Thursday, June 30, 2011

Understanding Children Not Always Easy

In his pastoral diary,  appearing  in the Peace Weekly, a priest working with young people recounts a troubling experience that keeps repeating each Sunday at the 9 o'clock morning Mass for children. Just before the sermon, around 9:15, a number of stragglers would enter the church, a not uncommon occurrence in most parishes.
He  called these latecomers 15-minute friends. In the beginning, he just laughed and showed little concern. But as time passed, the numbers coming late increased. He did not know why this was happening but decided to find out. At first he thought that since Sunday was a day of rest the children had difficulty getting up in the morning. Surprisingly, this had nothing to do with it.

The children told him they intended to get to the Mass on time, but spending time waiting was just too tedious, the waiting seemed endless.

To get a better grasp of the problem, every Sunday he began examining what was happening in the congregation. The ones that came early would play with their cell phones, their heads down, or they would be reading the Church bulletin. The adults and others in the church would not be concerned with them, and he began to reflect on his own lack of concern on what might be going on in the minds of these children.

Boredom seemed to be at the root of the problem. So the priest decided to start a welcoming group made up  of high school students. They would come early to the morning Mass for children and spend time with them, making friends. In just a few months there was a noticeable change in the children. The high school students enjoyed what they were doing. And the boredom of the young children before Mass ended.

Children find  boredom difficult to accept. And yet finding ways to deal with the boredom is a great growth experience. Expecting  children to sit and visit with the Blessed Sacrament may be asking  too much; it's even difficult for an adult who does not have the proper motivation. However, the attempt to spend quiet time with Jesus in the tabernacle should not be seen as an impossibility. With time and proper instruction attitudes do  change. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Matt. 19:14).  .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Survival Motif of Society

Seven singers appear once a week on a popular TV program called "I am a singer," and each week one of them is disqualified. The studio audience of  five hundred votes and the singer with the lowest score is eliminated, replaced the following week by another singer. The columnist in the Catholic Times begins his article with the thought that this "I am a singer" syndrome has spread to all of society.

The columnist wants to know what has caused this frenzy. "Could it be the competition for survival, the survival motif, that is central to the program?" he wonders. The goal of the game is to stay in the game--staying 'alive'--as long as possible. He presumes that this similarity to the survival methods used to stay competitive in society is what gives the program its appeal.

That is the bitter side to the program's appeal. In our present society, the programs and projects that are getting so much public attention are often survival-related. It is seen not only in the world of singing competition, but in cooking, fashion, dieting and even in the  innocent world of games for the young. If the survival motif is not there, it is considered, cynically, as lagging behind the times.

We all from an early age learn to survive. Our friends, even brothers and sisters, become potential competitors. Our writer sees neo-liberalism as the culprit. Society is becoming more jungle-like, and our attempts at survival more cruel. Everybody wants to disassociate from this jungle but the situation is such that it is difficult. So they give themselves to their cravings and are controlled by them.

For those who are trying to live a life of faith, the influence from  society with the emphasis, "I have to live first" is not small.  In the parish and in parish groups  the  survival game is played; others are seen as competitors and pushed to the side. Because of this competitive mentality some are saying, even in the Church, we are not experiencing the fullness of humanity.

As Christians we know that the order and values of God's kingdom are different than those on earth.  Victors on the earth are not necessarily the ones that God sees as victorious. God, we are told, makes the first last and the last first.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We all make our 'Gunghap'

When people are considering marriage in Korea the word Gunghap is often heard. This is the matching of the four pillars (saju): time, day, month and year of birth, with the five elements (metal,water,fire,wood and earth). With this information the fortune teller forecasts the couple's marital harmony. Gunghap has a long history; it's used not only for marrying couples but for other relationships, including business purposes. When the  reading is not propitious then the Gunghap is not considered good.

A priest from the Suwon diocese, who heads the Family Pastoral Research Center, writes about the Gunghap in his column in the Korean Times. For a Catholic, putting one's trust in this method and in effect turning away from God, is to rely on superstition and give oneself over to idolatry. No matter what the reading of the Gunghap is, the couple themselves will determine their future.

In the reading of the Gunghap, the focus is on determining what qualities the partners have in common and the qualities that are antagonistic. The priest says that in his experience, he has found that it is precisely the non-common, 'antagonistic' aspects of personality that unite a couple, rather than separating them as the Gunghap believes. The effort to come to terms with these often friction-causing aspects of personality, the priest says, that helps foster understanding and concern for the other. Seeing their own failings and making an effort to understand the other, they become more like each other.

Dialogue is what is important and the time together to foster heart-to-heart conversation. It is not just enjoying each others company. It is getting to know the other deep down: what they like and dislike, what was difficult in their growing up years, what was their relationship with parents and siblings, what is their world view and values in life, what are their dispositions, personality and efforts to come to an objective  understanding of what they are facing in life.

Catholics in the past. he  explains, made much of having the same religious belief. But in Korea because we have few Catholics, the Church allows for a dispensation marriage although Church Law does not allow for the marrying of a non-Catholic. Among devout Catholics, in times past, a dispensation was never even considered; they would make efforts to have the partner baptized before the wedding. This has always been considered an important element in a happy marriage.

With the passage of time the partners in a happy marriage become more like each other. This is because the sacrifices and concern for the other has made the Gunghap  similar. They know each other, and with constant dialogue their thoughts and hearts tend to become one.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Importance of Interfaith Dialogue

Korea is seen by many to be a country where religions can exist in harmony.  Few countries have the variety of religions living side by side with so little friction: indigenous religions, religions from the outside, and a mixture of these. There is no religion that  can be considered representative of the country. And although it is easy to say that Koreans have a spiritual outlook on life, almost half of them do not consider themselves believers. Some would even say that Korea is one of the 10 most atheistic countries in the world.

Statistics mean little without interpretation, and yet there is something that is unique about the way Koreans see life and its meaning. Percentage-wise, Christianity has more followers in Korea, except for the Philippines and East Timor, than in other Asian countries. There is a feeling on the part of Koreans to live and let live; they do not like to confront others or inflict pain. Foreigners can see this as somewhat artificial: saying yes when they mean no. The Korean, however,  has little difficulty in understanding what is meant.

Shamanism, also a part of the religious background, influencing many other religions, including Christianity, helps to explain the Korean openness to other beliefs, even though most religions  have beliefs that can be considered exclusive or absolute or deeply embedded within a culture . The many years of Buddhist and Confucian ascendancy have greatly influenced the culture and the way Koreans see the world, sometimes for good and sometimes for the not so good. 

One of the big changes in our understanding of Catholicism since the II Vatican Council is the openness of  the Church to other religions and its desire to participate in interfaith dialogue and ecumenical contacts. The Church, realizing  that many of the conflicts in the world--in the past and in the present--have had a religious basis, wants to work for a world without conflict and oppression. The Church strongly supports religious freedom; though proposing  what she believes is true she does not desire others to believe against their will. The words we hear often today: "She proposes, not imposes."

