can be misunderstood the word complementing is more often used. In recent times  we often hear the word Aromatherapy, horticultural therapy, forest bathing, ions and Phytoncides  as a scientifically verified way of complementing the use of   plant life  used for  therapy. It is a method of therapy that uses a small amount of essential oils from plants.

We find some of these aromatic plants recorded in the Scriptures: frankincense, hyssop, coriander, rose flower, cypress, peppermint, juniper,  cinnamon etc. Over 2000 years ago these aromatic plants had various uses in daily life. In the very first civilizations of the world  we have aromatic plants being used for healing.

Whether this use came from instinct or the healing of animals who ate plants we don't know, but from experience and study plants were used as a means of healing. The use of some of these aromatic plants were also used in religious rites from the beginning of history.

In the middle ages in the Church and monasteries this plant therapy was used. From the times of the Crusades what was used in the Arab World was brought to Europe. The trade  between East and West also introduced many herbs and medicinal plants to the West, Arabic medicine, distillation and other methods were introduced. At that time in Europe bathing was not a frequent event and to cover the body odors this whole world of perfumes began to develop.

The modern scientific study began with Rene-Maurice Gattefosse (1881-1950). He is regarded as the Father of Aromatherapy and the inventor of the word. His studies gave scientific plausibility to the use of essential oils in the healing of wounds, antiseptic,
sterilization, anti-virus, anti-inflammatory, burns, skin rejuvenation, mental therapy, cosmetics and more. In France the government has recognized this method of treatment.

In Korea since the middle of the 1990's there has been an interest in the field of aromatherapy. Study is continuing and it is expanding and very active.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Celebrating the 50th Anniversay of the Inchon Diocese

This year, on June 6, the diocese of Inchon will be celebrating its 50th  year of independence from Seoul, as a Vicariate Apostolic and, in the following year, as a diocese.  An  article in the Catholic Times on the Cathedral Parish of Inchon, Tap Dong, says the Cathedral was the primer for the diocese. The cathedral, built at the end of the 19th century and overlooking the Inchon harbor, is considered the gateway to Seoul.

The final documents of the Inchon Synod give a brief history of evangelization in the diocese.The facts are not easy to find, but it is surmised that since Lee Seung-hoon (the first  baptized Catholic ) and Whang Sa-yong (the writer of the Silk Letter) were active in the early Church, the gospel spread rather early in Inchon and Kangwha. And since there are many martyrs who were born, or at least resided in Inchon, we know that Catholics were living there during the persecution.

The Chemulpo parish, now the Tap Dong Cathedral parish, was the first parish of Inchon, established in 1889. With the Korea-France Treaty of 1886, missionaries were allowed to come to Korea and to Inchon to construct rectories and churches. With the increase of Catholics in October of 1958, Inchon became a separate deanery of the vicariate apostolic of  Seoul, which was entrusted to the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. On June 6, 1961, Pope John XXIII made Inchon a vicariate apostolic, separating it from Seoul.

On March 10, 1962, all the vicariates became dioceses. Today there are no longer any foreign ordinaries, all is in the hands of the Korean Church. Inchon began its own diocesan major seminary to train seminarians  for the diocesan  priesthood, as well as to form future missioners for North Korea.

The Cathedral is considered a national treasure and there are plans with the city to set aside an area around the Cathedral for a park and exhibition hall. The present pastor of the Cathedral  parish says: " Our Catholic community is like a giving tree; it unsparingly takes care of the parish, refreshes and gives rest to all those who participate, no matter how briefly. It also strengthens the faith life of our Christians, both by the beauty of the surroundings and by the example of our community life. We do not have many young people, which is a problem, but the Cathedral parish is trying to make the community a place of joy and peace for all."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Problems with Reproduction in Korea

A professor  emeritus at the Catholic Medical School mentions in his column on the culture of life that 15 percent of married couples are sterile, or over a million couples. During the last 10 years this number has increased almost  four times.

Generally, the male is responsible for the sterile condition about 30 to 40 percent of the time, and the female for about 50 to 60 percent; about 10 percent is unknown. On the women's part, the ovulation phase is mostly the problem and with the man it is the testicles that are not producing sperm or in the numbers necessary.

In recent years the age of marriage is later than in the past, which brings in physiological problems for reproduction. Abortion on the part of women before marriage also plays a part, the professor says.

This problem with sterile couples is a problem for the nation. The government is helping couples with in vitro fertilization (IVF) in order to decrease the number of sterile couples. The professor admits to having a strange feeling when he heard that the government was helping those who were not having babies. For a Catholic all that is possible is not always the way to go.

The professor goes on to say that with these artificial means of fertilizing the egg, there are problems: legal, social,  and moral problems  but also medical problems that come with  fertilizing outside the womb and   implanting  the embryo in the uterine wall.

The Catholic Church continues to be concerned with the problems of sterile couples, publishing in 1985 the Instruction on Respect For Human Life In Its Origin And On The Dignity Of Procreation: "Nevertheless, whatever its cause or prognosis, sterility is certainly a difficult trial. The community of believers is called to shed light upon and support the suffering of those who are unable to fulfill their legitimate aspiration to motherhood and fatherhood. Spouses who find themselves in this sad situation are called to find in it an opportunity for  sharing in a particular way in the Lord's Cross, the source of spiritual fruitfulness. Sterile couples much not forget that 'even when procreation is not possible, conjugal life does not for this reason lose its value. Physical sterility, in fact, can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children." (58)

The Church is asking Catholic doctors and the medical  world to find ways of solving the problem of sterile couples that do not include artificial fertilization and fertilization outside the womb. There are, he says, many ways that sterile couples are finding medical help to conceive and this will continue.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life Without Meaning Is Empty

Counting with numbers, both in the East and in the West, makes use of the decimal system. A poet writing for the Catholic Times suggests that we started counting this way because  we have five fingers in each hand, for a total of ten.