An  example of the efforts of the Korean Church to foster understanding among religions is the 4th annual meeting of religions sponsored by the Korean bishops. On June 23 and 24, the bishops and the apostolic nuncio, with 19 deacons, will be spending time learning about other religions, as they visit with the Orthodox, Anglicans, Buddhists, and  Islamists.

The need for such exchanges is felt by many. Others are also doing what they can as individuals, as parishes, and as religious communities to  foster understanding and respect for the  beliefs of others. Seeing the need, the Korean bishops have increased the formal exchanges to twice a year. A sign to the whole Church of the importance of interfaith dialogue.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Chasing After the Rainbow--A Parable

Naming in order the  seven colors of the rainbow, our columnist in the Catholic Times recalls from his school days that if the light waves were either longer or shorter we would not see the beauty of the rainbow. Each color has its special  place in the rainbow but its relationship with the others is indistinct. How far do the colors extend is impossible to determine but they all make up the rainbow.

The writer  gives us this as a  parable  of our present 'reality' and  'ideal' relationship. The colors of the rainbow melt into each other and yet are separate.The writer wants us to see our present reality and ideal  relating in this way.

Reality and the ideal  are joined together as the colors of the rainbow, in a way that each has its own domain. As a writer he has to prepare his manuscripts if he is to make his living; take the children to school for their exam; these actions are part of the here and now.  In the mix are the thoughts that precede these  actions. Thoughts may be part of the near or distant future, but they are moving and giving direction to the  present reality.

When giving a brief talk at a celebration or a memorial when numbers or quantities are mentioned the audience does not seem to be paying attention, but they are all ears. If he mentions how much he makes  during a month, the audience begins comparing the figure to what they receive: "I am doing better than he is."Hearing a figure larger makes the listener want  to do something to change the reality. On the other hand, when you say something  that can't be refuted, concerning a  model for  good living that fits reality and hits home, everybody is apparently listening  but nobody is interested, and they forget quickly. A defense reaction takes over--people don't like to be taught.

When we very minutely look at some reality, one of its kind, according to the subjective mentality of the individual the boundaries of  what is being viewed seem to oscillate. When we go back into history this is even more evident.  Imagination comes into play and we often see a  mirage.

Present reality, actuality, present condition, real life are items  opposite to  desire, ideal,  dream, myth, and fiction. Concerning the boundary lines between them  he quotes a poet who  said that ' what is real begins to become myth and  lies become history.'

The writer asks the readers, whether the parable  of the rainbow as an explanation of reality and the ideal, succeeds. The parable of the rainbow is beautiful  beyond dispute. Living is difficult, cold, sad, living with pollution, contamination facing death, and yet we are taking one step at a time towards the  beauty that is beckoning us. The ideal directs reality, the ideal that is rooted in the present. He concludes with the words of another poet, Wordsworth in his  poem 'Rainbow':   'The child is the father of the man.'   

Translating this vague and philosophical article  was without  doubt done poorly, but since there were certain thoughts the writer expressed which were interesting and primed the mind, it appears above with apologies to the columnist.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Some Things are More Important than Life Itself

A professor at the Catholic University and a guest columnist in the Catholic Times comments on the remarks the President of Korea  delivered at a recent workshop for civil servants. The president vented his anger for the  corruption and self-interest of civil servants recently exposed in different parts of the country. Our citizens are perplexed and concerned, he said, over the revelations.  "What is happening to the country?" he asked. "It seems that the whole country is corrupt. Although much of this has been simmering for years, we are going to need a new way of measuring what makes a just society, and change our ways. We have to come to a new understanding of public service."

Similar words have echoed  from many other times and places in  history. In China, we have the words of scholars who stressed that public servants should be just and fair in all their dealings.  They should know clearly the difference between public and personal interests.  A Korean scholar from  the ancient kingdom of Koryo  said, "For public  servants there is nothing more important than to be just, and when dealing with money, nothing more  important than integrity."

The professor brings to our attention the  words of Dasan, Chong Yak-yong, who said that to be a good public servant, and leave much good behind, six things are necessary. 1) Under no circumstances accept a bribe--one has to be incorruptible. 2) When it comes to sex--be Incorruptible. 3) When relating to authority--be Incorruptible. And this incorruptibility will bring about 4) the birth of personal light and transparency. 5) Personal dignity. And 6) An upright character that will perform work with integrity.

Incorruptibility is the basic virtue of a public servant and the source from which all else follows. The professor then brings up St. Thomas More, who as a public servant rose to  become the king's chancellor. He refused to give his signature agreeing to the king's annulment and becoming the head of the Church in England. Before dying on the scaffold,  he told those who were present, " I am considered a good servant of the King; I want to die a good servant of God." His friend Erasmus said that England lost one of her greatest men.

A public servant should not have honors and wealth before his eyes but, like Thomas More, the public good. The civil servant is not working to attain his  own goals but is working for the citizens, for all. The life of Thomas More teaches all of us that there are certain things that are more important than life itself. (The Chinese Character on the left top has the meaning of justice)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Benedictine Monks

Recently a secular paper headlined an article about a Benedictine monastery: "Pray and Work, and Desire Like a Leaf Will Drop..."  The article started with the monastery's schedule: reading and meditation(04:30)-prayer(04:50)- meditation(05:30)-Mass (06:00)-meal (07:00)-prayer (8:00)-work (08:15)-prayer (11:45)-meal (12:00)- prayer (13:30)-work (13:45)- prayer (17:30)- meditation (18:00)-meal (18:30)-prayer (19:40...

The monastery, a red brick building,  is surrounded by high trees at the foot of a mountain where the monks take care of a pear orchard of 1200 trees. The  day begins at 4:30 in the morning and goes to 7:40 in the evening with prayer and work. The monks work in the orchard accompanied by the smell of the earth and the sweat from their work. By working, they realize their poverty and limits, and are disciplined in humility. Not hampered by possessions, they become disciplined in detachment.

The article introduces us to a book written by the head monk Fr. Francis Lee: There is no Other Road Besides Love. It recalls the joys and difficulties of 30 years in the monastery. He spent eight years as a  grammar school teacher and entered the monastery in 1982 at the age of 33. The book is based on his sermons for morning Mass during the last  22 years.  The book is his way of saying thanks for "the now, for here, and for his present work in life."

Monks do not grow old, he says, like the paulownia tree by the front  gate that receives its happiness from its surroundings but by a happiness that  flows from the existence of  life itself. He tells us about a German monk who, having gone through the Japanese occupation and a communist imprisonment, spent his last years taking care of those suffering from Hansen's disease.  In his sick bed, he was asked by a monk, "Father, heaven is such a great place, don't you want to get there as quickly as possible?" Laughing, he tells the monk, "You go." Another monk asked, "The saints all lived with a desire for heaven, don't you want to go?" Again laughing, he said, "Let us go together." Fr. Lee very quickly learned that the holier a person is the more human he becomes. 

There are many Catholics who go to monasteries for retreats, looking for silence and time to meditate away from their daily life. During face-to-face confession, many who have lived with frustration, trials, and mental pain--and finally ridding themselves of this unpleasantness with confession--have asked the confessor to hug them.