Why, he asks, do we have five fingers in each hand and five toes in each foot? Not easy to answer, he says. Is it the  natural order of things or did it happen by chance? There are many other series of fives in life. We have the five physical five senses, and in the East the basis of philosophy is the negative-positive of  the five elements that compose all life: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. He asks what is the meaning of these five? Isn't this meaning hidden from us?

Because we have the five senses, we can go out to the whole universe, he says, and the universe can come to us--by way of these five passageways. However, the poet  prefers to use, instead of the word  passageways, the metaphor of a window, five windows of different colors to express the five  senses. 

Each of the senses has it own sphere of interest. How full of splendor the world the organ of vision sees; it dazzles the eyes; the world of sound, how deep and solemn; the world  of smell, and so on... Even though there  are many sense openings to the world, they come together in a harmony of oneness. Trying to  discover the depth  and different facets of the universe, we are captivated by the worlds our senses bring to our awareness. 

We have received our bodily life from the material substance of the universe, and by accommodating and overcoming the difficulties of this environment we continue to have life and live.

The way we see life forms our attitudes. It is obvious that the whole of life is not only what we can see. We can say that material things are necessary for life, but we can't say that material things are  the whole of life. We can say that depth psychology and its revelations about the unconscious has been able to explain much of our actions. But to say it explains all our actions is clearly preposterous. Life is made up of many different and yet harmonious factors that still elude our understanding.

We are faced with accepting this often mysterious life, with all its difficulties--accepting it with meaning or seeing it without meaning, as essentially empty. You are forced, our poet says, to accept one or the other. If one accepts meaning than with time more meaning appears and with more depth; all will then be seen positively and with hope. Even pain itself will make us see life more completely. On the other hand, seeing life without meaning with time all becomes more meaningless. We end up in the grasp of the god of nihilism from whose hold one has difficulty escaping: the variety of its fascination is numberless.

The writer says that he is just over thirty years old and after many ups and downs he has given the  meaningless position  a kick and withdrew from its embrace, joining the side for meaning. Since then his world  has been a zig zagging path but still keeps going toward light and life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Political Scenario in North Korea

Last year we learned of the ascendancy of Kim Chong- eun as the new leader of North Korea, ushering in what many believe will be a shared leadership with his father Kim Chong-il. Writing for the Catholic Magazine, a member of the Catholic Bishops Committee for Reconciliation of Peoples leaves us with some thoughts on the implications of this new political scenario in the North.

We are told that the political system will be strengthened but that the chances for discord and complications will also increase.  Setting up new political structures, he says, will entail a generational shift that will very likely  upset many of those who were in power under Kim Chong-il. For there to be a peaceful transfer of power, the writer believes that Kim Chong-eun will have to surmount three difficulties.

First, what will happen if Kim Chong-il, because of his frail health is not able to rule for the next three years? Chong-eun does not have the experience to govern nor has he the chance to grow in the job like his father. And yet, he will have to show that he is capable of running the country.

Secondly, how is he going to strengthen the extreme fragility of the government? For the last 20 years, the North has not been able to solve its economic difficulties, depending on others for survival. In order to eke out a living the citizens have put in place the beginnings of a market economy, which is now flourishing without any government control. This has  made  more evident the weakness of the government's policies, particularly the failure of their economic policy, which has for many years angered the populace. This will be a serious problem for the future.

Thirdly, a potentially major problem is overcoming  the family succession policy of the North. The officials see Kim Chong-eun as too young to govern but have little recourse but to adopt a "what can you do" attitude; the intelligentsia and the middle class are relatively critical, while most of the citizens are merely spectators. They just want enough to eat, and many are not getting enough. Under Chong-eun, things have not gotten any better. This will also be a problem for the future.

With the recent currency reforms in the North, the financial condition has worsened. And the question of food shortages is a serious concern. The government is trying to get countries to send more food, and also allowing the export of goods that in the past were restricted in order to gain foreign exchange, such as gold, silver, bronze, iron and other minerals. It seems clear they don't have the foreign exchange to buy what they need. And even if they do import the food, those who need it the most don't have the money to buy it.

The situation in the North is clearly getting worse, but many say the system that was in place under Kim Chong-il will not change under his son, but will continue for the near future. The long range outlook is that change will have to come, and  South Korea will have to prepare for that eventuality.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May the Month of the Family

A counselor in the family court writes in the Catholic Times about the days in May devoted to family and the way Catholics should look upon these  days.

Children's Day goes back to 1923. The motto at that time was: "Let us be strong and honest children, always loving and helping one another."  The Children's' Charter was drawn up and the day commemorated on May 5th as a national holiday. This year a survey revealed that Korean children, when compared to children in other countries, were considered superior in scholastic performance and study habits. However, in their subjective evaluation of their happiness: (encompassing factors such as health, school, overall satisfaction with life, feeling of belonging, able to accommodate to their surroundings, and feelings of loneliness) they were the lowest on the scale used for OECD countries. The family was selected from among all the factors for happiness as being the most important by the students surveyed.

In Korea Mothers' Day started in 1956 on May 8th; in 1972 it was changed to Parents' Day. The relationship with parents is a strong indication of the happiness of children. If before the age of 18 we have divorce in the family, the thoughts  of suicide are over three times the average for that period of life.
The article mentions the efforts of the World Wide Marriage Encounter Movement  in 1981 to have a day to commemorate marriage. The first celebration of the day in Korea occurred in 1990, receiving the blessing of the Church in 1993 and then spreading to other countries. The National Assembly has taken up the idea and back in 1996 the President and the Cardinal presided at a ceremony proclaiming a Marriage Day. In Korea, the name was eventually changed to Husband and Wife Day, and is listed by that name in the liturgical calendar. 