The Benedictines in Korea have six  monasteries with 140 monks. In  the world they have about 300 independent monasteries with about 8,000 monks. He concludes his remarks by telling us that when a tree is filled with leaves it is difficult to see the heavens during the daytime or the stars at night. Similarly, when we have desires, fantasies, and are overcome with emotions, we have difficulties seeing with the eyes of the soul. With the detachment and poverty of the winter trees, it is possible to see God and more of our true self. The more we empty ourselves the more God can fill us. This is the life of true happiness.                                                                                                                                                                          


Thursday, June 23, 2011

How Should We See Our Farms?

A guest columnist  in the Catholic Times mentions that in his years of attending Mass and hearing numerous sermons, only recently has he heard a pastor asking for volunteers to help the orchard farmers. Many of the farmers are getting older and leaving the farms, and few are taking their place. But perhaps the most important issue is the lack of concern for the  plight of the farmers by the rest of society. The pastor asking  the parishioners to volunteer their services moved the columnist to write about the problem, no doubt because he is  a professor of horticulture.

This farming problem is not a recent phenomenon but goes back many years, and is getting more serious with the passage of time. Today, one of three workers on the farms is over 65 years old. If this continues, he says, in 10 years it will be a mortal blow to farming. Getting the government to be concerned is important, but the writer feels that getting our citizens concerned about the problem is more important.

The columnist has lived outside the country for many years, associating with many who teach horticulture and meeting many farmers. They all found  satisfaction in what they were doing. He mentions the beautiful scenes we see on calendars, depicting idyllic farms at the base of the alps. These farmers have a great love for their mountains and streams and pride in what they are doing.

Farming is an industry whose core ethic, of course, is the sustenance of life. And yet the mass media whenever it speaks of the farming community almost invariably sees the negative aspects: the anxiety of the farmers facing foreign imports, the foot and mouth disease, the dismay of  livestock farmers, the sharp drop of farm prices, farmers  refusing  to harvest their cabbage crop, the polluting of our rivers, among many other troubling issues. Though this is not all that can be said about our farms, this negativity is what is  left with the public.

The government has made efforts to help Korea compete with the rest of the world because of the Uruguay Round Agreement. These efforts, he says, have failed despite the money that was invested. The Free Trade Agreement will also be a problem for the Korean farmers in not acknowledging the  decrease of the farming population and the aging of the farmers.

Japan passed through this predicament a few years ago. Looking at  satellite pictures of the Japanese farm lands, one can readily see the cultivated land overrun with bamboo and other trees. In its place big business has acquired land overseas that is 40 times what Korea has acquired and three times their own cultivated land. As a result, the Japanese increased the amount of food they could  produce. In Korea, we are only able to produce 25 percent of the grains needed.

God has given us our farming areas as our vegetable gardens, the professor says, and this should be uppermost in our thoughts. Measures to preserve and develop them, he counsels, should be our concern and duty.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Catholic Church of Korea is remembering the first seminarian and  second priest on the 150th anniversary  of his death. Fr. Thomas Choi died in 1861 from overwork and typhoid fever. The first  in any sequence is easily remembered; the second usually remains hidden in history but Choi Yang-eop (Thomas) was an extraordinary person and will be taking his rightful place beside Kim Taegon (Andrew)--the first Korean priest--as a model for the Korean Church. He is on the list of 125 sent to  Rome, and this time his mother's name was added.

His father was St. Choi Kyong-hwan (Francis), and his mother was Lee Seong-yea (Maria). The mother briefly put aside her faith because of the pressures of raising five children after she had her oldest son Thomas. The difficulty of combining these two interests was eventually overcome and she died a martyr. The thinking at that time was such  that even this brief lapse would not be understood by the Catholics, so her name did not appear with her husband's on the list sent to Rome.  Times have changed and she will be with her son, the only one on the list not a martyr.

The editorial in the Catholic Times reports the different events in some of the dioceses in remembrance of his death. He is called the "martyr of sweat." During his years of pastoral work the Church was still being persecuted, and he would be visiting  127 different areas where the Catholics were located to baptize, hear confessions and instruct. Since this was  during the years of persecution his encounters with death were not a few. 
He was a man with many talents, and although we speak a great deal about Kim Andrew, Choi Thomas was no less an influence on the early Church. He was ordained in 1849, worked  for only 12 years, and died at the age of 40, but he left us much by which he is remembered.

As the editorial said, Thomas worked hard to give the early Church an inner spiritual life, which was an important  part of the foundations of  early Catholicism. He was talented in music and spent time writing verses that the Christians would be singing to the tunes of the time. He also translated religious books written in Chinese characters into Korean script for his uneducated Christians. I can recall hearing in some of the mission stations the Catholics singing some of the teachings they had learned. It was a practice that served them well when they didn't have visits from the parish more than two times a year. At times they would sing spontaneously a song of praise for those who were serving them.

The 19 letters he left behind tell us a great deal about the early Church and is now part of our history. All the letters were written in Latin but so well done that even his teachers were surprised.

The two dioceses  involved in making the spirituality of Choi Thomas known to our Christians are Andong and  Cheongju. His life and work and the influence that Fr. Choi had on Korean Catholicism will soon be getting the publicity they deserve.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Don't We See the Preciousness of Life?

Many of our Catholic columnists are devoting more space in their columns  drawing attention to the need for more concern on quality of life issues. The Desk Columnist in the Catholic Times did so by recounting the story of a college professor who held up a 100 dollar cashier's check before his class and asked who wants this?  Everybody raised a hand. He took the check and crumbled it in his hands and asked again. There was no change. He then threw it on the floor, trampled it repeatedly, and asked again. And again there was the same response. He said it was obvious that nothing he did took away from the value of the check.  He told the class the  same holds true for ourselves. It doesn't make any difference what happens to us, the person I am never loses value no matter what the circumstances of life have done to us. We are all very precious and no matter what others may think, we should never lose heart.

The news has made it clear the number of suicides are way too many. And the happiness index is also one of the lowest of the developed countries. Religious communities, in an effort to deal with this problem, are trying their best to promote a more positive approach to life.

The columnist explains how the writer of Genesis describes the creation of humans. In the creation of the other parts of creation it was with a command, but with humans it was with great care: God took the clay in his hands and breathed life into us, and said it was very good.  We are God's masterpieces. We are all unique existences, small universes. The order of the universe  is also part of the makeup of our bodies and spirit. God's spirit is within us.
With this in mind the columnist asks how are we living? Those that see life as a miracle live differently than those who do not see life in this way. The way we think changes the way we live. Those who have a positive vision and those who have a negative vision are divided in the way they live.

Is there anything  more important than to see life as a miracle? The things that we possess can add to life, but they are not what life  is all about. There is nothing as important as life.

When I am tired and overcome with difficulties who will comfort me? You have God and  your family and friends. We are precious  and this earth is a good place to be. Our happiness depends on the way we accept life. When we see our value, have faith in God, and do what he wants we will have more light to give.

This approach is certainly warranted and hopefully will have some effect, but at the same time we see that society has become more complicated than in the past. After the Korean War, there was an apparent material equality among the citizens. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness does bring about material inequality, which can only be controlled with a different way of seeing life.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Closing the Mouth and Opening the Ears.

In the bulletin of a Pastoral Institute, a mother writes a meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  She remembers putting between the pages of a book a holy card with two rays of light coming from our Lord's heart one red and one white. In John's Gospel, she goes on to say, "One of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately blood and water flowed out."

She is the mother of two daughters, one  nine years old and the other is six, they still need her help but not like in the past when they trusted in her and she began the long process of trying to understand  them. They often rested on her bosom, falling asleep to the beating of her heart.  She got to know by their cries when they were hungry or needed a change of diapers. It took time, she says, for them to get to  know her and she them.

From the past she remembers the words of a person  who loved potted flowers. They die from either too much water or not enough, by not being concerned with them or by being too concerned with them. Getting to know what is needed, she says, is no easy task--as she  learned  raising two daughters.

To learn about Jesus she  studied  the Scriptures and joined different groups to learn how to pray. She heard that small community groups were important and even became a group leader. But doing so many things just out of habit and doing what others were doing, she wondered if it wasn't all a great deal of window dressing.

Recently she began the study of 'listening'.  Some may think it strange, she says, to have a need to learn how to listen. But she says she finally realized how deaf she had been, how often she had been interested in just talking; becoming aware of this was a painful realization. She has decided to use her daughters, and even Jesus, in order to practice the art of listening. In her visits to the Blessed Sacrament  all was done according to rote.She came to realize that she was not interested in listening as much as persisting in overly thinking her problems and solving them on her own, so much so she was not able to hear any other voice.

She goes back to the picture with the two rays coming from the heart of  Jesus. She knows they have many different meanings and that she doesn't have the necessary knowledge to give a good explanation of what she sees, but  deep down she  knows it is important to close the mouth and open the ears.                                                     
"One remains silent not knowing how to reply; another remains silent waiting for the right moment." (Sirach 20:6)                                     

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bishop William McNaughton's 50th Anniversary

The first two weeks of June were busy ones in the Inchon diocese with the 50th anniversary of the diocese on June 6th, and on June 11th, William McNaughton celebrated his 50th anniversary as a bishop. He was the second bishop in Korea to have reached this high point in life.

Both Catholic papers had an interview with the bishop. He returned to Korea to celebrate his 50th anniversary to the priesthood the year after retirement; this second visit came after 8 years away from Korea . He retired in 2002.

He mentioned that when he started back in 1961, the diocese had only 18 Maryknoll priests, and no Korean priests. Today the diocese has 277 priests. When  McNaughton became bishop, there were only 23,169 Catholics in the diocese; now  we have 405,000.

The bishop arrived in Korea in 1954 at the age of 28 and was made bishop at the  age of 35 after working in the Cheongju Diocese. When he was made bishop, he returned to the States because there was no money to have the ceremonies here. At his episcopal ordination, he received 10,000 dollars from the  Cardinal of his home diocese, 10,000 dollars from family and friends and 17,000 dollars from Rome. This money lasted, he said, for just one month. Though from the very beginning he was always in need of money, he said he never, even for a moment, worried about finances.

Before he retired he lived with Bishop Choi for a little over two years, which was a great help to him. Bishop Choi now has his own auxiliary  Jung Shin-chul to help share the burdens of the diocese.

The bishop felt that his yearly pastoral visits to the parishes were an important part of his work. He was outspoken on the  treatment that the laborers were getting  in the Dong IL Textile Company.  Oppression by the military government was the response,  but he was not intimidated. It was by  his efforts that we have Labor Day Sunday. The Church has to be on the side of the poor. It was, he says, the example  of the  Church from the beginning, and continues to be.

The bishop mentioned that the number of abortions not only in Korea but throughout the world bothers him greatly. This is an area where Christians should take the lead in the culture for life. He feels the Church should be a  leader in living a simple lifestyle to combat the materialism and consumerism of society. In his own life, he exemplified this style of living by doing without a car and riding the subway and buses. He also gained a reputation, as he says, of being a Scotsman.  His family is from Scotland, and they are known as being closefisted. "I was known," he said, "as being the stingy person from Inchon."

He was asked  by the interviewer what he thought to be the foremost virtue of those who are trying to give the message of Jesus to others. He thought it was holiness. Without that, he said, people will not be attracted by the message.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Korean Efforts to Change a Way of Thinking

The government statistics on the number of adoptions from 1958 show 240,000 adoptions. Of that number, 31 percent were in -country adoptions,
and the rest outside the country. The editorial in the Peace weekly expresses the sadness of much of the country on this imbalance and the efforts to change it.

At present only 25 percent of those who are waiting to be adopted have found parents. The other 75 percent are waiting in many different institutions. The Peace Weekly on its 23rd anniversary has made efforts to change the thinking on this issue by using its radio affiliate and TV station, as well as its newspaper. The "Be a Mother and Father" movement, and the discussions and forums to change the thinking of Catholics on how we handle adoptions are ongoing efforts.

The forums have stressed that it is only natural to have children adopted within the country by Koreans. In order to do this, changes have to be made in our laws, and how society views the current adoption structures.

The obstacles in the way of in-country adoptions are not a few. The importance of the patriarchal blood line has deep roots in society. The prejudice against babies born out of wedlock and the welfare system that does not help unwed mothers enough to keep their babies are factors, as is the very lucrative aspects of the out of country adoption process. The financial burden on the family that wants to adopt is also a stumbling block.

A happy change in the past few years is that the number of in-country adoptions exceeds the foreign adoptions. Government encouragement has been an important element in this change. The editorial states that without a change in thinking we will not be able to hope for bigger changes. We are told that by adopting, one receives much more than is given. But this will take much reflection to appreciate.

The same issue of the paper had a very uplifting story of a family that is doing something about the situation. They had one son and now have 8 children they have adopted; 4 of them are handicapped. When they have asked about adopting the disabled they are often looked at strangely, but they have succeeded in having all become family. They admit that it takes time to win the love of the children, but with time, dialogue and love the response in love does come.

It will be examples of this type that will break down much of the prejudice, and help to prepare the younger parents to open their homes to these children who need the love of parents to grow emotionally.The government, also realizing where the problem lies, will be taking steps to facilitate in-country adoptions. The reputation that Korea is an exporter of children is not something they want associated with Korea in the future.

Friday, June 17, 2011

To Live is to Change

A writer for the Catholic Times mentions in his column a talk he gave to a class some years ago. He was commenting on some word from a poem to bolster what he was saying on how to live a good life. He was enthused about what he was saying and so were the students, when he was abruptly asked a question by a student. "Professor, isn't that all a type of greed?" The atmosphere in the class room suddenly felt tense and awkward. Not being able to give an adequate response to the question, he remembers becoming flustered. This was an on-the-spot experience that changed many things in his life.

In fact, giving a proper response to the question was not that difficult, but his experience of being embarrassed by his inability at the time to answer the question adequately was, he said, for him a growth experience. The student, the columnist reminisces, was not using 'fair play' in the encounter but nonetheless there  was a change in him.