For the first time in three years the number of marriages in Korea has increased; and the number of divorces has decreased by 5.8 percent. Births in 2010 have increased by 25,100 from the previous year. These are happy statistics for society and for the Church. The writer wants us to look at these positive tendencies in our society and with wisdom  make the efforts to continue in this direction.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Determining Authenticity

When a rare phenomenon comes along we all are interested. Expressions such as "happens once in a blue moon," "first time in recorded history" perk our interest, and we want to know more.

The Desk Columnist of the Catholic Times is curious why are  we concerned with certain words that seemingly bring into play the same mental default.  We use some words frequently, he says, because they seem so rare or are not related to the facts of our daily life. Authenticity is such a word. 

The writer says this word is not found in the Korean dictionary as now used, but we often hear the sense of it in daily speech: "doubt about  his authenticity", "how can we determine authenticity," and similar phrases. It is used with reference to grammar school athletics events, the post office system, the Four Rivers Project, government policy, when friends and lovers  become estranged, and in the Church. We all have a desire for this authenticity and when it's missing we grieve, a sure sign of  its importance in our lives.

To determine authenticity, the writer feels, is not difficult. One looks at all the facts to find their core essence, which should vouch for the shared authenticity of the facts.  In  situations involving persons, their true natures will be reflected, and authenticity revealed. However, here we have   a problem. For even if we have an objective view of the facts, each has his own viewpoint of the truth. With each one having his own way of measuring, we will have no agreement but a flood of words, and be left with doubt about the authenticity of what is being examined.

He presents us with the recent death of Osama bin Laden. Each sees what happened differently: those that celebrate it as a victory for justice, and those that see it as another instance of international violence.

For a Christian, there is a clue in the way we go about seeing  authenticity by asking several questions: Who is speaking the truth? Who is just? What is in harmony with God's will? We are often standing at the proverbial fork in the  road. However, if we are truly Christians this should not be true for long. For whether it's taking the road that Jesus has shown us or not taking it,  or being wheat or chaff, sheep or goats, the road to be taken is very clear. Because of our weakness, however, it's not easy to have Jesus come to our attention, and at times  Jesus' very authenticity comes into question. We mustn't forget that each one of us is a lovable person in his eyes; that we have  been called by him and will not be separated from him. Even today Jesus says to us:

"I solemnly assure you that the man who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these." The one who is following this road, the writer concludes, is the authentic Christian.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Lifetime Of Service to Others

Emma Freisinger,  an Austrian nurse who came to Korea in 1961 to work with Hansen patients, was the subject of an article in the Catholic Peace Weekly.

Her intention was to work after graduating from nursing school for a period of two years, as a volunteer in Africa, return home, marry and raise a family but after hearing a talk by a foreign missioner from Korea, and hearing about the plight of those suffering from Hansen's disease, she decided to go to Korea. The two years turned into a lifetime, living with those who have been diagnosed with leprosy, a disease that we now know can be cured and is not infectious.

After working here for five years, she returned to Austria for a vacation, received the blessing of her parents, and returned to  Korea. This past month she celebrated her 80th birthday; more than 500 patients she had treated came from all over to celebrate with her. She mentioned to the interviewer that she felt like a mother to her patients. (The word Emma, in fact, sounds similar to the word mother in Korean.)

The work was very difficult in the early years for lack of medicines and food, but they managed--God, she said, was always there. During her many years in Korea, she has served over 7000 patients, and, after resigning as director of the hospital she opened for skin diseases, she went to China to start a volunteer program. And whenever the need arises, she  travels to 28 areas to help those who suffered from Hansen's disease.

She was asked how she talks to God. "Even if I lose all,  I ask that I do not lose my faith. Even if I am sick and  have nothing to eat, I do not want to lose my faith. Because faith gives me  what I need to live. When I see people without belief, I feel sorry for them for that is all that is necessary for happiness."  She went on to say: "If I live for myself  I can find temporary joy but I will not have eternal joy. Work that is done in God's name remains forever.

Her name in Korean means one who has received many blessings. She has selected her grave site and is happy. She has lived for God's glory and hopes that this will continue, she said, ending the interview with a chuckle.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Personal Experience Best Teacher

A professor at the Inchon Seminary recalls an injury to his ankle during a tennis tourney and writes about the experience in a  Catholic monthly. The day of the injury he felt no pain and gave the ankle little thought, but after 4 hours of teaching, the ankle was greatly swollen. He went to the nearest oriental medicine clinic for acupuncture treatment and was told he had stretched the ligament and it was now inflamed.

He was a big man, which aggravated the pain, and the use of crutches made his life very uncomfortable. Climbing the stairs to his third floor room caused him to sweat heavily. And because he was not able to go to the chapel for prayer and Mass nor to the refectory for meals, the kitchen staff had to bring the meals to his room. He blamed himself for the situation and for inconveniencing the whole community. This turned his attention to those who are handicapped and the problems they have in their daily lives.

The priest goes back to the time he applied to the seminary and was asked by the priest-interviewer why he wanted to be a priest. He was not ready for the question, and could only remember that, as a child, when the priest came to  the altar to say Mass he looked elegant, and that seemed to him all there was to it. But then he remembered reading a book about Damien, who took care of the Hansen diseased patients on Molokai Island and so he told the priest that he wanted to spend his life, like Damien, working for those who lived in difficult situations.

On his way home on the subway after the interview he couldn't forget the question and his answer. Did he answer truthfully or did he lie to improve his chances of getting into the seminary? What  really was the reason he wanted to be priest?

Whatever the answer to that question might be, he decided to live up to what he had told the priest during the interview. And all through the years in the seminary in Seoul he would use his free time to volunteer twice a week to work with the handicapped. He was a member of a seminary group that studied how to best help the handicapped. He learned the sign language for the deaf, and studied the development of children with mental problems. While many of his classmates would go to the movies or have a beer with friends on their free afternoons, he would be part of the volunteer group that spent their free time helping the handicapped.