The columnist feels that to live life correctly the first important step is to read not only for pleasure but also to gain experience, using reading as a teacher, as an opportunity to meet a guide for life. When we encounter good books, we come in contact with sages and experts from the past, as well as the present. We often hear it said not to read merely good books but exceptional ones.

The writer believes it is not an exaggeration to say that a person's cultural refinement will determine the books that will be read. He makes a point of saying, based on his experience of reading, that the person who finishes reading a good book is not the same person who began reading the book. If  change has not  taken place, he says   the book was either not a good book or it was not understood correctly.

To live is to change. Our bodies and our minds are changing every minute of the day. The change should be for a better self while fleeing change that harms the self. The writer comes to the conclusion that what is said about  change that comes from reading can also be applied to all experiences--the book of life that is always open for all to read.  Every serious experience brings about a change in a person's life. He has ruminated on this for some time  and concludes that there is nothing so obvious and commonsensical as this statement.

He ends his column by telling us about Gandhi. While traveling first class on a train in South Africa, he was told that riding first class was not for the likes of him, and he was forced to leave the train at the next station, which was a shabby country train station where he spent the night, cold and huddled up on his seat to keep warm. It was a deeply felt experience that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Before that experience he was a wealthy but ordinary lawyer. After that experience he became the saintly hero of India.

Change--the change worth striving for--the writer says, should raise us up to a new level of understanding  and perception.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Young Catholics Straying from Religion

One of the problems the Church is facing in Korea is the declining attendance of young people at Sunday Mass. Reporting on a survey made in the Seoul diocese, the Peace Weekly headlined the article, "Only 7 high school students attend out of 100." And even after they enter college, the article added, numbers do not improve.

Improving this situation is a task the Church has decided to take on. The article mentioned that the average funding of parish Sunday school programs was only about 5 percent of the budget. This has not changed much over the years.

Efforts to improve the situation have taken many different routes; an interesting attempt was made by a parish in the Suwon diocese. They hired a full-time youth minister. This is a rather unique solution. no doubt because of the expense.

The parishes do have volunteers who take care of the teaching and the youth activities of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine but few parishes would have a full-time employed staff member. The pastor brought the problem to the attention of the parishioners by noting,  "There is a limit to what a priest with volunteers can do to activate the young people. We need someone with ability and zeal for the task."

That someone was the youth minister. He has majored in music and will be responsible not only for the music program but also for getting the youth back to the Church. When they have programs in the parish for the youth, he goes through the youth registers, makes a list of all the young people, and sends them an  invitation. A list of a thousand names does not deter him.

The youth minister wondered how any priest with the work they have to do can also find time to minister to the youth of the parish. On Sundays, when he often doesn't have time to eat he still finds the work very satisfying. The parish council head has said that a notable change has taken place in the care of the parish young people. The pastor now has a co-worker who is responsible for the pastoral care of the young. Depending on its success and how quickly the word spreads to other parishes and dioceses, we will no doubt hear more of this approach to the young people of the parish.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mother of Four Sons Who Became Priests

An editorial in the Peace Weekly celebrated the  faith life of a mother of four  priests, the first for Catholics.  On her 90th birthday, June 6th, a Mass was celebrated in the  Chunchun diocese with her four sons on the altar. Maria Lee has 7 sons and 1 daughter (also in the religious life) and has lived for the last 65 years in the same parish, where her four sons became priests.

She sat in the first row with a yellow traditional Korean dress that she had from the time of her 3rd son's ordination day. "I who have had nothing, God in his grace has given me everything. Up until now I have lived a very happy life."

She is descended from 8 generations of devout  Catholics, and although living a life of poverty  she lived her faith life devoutly. The influence of the mother on the vocations of her sons is acknowledge by all four. One of the sons remembers at the age of 3 or 4  saying the rosary with his mother before the statue of the Blessed Mother. Prayer was part of her life by which she was able to overcome the difficulties of life.

When it came to the faith life of her children she was unbending. If one of the sons missed Sunday Mass, without fail she would  take the rod in hand and  refuse to give them their meal.  "Those that don't appreciate food for the soul  don't have the right to eat their rice." With any free time she would be reading the lives of the saints and other spiritual books that she would use to instruct her children.

She is now living with her youngest son to whom she gave birth at the age of 47, and even at the age of 90 she continues to  prepare his meals. The youngest son heard that he was offered to the Blessed Mother at birth and took the road to the priesthood as something natural to him. The father died when he became a deacon. When the mother thought that  the sons had something bothering them she would write them a letter expressing her concern. The sixth son mentions that his mother has written him many letters telling him to pray and meditate. "No matter what is happening in your life make sure that you have a smile on your face when you are with the Christians," she entreated.

One does not become a priest by exerting pressure, and it is not rare to have children turn against their religious upbringing. So in this case there must have been something in the way she related with her children that  influenced her sons enough for them to choose the priesthood--they received the precious inheritance of their religious faith.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Surprising Catholic Statistic

A columnist in the Catholic Times headlines her article,Treasure House for Young People's Pastoral Care. The Catholic statistics for the year 2010 surprisingly show that the largest percentage of those baptized last year, according to age, were between 20-24--21 percent of the total number baptized. All the  other age groups had less than a 6 percent baptism rate.

This should come as a big surprise to those not  familiar with the Korean situation, especially when only about 7 percent of the young are attending Sunday Mass. In the year 2009 we had an even larger number baptized. What is the reason for such a large number of young people being baptized? 

The influence of the military in the evangelization of the young is an important factor. Nearly 86 percent of those baptized in the 20-24 age group are in the military; last year 25,234 were baptized, and 34,463 in 2009. During the same period last year the Seoul diocese baptized in this age group only 1,543. Since the year 2,000  each year there has been over 10,000  entering the Church from this age group. Although the statistics show a decrease in the overall number being baptized, the number of young people  entering the Church  is an encouraging sign.

Since we have a larger number of elderly in the Church, the absence of the young is quickly noticed.  One method of correcting the imbalance is to work more with the young. And since the military has been such a successful area in evangelization, more attention should also be placed there. After military service these young men will be returning to their hometowns and getting involved in the affairs of their communities. They can be a leaven for the future growth of the Church and its influence in society.
When these young people return to civilian life the diocese and parishes should make efforts to nurture the  faith life of these young men so they can more easily set down roots in their home parish. There has  been a history of losing many of these young men after they leave the military, civilian life often being less congenial than the camaraderie of military life. To meet this challenge requires concern on the part of the receiving community to make them feel welcomed and to help them continue to deepen their faith life.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Growing in the Spiritual Life

Catholic Weekly recently carried its 100th Q&A column on the spiritual life. The columnist used the occasion to give his views on the column to those who both praised and criticized his efforts. He and his column have become somewhat of a sensation over the last two  years and he feels it necessary to speak his mind.

Negative responses to the column, he admits, have troubled him. However, he has no intention in giving up, for he is convinced that what he is doing is needed. He feels that most instruction on spirituality is intended for the spiritually advanced  and not for those who need it the most, those without a healthy approach to the spiritual--the neophytes.

Jesus, he reminds us, treated those who followed him in different ways. He asked those closest to him what he did not ask of others. The Church also, he maintains, has to distinguish between the spiritually healthy and the spiritually sick.

He believes he is being misunderstood by some because his primary concern is not with the healthy members of the Church but with those who are spiritually sick. What he speaks about is not only what he has attained from books but from his life experiences.

From the time he was a child he read many lives of the saints, practiced many different exercises and even thought of becoming  a religious. He was always blaming himself for not being better than he was, hating himself while striving at the same time for the ideal self;  he was divided and  neurotic. But he never considered it an illness nor did anyone ever tell him it was a disorder. In his early forties he could no longer overlook what was bothering him and began the study of spiritual psychological counseling. He realized he was not seeing spiritual life correctly and had become addicted to blaming himself for not living a more spiritual life. He also did not realize that he was misunderstanding the teaching of Jesus and was using remedies that were having unhealthy side-effects.

Looking around he found others with the same problems he had, caught in the same traps, which prompted  him to take courses in  counseling. He soon learned, however, that lectures and counseling do not help remove problems whose roots are  buried deep within a person's psyche. This was the reason, he says, for starting his weekly column, hoping to help his readers, over an extended period of time, to a new understanding of spirituality.

He thanks all those who have shown trust in what he is trying to do--the Cardinal, the bishop, the publisher, and all his readers.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Talking About God

"Talking About God," a column in the Peace Weekly by one of our Korean bishops, begins with  a reflection on the creation of the world and its completion--this, he says, is the foundational declaration of a Christian. For a Catholic, God also makes known to us who we truly are and the reason for our happiness.The bishop, in his first article of the series, presents a number of thoughts that are worth pondering.

In today's world,  he says, it is becoming difficult to speak about God. In past ages God was center stage but with the entrance of science and technology, God was pushed off stage. Science, it is now believed, will bring us happiness.

With genetic engineering, the dream of a disease-free life ushers in the new God of science. A good example of the science/religious conflict can be seen, the bishops says, by noting the different responses of the first Russian cosmonaut who returned back to earth with the news that there was no God to be seen, and the American who returned from the moon and mentioned how  beautiful space was--and that he couldn't help but praise God for the beauty he saw.

The bishop, quoting from the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope, uses an anecdote from the Jewish tradition showing the difference between a believer and a non-believer. An atheist approached a Rabbi with his argument against God. The Rabbi tells the atheist there are many who would agree with his argument, and many others who would argue for the existence of God. There is little that he could add, said the rabbi. except to say:  "What if?" The Pope states that the believer and non-believer both live with temptation and belief. The atheist also has doubts about his position. Both, he says, are talking about the same reality with different subjective experiences of the reality. It is  seeing the water in a cup  according to the contours.

Truth is not changed by the seeing or the relative experience of the beholder. We don't make the truth by our machinations, as if only what we can verify is reality.

Another anecdote from the Pope's writing mentions the clown who during a circus performance tries to alert those in attendance when a fire breaks out, only to find out that it was not possible; the audience thought it was just part of the show and continued to laugh as they all became  engulfed by the fire.

The bishop believes the Christian's position is like that of the clown's. We have to get rid of the make up and the clothes and get in with the people. That was what Vatican II Council attempted  but few listened.

He ends the article with the story of a Russian woman who returned to her Orthodox faith during the Communist years, and after much difficulty took refuge in the West but  condemned it for forgetting God. She said the large billboard advertisements for perfumes showed the interest of the people and their silence about God and the things of God.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. The Feast that makes clear that God does not rest and is always leading us to a different level of understanding. We don't know how or when we are led but we pray that we will be open to his movements in our life.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

True Meaning of Life

The death and destruction of life entailed in our modern culture, along with the efforts to counter this by fostering a culture of life, brings to the fore the crisis we are facing today. It is being addressed in philosophical critiques from thoughtful observers from around the world. A professor in the philosophy department of the Catholic University adds his reflections on this issue in the culture of life column of the Catholic Weekly. 

Beginning in the 18th century, the pervasive moral standards of the modern world, he says, have been principles derived from the philosophy and culture of  the West. In contrast to this so-called modernity, these standards are being critiqued  by a philosophy and principles of culture that understand life differently, that respects life and wants to do something about changing the standards of most societies today.

He mentions the Gospel of Life encyclical, which makes very clear the principles that are involved. The professor feels that to bring about a culture of life it is necessary to acknowledge the acquisitiveness and excessive consumption that characterize our modern culture and determine to do something about it.

During most of the last 150 years, Korea had to contend with violence, exploitation, and  barbarity. From 1970 onward we have seen many  achievements in  our culture, and society  paid for with a great price. It is a fact that much has been accomplished and brought to the attention of a  portion  of the world.

However, Scripture makes clear that our first duty is to live fully the life given at creation, and to embody its meaning  and goal. The Old Testament is asking us to do away with immorality  and search for justice. The New Testament asks us to go beyond this to empty ourselves (kenosis) so we can love, living like we were made to live at creation. Modern culture is ignorant of what is meant to live humanly and what it means to live life fully. There are many today who feel that the reason for this is the search for excess, for more wanting in all areas of life. We have objectified what we are searching for, and measure our individual life by how much we have accumulated, and in the process losing the meaning of life itself.
When doing this, the dignity of life itself is weakened; the reality of life becomes merely what each one determines to be real, according to one's personal likes and dislikes. If we are to search for life in its fullness, we must cease making everything  an object. By making possessions and our accomplishments the goals of life, we are missing the true meaning of life and its transcendence.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Paris Foreign Mission Society's Example

"That the Church of  Korea developed with the help of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society is a joy. Along with this help, the zealousness of the Korean Church enabled them to quickly grow to maturity."

These are the words of Fr. George Colomb, Superior General of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society, quoted in an article in the Catholic Weekly. Referring to his visit to Korea for the 100th anniversary of the Taegu diocese, he said that Korean Catholicism impressed him for its youthfulness and vitality and the desire of many to live the Christ-like life.

He was presented with a plaque of thanksgiving to the Society for providing the foundation that allowed the Church here to prosper. The first bishops of Taegu were members of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, and still today in Taegu there is a strong bond with the French missioners. And this relationship continues with many of the Korean priests who are studying in Europe, staying  with the French missioners at their Society House. Recently, a priest from the Suwon Diocese, wanting to become an associate priest of the Society, is now in France to fulfill that intention.

The Society, established toward the end of the 17th century, was given instructions for its founding by Rome's Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.  It is not a religious order but a society of secular priests, which was the model for the founding, more than two centuries later, of the Maryknoll Society.

In 1831 there were only 30 Paris Foreign Missioners but when the Korean Church, needing priests, asked for help from Rome the French missioners were sent. In all, 170 French missioners were sent to Korea; 25 were martyred and 10 of them are listed    with the 103 Korean saints. The French missioners during the difficult years of persecution built seminaries and prepared the programs to educate the Korean clergy.

Fr. Colombo, seeing the trials of the Vietnam refugees because of their religion, was shocked and, putting aside his aspiration for a legal career, decided then to become a priest and entered the seminary. He was elected last year to be the superior of the Society. 