Statistics show that by the end of 2009 Korea had  2,429,547 handicapped, an increase from the year 2000 of more than 153 percent. The physically disabled number 1,293,331; the mentally handicapped, 251,818; the  deaf, 245,801; and the  blind, 241,237. The total number of handicapped represent about 5 percent of the population; considering that we have an average family of 4 that means about 20 percent of the population are involved with the handicapped.

The professor, who now teaches the Social Gospel, ends his article by noting what the Church has to say about our relationship with the handicapped in society. All of us are in some way handicapped,  which should enable us to be empathetic to others. To love and be loved is the essence of the Social Gospel. There is no room for discriminating against anyone; those handicapped are to be treated like any other human being.  The professor admits he has more sympathy now for the handicapped, and can appreciate their  difficulties because of what he experienced.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"I Want to Live Like a Tree"

The oldest tree in Korea is a Chinese Jupiter that some scholars think could be 6,000 years old. The oldest tree in the world is a spruce in Sweden.  This is the way a priest writing for priests begins his reflections on a book recommended by Cardinal Kim: "I Want to Live Like a Tree."

The priest tells us that the author of the book, a problem child, failed in whatever he set out to do, blaming himself for his lack of talent. At the age of thirty he considered himself a failure and even considered taking his own life. It was at that time, while he was in the mountains and standing at the edge of a cliff, his life having lost all meaning, that a tree entered his world. It seemed to be saying to him, "I am living; why are you thinking of giving up your life?"

Once a tree puts down its roots its fate is to remain in that place, the author explained. It  has no complaints and  does not surrender to something else, but gives its all, and just in the place where it is. During the harsh winter cold, with its gaunt naked body, it stands stately in  detachment. The author of the "I Want to Live Like a Tree" became a tree doctor and  confesses that trees showed him the  value of life.

Reading the book the priest  learned to apply the same wisdom to his own life and to see that all of  creation follows the same destiny as a tree.  Even in poor soil, the roots of a tree move downward into the earth to find the strength to grow. We are not much different, says the priest. Existence may sometimes not seem attractive but that is where we sometimes find ourselves. When that happens, he says we have to accept our cross and carry it, like all of nature. We may not like it but that is our destiny.
However, what is important is that I take my cross but not  go my way. I take my difficulties and hardships and 'follow Jesus'. When we take our crosses as our destiny and gaze on Jesus, we find that makes all the difference:  in Jesus we find meaning and the beginning of a new life.

The trees in the Fall lose their leaves, preparing for the winter and a new beginning in the coming Spring. Some trees take a rest for a full year to regain energy for the following year, in order to gain nutriments for the future. And sometimes, though the tree trunk may suffer damage, the leaves, seeming not to care, continue to thrive.

Like a tree we began life without anything  and will leave without anything; and yet, when we have something in hand and  not wanting to let it go, we can miss the chance to be born again, as a tree does every Spring.

Did the tree doctor ever read,  the poem by Joyce Kilmer? He  would  have had  similar feelings wouldn't he?
               I  think  that I shall never see
               A poem lovely as a tree.
      A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
      Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
      A tree that looks at God all day,
      And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
      A tree that may in Summer wear
      A nest of robins in her hair;
      Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
      Who intimately lives with rain.
      Poems are made by fools like me,
      But only God can make a tree.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Working for a Daily Wage

In the bulletin for priests, we're told about a parish that gives over 10 percent of its income for welfare projects, and sets aside money in its budget to aid the poorer countries of the world. However, the treatment of the workers in its own parish is poor. Their hours are long, there are no benefits for overtime, and some of the workers are getting the lowest wages on the pay scale. And there are no procedures in place for recourse. We see this in a number of parishes.

Of the 33 countries of the Organization for Economic  Co-operation and Development, the writer mentions that Korea is the country with the  longest workweek.  To improve the quality of life of the workers and increase productivity, the Labor Ministry recently decided to decrease the number of hours. From July  of this year, those who are employing more than five workers will have to decrease the hours of the workweek from 44 hours to 40 hours, for an eight hour day and a five day workweek. At present, those who are making the minimum wage would be making under $1,000 a month.

The cleaning people in a number of our colleges have been striking for an increase in pay. They are receiving the minimum wage and asking for half of what the average ordinary laborer would be getting, but it was refused. 70 percent of the students signed a petition in favor of the laborers. Some of the colleges, along with the service providers, have asked that the workers  leave the labor union. If  they don't agree to the current minimum wage they will all be fired, despite the millions, the writer says, that colleges have in endowments. He mentions that this happened in the States a few years ago and the students all sided with the laborers, and the wages were increased.

The laborers in the court offices did go on strike for an increase in pay from the minimum wage they were receiving. It was ironic, the writer laments, that from the  stronghold  for human rights, there was a cry for help to live more humanly. 

It is shameful that this is happening  in our colleges and other institutions of learning and in our courthouses.  However, our Church should also be embarrassed about a similar situation in our parishes. The law will not affect the parishes, for those employed there are less than 5, but the workers' rights to a living wage should be respected, nonetheless. The one who started us on our journey of faith, we should not forget, was a laborer. And mindful of this, we should be even more sensitive to the needs of workers who are alienated from society. The Church has spoken clearly and forcefully with its many encyclicals and documents on what our relationships with workers should be. In reality, he concludes that we are in many cases not living up to this standard, and in some cases oppressing the workers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hope and Joy are also Contagious

In recent articles on the escalating numbers of suicides in Korean colleges, much is made of the stress experienced by students in striving to succeed. To lessen some of this stress, programs were started to change the atmosphere on college campuses.

A  professor in the psychiatric department of the Catholic University Medical School gave a talk on "Management of Stress and Happiness", as a beginning effort to change the thinking among  students. The journalist who interviewed the  professor introduces us to some of his ideas, which were written up in the Catholic Weekly.

The problem, the professor explains, exists not only among students who kill themselves but throughout society. What happens on a college campus is a microcosm of what is happening in society, and should be an alarm bell for all of us.