Maryknoll has  been indebted to the Paris Foreign Missioners for  help in starting the work in Korea. This year we celebrate the  100th anniversary of  founding;  a time  for looking back in gratefulness to the French missioners for their help in making this celebration possible.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fr. Edward Whelan-- Half Century of Mission

On the 28th of May one of our Maryknoll priests celebrated his 50th anniversary of priesthood in the Cheongju Diocese. He concelebrated Mass with the bishop, diocesan priests, and fellow Maryknollers.

Fr. Edward Whelan was ordained in 1961. He went  on for a doctorate in English and spent his first years in the States teaching Maryknoll  seminarians. When interviewed by the Peace Weekly, he mentioned that he had been deeply moved while in the seminary when hearing Monsignor George Carroll talk of his experiences in North Korea. As the vicar apostolic of Pyongyang before the Korea War, Monsignor Carroll, remembering the tragedy of the war, broke down during the talk; this poignant display of compassion still remains in Fr. Ed's memory. His desire to emulate Carrol's deeply felt experience in Korea bore fruit when the seminary was closed soon after for lack of vocations and he was allowed to go to Korea. After learning the language and serving as an assistant in Cheongju, he became the pastor of the Naisu parish. 

During his time in parish work, he realized the difficulty mentally handicapped children were having living normal lives and the trial it was for their parents. He decided to do something about it, making a study of the situation and what others were doing, even spending time in Canada with Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche Movement.

In 1982 he founded and was the director of Galilee House in Cheongju for the mentally disabled. Turning the work over to Korean Sisters, he moved on to China in 1992 to continue working for the mentally disabled, as well as teaching English in several colleges. 

He returned  to Korea in 2002 and worked with the  foreign workers residing in Korea, before retiring. However, he continued working in the field, and in 2008 started the Peace Hope Center for the mentally disabled where he now works as  director.

Looking back on his priestly life of fifty years, many may be tempted to say that the life of a missioner is difficult. But for Fr. Ed the joys of such a life were all the more gratifying. He thanks God for the many blessings received, and as long as he remains in good health, he says he hopes to continue living in Korea.

He is now back in the States where he will be celebrating the 50th anniversary with his classmates and with others ordained 25 and 40 years ago at the Center in Ossining, New York.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A New Beginning In the Taegu Diocese

As we know, because of circumstances, environment, education and personality and other factors,everyone tends to see the world differently. Members of the Catholic Church are no different. There is 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.                                                                                         

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chong Yak-yong

"Your good points can be listed on a few pages. If we listed your hidden faults it would require  too many books to count. You know the four books of ancient China and the works of Confucius, but can you be shamed by the virtuous deeds that  are contained therein?"

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times begins his column with this epitaph that Chong Yak-yong (his popular pen name was Dasan, 1762-1836) prepared for himself on returning to his hometown after 18 years of exile. His life as a scholar and writer was coming to an end  and he was preparing for death.

The columnist doesn't tell us much about Dasan since most Catholics would be familiar with him. He is one of the outstanding scholars in  Korean history and a leader in the "Practical Learning" school of philosophy. A man whose vast learning has helped Korea develop as it has. And a man who spread the Social Gospel in his books without knowing it.  Because of his Catholic faith he was ostracized by other scholars and almost killed a number of times. He did apostatize but  returned to the faith in his later years. His older brother is Saint Chong Yak-jong, and he was the brother-in-law of the first Korean Catholic  Yi Sung-hun and the uncle of Saint Chong Ha-sang Paul.

He was a great scholar but embarrassed at not living what he believed. He confessed on his 60th birthday that all his life was one of sin and regret. The columnist wonders, when we talk about Dasan, whether this admission of moral  weakness and regret for how he lived his life are the qualities that attract us?

His contemporaries  have given us little information but it is not difficult to surmise that he was a person with great introspection and repentance. He did  not hesitate to blame himself in order to prevent himself from repeating his faults and finding true repentance. A saint for him was not one who never did anything  wrong but a person who repented and reformed. The columnist brings to mind Peter, the head of the apostles, who teaches us a great deal with the humiliation that followed his betrayal.

All of us often do what is wrong, and  repentance should be the inevitable result. Without this repentance, a repentance like Peter's, our community will not have the sustenance to grow; we will be building on sand.

We often see this within and outside  the Church, when the only thing considered expedient to avoid the crisis one has to face is to resort to excuses and rampant regrets. Usually the higher the position and greater the reputation the less the embarrassment for the mistakes being made. However, Scripture tells us that without  sincere regret and sorrow for what was done, new life is not possible.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Survey of the Parish Council Leaders in Seoul Diocese

The role of lay people in the the Korean Catholic Church has been extremely important and is now acknowledged as constituting one of the  most active laity within the world wide Church.  This was the way an  article on a survey with the parish council presidents and vice presidents began its report. The Church of Korea took form without the help of the clergy and continues this responsibility by raising up lay people as leaders in the Church.

The survey was taken among the heads of the parish councils in the Seoul Diocese and the pastoral head of the diocese comments on its importance.

31.7 percent of the parish heads  consider the  approach to the tepid as the number one concern of the parish councils. Catholics come in one door and go out the back door was how the situation was described. This is like greeting foreign guests and is a serious problem that the Church faces.The second important issue was recovering a Catholic sense of identity (27.6 percent). 20.3 percent desired  unity among the different lay groups in the church.

To the questions about the relationship to the North, the work in society, and welfare work, there were few responses. For the parish heads the focus was less on the problems in society and more within the parishes.       

To the question on what they thought about the small Christian communities, 52.6 percent thought it was a good way for fellowship to grow. This was  more so for men than for women.

68 percent of the men attend the small group meetings; 26 percent  attend when something important comes up; and  6 percent rarely attend, though they attend  more so than the average Catholic but it is still less than ideal.

Those who have read the Old Testament completely was 2.4 percent; those who have read the New Testament, 10 percent; those who have not read anything, less than 1 percent.

27 percent are now reading the Catholic Catechism; 10 percent have read it completely; 62 percent have not read any of it.  59 percent  are slightly familiar with the documents from the Second Vatican Council; 32 percent  are not familiar with the  documents; those who are well acquainted was 7 percent.

74 percent of the parish councils leaders thought that devotion and  service was an important qualification for the work. Those who thought it was respect and support of the Catholics was 11 percent;  9.5 percent thought it was a strong spirituality; 2.4 percent thought that money and social standing was important.

Only 17 percent  of the parish councils had over half of their members as women. Over half of the parish councils had from 20 to 40 percent women. This is a area in which we should improve, said the pastoral head of the diocese.

The article ended with a wish that the parish council heads spend more time with the Scriptures and reading the Church Documents.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

45th World Communication Day

Today is the Feast of the Ascension and the 45th  celebration of World Communication Day, a special day for prayer for those who work in the media. It was established by Pope Paul VI, following the Second Vatican Council.