Lack of mental and emotional balance in society is the reason for the problem, according to the professor. For true happiness, he says, we need to experience  the harmonious blending of joy, enthusiasm and meaning in life. While students are enthusiastic about their studies, finding joy or meaning as they pursue their studies is difficult, which brings on the stress. Since we as a society place a great deal of emphasis on money, honors and success, we learn to work diligently to acquire these goals, often failing to find joy or meaning in their pursuit, with the result that cynicism follows. Not surprisingly  our students are emulating the same behaviors found in society. For a happy life, the professor advises that we start off with our strong points,  enjoy what we are doing, and find meaning.

 Suicide can also be brought on by our inability to bounce back from the difficulties of life, often from a lack of a positive and optimistic attitude. Optimists use the present to their advantage but when it doesn't go the way they want, they are open to trying something else. Before blaming the social structures  and those in leadership positions, the professor recommends that students find meaning for their life,  enjoy what they are doing, and be positive in their attitude.

The professor says that if there is just one person who listens to those who are troubled and provides understanding support, they are not likely to take the radical step of suicide. To make this approach more generally available,  he wants society to set up support networks on college campuses to change the atmosphere there and then spread this same network throughout society.

He concludes that it is difficult to  change the country but to change 10,000 structures is easy.  If we are able to change the thinking of our future leaders who are now studying in our colleges then society will change. Pessimism, unfortunately, can be contagious. But so is hope, and so is joy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taking the Option for the Poor Seriously

Kangwha Island is the 5th largest island in Korea with a long history in defending its freedom. The island borders North Korea, and over the years has suffered much at the hands of outside forces. Today the island is connected to the mainland by two bridges.

The article in the Kyeongyang Magazine tells us of the service to the poor provided by the Kangwha parish, with its mobile laundry truck, a program started in 2005. The parish has from the beginning been very active with its concern for the poor. They had a hospital in the parish in the early years before the country could supply the medical care it does today. They started a credit union and distributed animals to farmers at half price, they are one  of the first Catholic communities to work for the betterment of the life of the workers and the  protection of their rights. During the difficult days of help from the International  Monetary Fund, they helped unemployed families, they have a center for foreign born brides married to Koreans, and a program where those living alone are helped. On  their 50th anniversary, they started a program to help North Korean children.  

The parish drew up the  plans for a 1.4 ton truck to clean clothes and large bed coverlets. The cleaning apparatus can take 30 kilograms of clothes at one time. It takes about 40 minutes for one cleaning. The plans for the cleaning  and drier were drawn up and put together by the parish. The money was raised with the help of many and is operated on a budget of about 16 thousand dollars a year, half raised by the parish and half by the Gun Office.

The laundry truck routine begins by opening the doors of the truck to expose the washing and drying machines. They then find an electrical outlet and get the water and lay the mat down. Each one of the volunteers does their assigned task. And at the end of the cleaning procedure, soft and fluffy coverlets are returned to the grandmothers. The washing and drying  of these winter coverlets is a difficult job, and the grandmothers are very thankful for the service.

The team works at times from early in the morning to evening, depending on how much there is to wash. During the summer months the machines get overheated and break down often. Because of the water pressure and electrical problems, the machines have given them trouble. At times they would like to keep the truck at the parish and have the people come to them, but they continue fixing the machines and going out to  the different areas of Kangwha.

This type of service is welcomed by those living alone, the handicapped, grandparents living with grandchildren, and by parents who both have to work. The Church has made clear its option for the poor, and this team has decided to be part of that outreach. And have done so wonderfully.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spirituality that Brings Joy, Enthusiasm and Meaning to Life

The Catholic Times  has an article about three priests of the Seoul Diocese who decided to begin an academy for spirituality in 2009, called Wellspring. The number of Catholics in the country now exceed 5 million and yet there's much talk of a lack of spiritual and inner maturity. There is a desire on the part of many to go deeper in their faith life but the Church has not been able to satisfy this thirst. The Academy intends to address this need by exploring the spiritual treasures of our tradition and  helping  the Catholics  incorporate them in their daily life. For those who desire to fill this lack in their spiritual life, the program will be an oasis to invigorate  the beginning of a new life.

The academy is not an effort to give a theory of spirituality but to connect spirituality to daily life, to see life and the world through the eyes of the Church, and to live in the manner Christ has taught us, enlightened by his word, examining and discerning what to do day by day.

The programs have  been favorably received; over 450 have taken the courses. The program is in two sections: basic and advanced. The basic course is divided into three sections: Meeting the real me, Meeting the real us, and Meeting God. This will lead into the advanced program. They will also have internet programs and home programs in the future.

The leaders of this spiritual academy know that there are many retreats and programs in Korea addressing these same goals. They are popular programs but the priests feel  they are not connecting our Catholics more closely with faith-inspired daily living, which is the ultimate goal of the academy programs, penetrating and shaping the lives of the Christians.

Effort will be made to imitate Christ in the world of consumerism and competition we live in, building confidence to face the challenges of daily life. Those in their 40s and 50s have been so busy with work and their families that they have not had time to be concerned with their inner life. They will be asked to find themselves, putting happiness and courage into their lives. This second journey in life will demand a  breakthrough that opens them to a new way of living in their spiritual and mental lives.

We do not need more talks on how to live the virtues but to be one with Jesus. The Catholics are proud of bringing the faith into the country without the help of the foreign missioners. We need a little more of this passion of our ancestors in seeking to deepen the faith that we have received.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Driven to Kill Oneself"

The guest column in the Catholic Times revisits the problem of suicides in one of our elite schools of learning, causing many to question whether the teaching atmosphere at the school inadvertently leads students to take their own life.

The writer mentions several possibilities that have been suggested by many: the teaching methods, the stress on getting good grades, the way of determining tuition, the teaching in English. How are we as Catholics to see the situation? What should be our response?

For us, it is self-evident that life is precious and should be seen as such. The Church has always looked upon taking  one's life as immoral. God has given us the gift of life, and we should not  violate what we have been given. Life and death are under God's control. Suicide is going against the instinct we have to preserve our life, and also against the love we should have for ourselves.

There is also something else we have to consider. We can readily understand that suicide is an individual act, an act  that results from personal dispositions and reasons, but it's also influenced by the society we live in. A document from a  meeting last year in Japan on suicide concluded that using the word 'suicide' to describe the killing leaves the impression that those who kill themselves are to be blamed. The document suggested replacing the word with the phrase 'those who are driven to kill themselves'. The word used in Korean also should have less of a feeling of finding fault.

Many who have made a study of this subject agree that it is  primarily a feeling of helplessness that takes over, which often happens when we are not able to compete successfully with others. Communicating with others then becomes difficult and the person with the helpless feeling is left to deal with the feeling alone. They are not desiring to die, says the writer; within the distorted thoughts of death is still a desire to live--if only....

The competition that is especially hurtful is the kind that encourages us to win at any cost, the kind that turns others into tools to be used for our success. In contrast to the often ruthless competition of the marketplace is the competition in good faith, which helps personal development and brings about progress.

The proposed reasons why the students and the teacher took their lives should cause us to reflect on the kind of society we are building. Changing our thinking from "making it alone" to relating more with others should guide our actions. We need each other to become what God intended. The law of the jungle, where the weak are exploited by the strong, should have no place in our society.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Catholicism and Equality of Women

The Catholic " Now Here News Site" gave an account of a lecture in Taegu on the influence of the Catholic Church on the lives of women. It's a series of talks by professor Kim Theresa: "Women  Encountering  the Catholic Church: The reason for the enthusiasm  of the women of the  Joseon Dynasty."

Why were the women of the Joseon Dynasty enthusiastic about the Catholic Church? The professor starts by telling us the  advice given to  women going to live with their husband's family: to act as if deaf, dumb  and blind for three years. They were not able to live an independent life and be respected as an individual in that society. Coming in contact with the Catholic Church was truly spreading the Gospel--the good news.

Progress was being made in every area of life when the Church entered Korea, but even though the thinking remained the same, society received a new concept of equality. And, in addition to welcoming the material progress, there was the intellectual satisfaction experienced by those who accepted the Church.

During the liturgy, both men and women answered the prayers together. In the marriage preparations, both men and women were asked the same questions. However, more importantly, the Church did not allow concubinage, which shocked many. The culture had no difficulty with the practice, since widows were not allowed to marry, this fostered the practice.                            

This change in the thinking of women came at the close of the 19th  century, when the Catholic Church was gaining acceptance by large numbers of Koreans. The professor makes clear that not all recently baptized Catholics understood the faith as presented in the catechism of the Church. Even before the entrance of Western material civilization, there was the influence of modern thinking in society through the Church. Women were given responsibility in the Church and were asked to respond to this responsibility which was not readily accepted by Korean society.  

The professor mentions that all these reflections mean little to us today, but if you go back into history the acceptance of Catholicism  required a great deal of courage to overcome the cultural difficulties. The efforts of women to enter the Church were more difficult than it was for the men, but the men also believed, evangelized and practiced their faith.  It's easy for us to consider this insignificant, not knowing the difficult times they lived in.

The article concludes with the professor expressing her hope that women turn their dream into reality by helping to free us from our conflicts and lack of communication, and, ultimately, to change  our society, so all can enjoy the benefits of the equality of the sexes and of all humankind. Also, to make clear that God is giving his grace to all, desiring that we spread this love to all--just as the women ancestors in the faith did so well.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Love Should be a Verb not a Noun

    A columnist in the Kyeongyang Catholic magazine writes on the importance of leisure in our lives, and urges us to find time for leisure and to enjoy it now. Written by a member of the Seoul Diocesan Office for Family Matters, he quotes Tolstoy: "The most precious time is now, the most important thing is what I am doing now, the most important person is the one I am talking to now.

    The columnist would like to change the words of the quote somewhat to: The most important time is the time with my spouse, the most important thing is working with my spouse, and the most important person in my life is my spouse.

    Most would agree with this assessment but finding time to put it into practice is a problem. From the time of Aristotle we have heard that to live most fully is to be fully at leisure.  We work to make time for leisure. The columnist points out that the origin of the English word 'school' comes from the Greek to the  Latin word 'schola,' meaning leisure. The word was used to describe the relationship of the teacher and student in the learning process, which was to be done in an atmosphere of leisure.

    He divides time into work time, family time, and leisure time. When they complement each other we have, he says, the best situation: harmonious relationships. Spending quality time with the family and spouse is necessary for a satisfactory family life. It is also a great help in living a healthy life, more so than exercise or going to a health club.

    The columnist feels that one of the first things to be done in order to spend more time with your spouse is to control the time watching TV.  We can cheaply watch drama, sports, entertainment, news, education, among other things, but  concludes that with TV the bad points exceed the good ones. We are ignorant of the negative points, he says, because we are not familiar with the long range  studies of  the effects of watching TV.

    Koreans spend, on average, slightly more than 3 hours watching TV. Which means that persons living, let's say, 80 years would spend 10 years watching TV. To increase the love in the family, he recommends not watching TV while eating, when in bed, and when talking to family members.  Love is not a noun, he says, but a verb--the doing of something. We do not need a ton of knowledge to know love and its effect on our lives, only a gram of action would be sufficient.

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Korean Foreign Brides

    Korea, in its text books for grammar school  children, describes the country as racially homogeneous.  This is disputed by many, even historically, but the emphasis on this homogeneity is done with eyes on the North and future unification. The immigrant's  transition to a new life in Korea is made difficult by  this  reference to  their Korean oneness.

    A religious sister in this month's Kyeongyang  Catholic magazine revisits the issue of  foreign brides in Korea.  These young women have come to Korea for marriage. This started back in 1970 with the importing of foreign labor. In 1990 the Unification Church, with its international marriage ceremonies ,turned the attention of the people to these marriages. Because of the unequal development of the farming and fishing parts of the country, importing of brides became a part of life. It started with the ethnic Koreans from China, and then the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Mongolians, among others. With the lucrative possibilities of this new trade, business enterprises got involved and this has increased the numbers and the problems.There are now over 130,000 foreign brides in Korea. 

    The sister mentions that even in the best of marriages there are difficulties of personality, environment, and thinking, which couples try hard to overcome. With international marriages they have to overcome also the problem of language and culture, made worse by the marriage brokers who  are interested only in being paid for their services.

    In their advertising, these marriage brokers emphasize the obedience and faithfulness of the foreign brides, and use fantasy to entice the Korean men with sexual and  racial stereotypes. The men, for the most part, feel that because they have paid money to buy these women, they have earned the right to consider them their possession. 

    There have been many sad stories of some of these marriages in our society. These women, unlike the men, have their backgrounds in another culture, and will be giving birth to second generation Koreans with a new way of being Korean. The ministry of health and welfare has reported that half of these couples live in poverty.

    At present, 2.5 percent of the population is from another culture.  Koreans  are not conscious of this reality because of the  racially homogeneous and "pure blood line" thinking handed down from the past. This is making these new immigrants the newly alienated in society.

    The sister ends the article by telling us that plant life needs only  0.2 percent of the sun's energy to live. Humans, she says, need just 0.2 percent of a dream to live. What is this dream?  She says it is hope. That is why these women came to Korea. The time that they will be living in Korea is longer than the life they lived in the country of birth. And the reason that we want them to realize their dream  is that they will be mothers in Korea.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    A New Beginning In the Taegu Diocese

    As we know, because of circumstances, environment, education and personality and many other factors, everyone tends to see the world differently. Members of the Catholic Church are no different. There is  always the dream that with our common Scriptures and Tradition we will have unity in essentials, freedom in accidentals, and charity in all things. But what is essential seems to elude us.

    For  many years, the issues of justice and peace have been put on the back burner by some; others want you to see little else. While the teachings of the Social Gospel are not in doubt--they are an integral part of the message we have been given--there have been disagreements over the place and importance of justice and peace issues in our teaching.

    To celebrate its 100 anniversary, the diocese of Taegu inaugurated a Justice and Peace Committee for the diocese All the other dioceses have in some form a Justice and Peace Committee. Taegu was the last to join, celebrating  with a Mass and  by reading a letter of congratulations from the head of the Bishops Justice and  Peace Committee. Below is a summary of the letter.

    Congratulations on the beginning of the Justice and Peace committee in Taegu, and thanking God.  He thanks the ordinary of the diocese and all those connected in some way to  the committee. The Church with the  Gospel message  and mission to spread this message does so in a variety of ways but the justice and peace committee is an official structure for working  in the light of the Gospel.  Taegu in many ways has  promoted the Social Gospel but now with the new structure they will be more active in this area.

    This new structure began under the prophetic leadership of  Pope Paul VI in 1967. It was during his visit to South America and seeing the poverty and injustices there that he  decided to begin  a Justice and Peace Committee  at the Vatican, and have it spread  throughout the Catholic World.

    The Catholic Church in Korea, under the leadership of the Pope, began in 1970  its own Justice and Peace Committee. Gradually this spread to the different dioceses and during the  totalitarian rule of the army  these committees worked for human rights and democracy. These committees also worked in  areas of labor, finance,  politics, community, environment, life issues and international issues. They also taught the Social Gospel and gave them a means to judge the morality of what they saw in society. In 2004 the Church published, in Korean,  its Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

    The bishop goes on to say in his letter that he  hopes that with this new start there will be more study of the Social Gospel and implementation of its teachings, helping our Christians not only to rest in their individual  piety but to  consider the common good, justice, and our solidarity in life as Christians.To be the salt and light of the world, he said, much is being asked of us.  And he again congratulates the diocese of Taegu, and prays that their efforts will be blessed by God.                                                                                         

    Living the Paschal Mystery in Our Daily LIfe

    A Catholic Times columnist recounts an incident that happened recently on a shopping trip to a market with his family. He told the children he would buy them the toys they wanted. But one of the children would not part with the toy when they arrived at the cashier counter to pay for them.

    The older girl had no problem in giving the cashier her toy so she could see the bar code, but the younger son would not part with his no matter how they tried to convince him. They finally had to lift him onto the counter where the cashier could take the reading.

    The child was afraid the toy would be taken away from him, prompting the father to reflect on his own problem in this area. To give up something we have now for something better is not always easy. Jesus, from the beginning of his life, gave up everything to become one with us. Kenosis is a word we often hear that expresses this emptiness. It is a prerequisite for us to be filled with God's gifts.

    The columnist tells us that the Greeks have three important elements that teach them about life. The first is the railroad station where they learn there is a last station. Secondly, the ocean reminds them that there is a world out there bigger than the one we know.  Thirdly, when they see flowing water it reminds them not to get attached to things of this world.

    He wants us to reflect on whether we are holding on to something too tightly. It could be my experience, my management of life, my knowledge, my record and results. We should practice, he says, putting them down. This should be our habitual practice to make a place for what God wants to give us.

    In this season of Easter, living the  Paschal Mystery again becomes the perspective with which all is seen.  We have the example of our Korean ancestors in the faith who did not fear death but hoped for a new beginning. This is the rhythm of the Christian life. The mystery of all mysteries: to die so we can live. No Easter without  Good Friday. We die daily, practicing for the last death that is the transition to a new life, getting  rid of something so we can grow to greater maturity. This is the life Jesus showed us, and we renew it in every Mass we attend. This is the way of metanoia, this is the way of freedom and joy.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Ecumenicism Doing Well In Korea

    Toward the end of May, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, visited Korea for meetings with Buddhist, Confucian and Protestant communities, and representatives of other religious groups. He was accompanied by Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, the secretary of the Pontifical Council. They were invited by the Episcopal Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue.

    Korea gets high marks in efforts to be ecumenical  and having  respect for the different religious groups within the country. A brief conversation with the Cardinal was written up in the Peace Weekly.The archbishop responsible for ecumenicism and inter-religious dialogue for the bishops of Korea  was with the Cardinal during the 5-day visit.

    The Cardinal noted that the world today is faced with  discord and factional strife among religions. There is no  reason, he said, to reject others because we are different. As a people, we have a great diversity in how we approach and see life, and religious people should acknowledge this difference and be able to work with it.

    "Religious people," the Cardinal said, "should open their hearts and go in search of the common good, and work for the happiness of humankind. Dialogue means discovering  our differences and our  common points and fine tuning the differences so that we can come to some sort of agreement. The aim of religious dialogue  is to find a common understanding that will help bring happiness to humankind."

    This dialogue is not only for religious leaders but for all religious people. All should be concerned with the problems we are facing and with our efforts to arrive at a common viewpoint which will help make a more just society. The Cardinal believes that the religions in Korea  already have a common understanding of family and the value of life.

    He was impressed with the open mindedness of the Korean people to other religions. At the same time he was happy to see the pride they had in their Catholicism and hopes they will want to spread it to other parts of Asia. He also hopes that we will be able to form our communities so they will be attractive to those who come in contact with them.

    The Church in Korea takes seriously this  dialogue among religions; the bishops realize this is an important issue in preparing for peace. A journalist who commented on the visit of the Cardinal said Koreans often say there is a similarity in feelings and an area of rapport between Buddhists and Catholics and with the Confucians; except for the ancestral tablets, the Church has no difficulty with the celebration of the rites. There is much in Korean Catholicism, he said, that should help bring us to a shared understanding among the different religions.

    Where Is True Happiness To Be Found?

    A professor at the Seoul University school of Education, who served in the past government as the minister of education, has some thoughts on happiness he wants to share. Writing in a Catholic magazine, he says that we all live with happiness and unhappiness, and the standard used to judge is different for each person. In most cases, the parents pass their standard of happiness on to the children. 

    Nowadays, parents think that children will be happy if they have nice clothes, do well in their studies, and have  exceptional capabilities. More troubling is that some parents want their children to play only with the rich and not associate with the poor, also suggesting they stay away from problem families. It is reported, he said, that some grammar school children use as their standard for making friends how fine an apartment and car other children have.  

    Material standards can only be temporary. Some parents see nothing wrong in cheating if you benefit from it. There  is a happiness that follows, but it is the selfish kind. If  by chance, after all the trouble in comparing yourself with others, you lose in the competition, you are left with frustration.

    The writer mentions that as a child he spent most of his time at the church. This is where he studied and played; it was the meeting place in town and the only place where you could have fun. They gathered in groups of two and threes to play, and now, looking back, he sees it as his first experience of happiness that gave meaning to his life.

    Happiness he tells us can be divided into three different categories. The first comes when when you have enough to eat, a place to sleep, and clothes to wear--satisfying  our natural instincts.  The second is the happiness that comes with the accumulation of money, honors, and success--the satisfaction of achieving material goals. The third is the happiness that comes when serving others--the satisfaction that brings joy and fulfillment in life. There are many who are examples of this way of life.

    The professor feels that  society has been overly taken up with the first two: the pleasure and satisfaction of achieving personal and material goals in life. These are all good, he admits. To eat tasty food, have an abundance of financial security, and achieve your personal goals of self-fulfillment do bring happiness. They may give temporary bodily pleasure and emotional delight, but  do not satisfy the search for meaning in life--the craving of the inner life. With temporary satisfaction. we are always tempted to look for different ways to be satisfied, leading us into a vicious circle of failed attempts. 

    When we are moved by an altruistic desire to help others, however, this is a value that does not disappear with time, as happens with most of our personal goals. The impressions of a mother raising her children , he reminds us, do not disappear with time but actually grow stronger. The professor ends his article by urging parents to teach their children where true happiness is to be found.


    Friday, May 6, 2011

    "My Withered Spirit was Fired Up"

    On May 1st I translated the first installment of an article in two parts and did not notice it was going to be continued. This continues the story of the priest who went to Lourdes on a pilgrimage.("Before Asking for a Miracle, First 'Believe'")

    That night the priest returned to the shrine where he spent a great deal of time in prayer and meditation, after which he returned to his lodging. Next morning he got up early, said Mass with the sisters, and after breakfast hobbled over to the shrine. Saying the rosary, he waited for the submerging ceremony.  

    After undressing and putting on a gown, he was led to the stone tub to be submerged. All he  could think of was how cold the  water was. That was his only thought.

    At the end of the ceremony he remembered he did not thank God for the expected cure. With all kinds of thoughts running through his head, he decided to leave everything in the hands of the Blessed Mother and returned to his lodging.

    After eating lunch at the convent and still hobbling, he was taken by the sisters to the railroad station in Lourdes. On the train, his knee hurt as before but his body and spirit were refreshed.

    When he arrived in Lourdes the desire for a miracle was urgent but after one night and two days in Lourdes, he felt like an innocent child, able to pray with a purity which gave him much joy. After a tiring two days, he easily fell asleep on the train, and was just 30 minutes from Paris when he awoke.  He stretched, picked up his luggage and, as he got ready to leave, was surprised to find that he could walk without a limp.

    "Why," he asked, "am I  no longer limping? My knee gave me a great deal of trouble and now the pain has disappeared" He did a little running in place and it hurt a little. When he arrived at the place of lodging, the knee no longer hurt. "Was that a miracle cure?" he wondered.

    The writer, after listening to the priest's  movie-like story, told him: "You  have been blessed with a miracle!" The priest answered: "In fact, more than the healing of my knee, I was able to pray with a pure heart. My withered spirit was fired up. That is the real miracle."