The Catholic Times devotes an  editorial to reflect on the digital age and the spread of the Gospel. Celebrating World Communication Day is the way the Church  shows us the importance of the mass media and makes us aware of its vast  possibilities for spreading the Gospel. The messages communicated by mass media--the obvious and not so obvious messages--influence all facets of our life. It is not only a tool in transmitting  information and news but also a prime mover of society. In the Pope's message for World Communication Day, he has asked us to consider a number of factors as we endeavor to become comfortable relating to the digital age.
"First of all, we must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its “popularity” or from the amount of attention it receives. We must make it known in its integrity, instead of seeking to make it acceptable or diluting it. It must become daily nourishment and not a fleeting attraction. The truth of the Gospel is not something to be consumed or used superficially; rather it is a gift that calls for a free response. Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives. Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith."

The Pope wants us to reflect on the benefits but also the dangers of the new media.  It has given us the possibility of overcoming the limitations of space and culture by meeting and communicating, often instantly, with others from all corners of the world, but there is also the danger of entering a non-real world and being absorbed by it and losing  contact with reality. In a word, virtual reality can not substitute for the world we are in and shouldn't.

The Catholic Church of Korea is taking a lead in using the new media, and reminding us to be honest, open to others, responsible and respectful in a Christ-like way when relating with  others in this virtual world, just as we would if we were communicating in real world circumstances. 

The editorial ends with a  plea that not only those working in the digital world but all those who use any of the new media should reflect on the way they should be used.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Korean-Japanese Dokdo Island Dispute

One of the troubling issues between Korea and Japan is the on-going dispute concerning ownership of the small islands of Dokdo. An impartial observer would see the islands as only a bunch of rocks. However, these rocks have been a contentious issue between the countries for years. Bishop Chang, the past  ordinary of the  Chunchon Diocese, was interviewed by the  Peace Weekly  for his opinion on how a solution to the conflict may be found.

Bishop Chang, who had studied in Europe and had been instrumental in setting up the Korean-Japanese Bishops Exchange Meeting that goes  back to 1996, compared the conflict to the problems experienced by the French and Germans after the Second World War. He believes that quarrelsome issue can bring some light to the Japanese and Korean conflict.

"We have the tendency of being too emotional," he said, "about the issue of Dokdo. When the problem surfaces, instead of a self-serving  attitude concerning the difference in the positions, we should search for a common understanding from our history." He went on to say that it's necessary to look for consensus the way Germany and France worked to settle their dispute. Even though having a long history of animosity, these two countries, as the leaders for a new Europe, were able to work together to come up with a textbook for use in the schools of both countries that focused on their common history.

Working together in editing a common history was a great achievement. From the end of the Second World War, there had been a continuing search for harmony between the two countries. The textbook was a truly surprising result of these efforts. It was no easy task and there remained many problems to be resolved but there was an improvement in the relationship. Might we we see this as a solution to the problems between Korea and Japan? the bishop asks.

The hostility between between Japan and Korea is not going to help either country as we move into the future. Korea is now in possession of the islands and should, Bishop Chang believes, work confidently toward the time when a consensus on the dispute can be reached, perhaps in the manner of the French and Germans after the War. Even, perhaps, coming up with a common history of the dispute.

During the recent tragedy from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Korea gave material aid to the country. So when the new Japanese middle-school textbook was published, having been approved by the government, citing that the Japanese were in possession of Dokto, there was a great uproar in Korea. The bishop did not think that the mercy shown by Korea should  in any way be tied up with the dispute over the Dokdo Islands. They are, he said, two different matters.

He also does not believe it will be helpful to push our right to the possession of Dokto by going ahead with efforts to put more facilities on the island, which would destroy its natural habitat and scenery.                                          

Friday, June 3, 2011

Meeting God with our Gestures

"Meeting God by our gestures" is the title of one of a series of lectures on religion and culture given at one of our Catholic shrines by a professor of Korean Religious History. The series appears in the Catholic Times.

He begins his lecture on the generally accepted rituals of a culture by dividing humanity into two groups: Those who are not keen on expressing what they have inside and those who feel that more is gained by outwardly expressing what is inside.

In our present society, ritual is not considered important. What we have inside us, whether expressed or not, is what is important. In the West there are many who do not believe we need the formal gestures of ritual to approach God, that the Mass is not necessary, that each of us can go to God with our personal prayers. This was the thinking of the Protestants in the 15th century: there was no need of a mediator; we can meet God directly. The communion service was merely a remembrance  of the Last Supper of Jesus.

We can express our  ideas with  words but gestures are not  easily  given meaning and life by words.  Consequently, the gestures accepted and used by different cultures are varied and unique. Is this not the reason, our lecturer asks, that past  generations have tried to keep this alive with books and teachings and other ways?

But these are not the only ways that a religion is maintained. To make a conviction our own requires actions that make it a part of us. We do this, for example, when intending to show respect by appropriate gestures, and by the way we cultivate ascetic practices. These gestures have to accompany us to  make our religion part of who we are.

In many cultures there are ways of showing a passage from one stage of  life to another, such as the child becoming an adult. One of the most dramatic of life passages is the separation of the dead from the living in our rites for the dead. According to a custom observed in some parts of the country, when mourners leave the room containing the coffin to go to the cemetery they put at the door vessels made of gourds or earthenware that are shattered by the bier as it is taken from the house--a fitting gesture showing the separation of the dead from the living.  Similar rites can be observed at many of the critical stages in life.

There are  many diverse ways that we make ourselves known by employing an appropriate gesture. It's a way of becoming joined with others and of being helped to overcome the different crises in life. The  ritual of gesture gives us information on the way to live. With these sacred movements we dream of becoming one with God, expressing  our  worship and taking ownership of who we are as a believer.
In the  logic of gestures we find how religion and culture  are intertwined. The lecturer feels that if we consider and live life as a drama, it will help us find peace. And if we at each stage of life were to live the  role we have been given as completely and faithfully as possible, we could then leave the rest up to God.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Living Simply, Freely, Leisurely with Nature and Dementia

A columnist in the Catholic Times tells us of a visit from a couple who were trying to understand the actions of the woman's father, who had become distrustful and fearful of those around him. He had always been a person in control of himself and alert in his younger years.
He told them it may be dementia and that the condition takes many forms. He suggested that they should go to a hospital for help. The woman had difficulty in accepting his recommendation, believing her father was too young to have dementia.
The columnist mentions that being in complete control of our actions and living a responsible life in our youth is no guarantee that we will not have trouble once we get older. There are many reasons for the problems of our bodies and minds.
When he was working in a mental hospital, he would often hear the family and friends of patients mentioning that  before the strange behavior appeared they were living a normal and productive life.  No one can predict, he says, who will have dementia when they reach their seventies; in his  experience persons who developed dementia, he agrees, most often lived a normal and productive life.
Dementia, often meaning a variety of mental conditions, can come to any of us. The columnist reminds us that there are many who live to a ripe old age and have no signs of dementia. Most of them, he says, lived unceremoniously, having a free and leisurely lifestyle, and not far removed from nature. But the key to keeping dementia away, he feels, is finding time for leisure and the absence of stress.

He hopes that the families with elders will make it easy for the older people  to live informally, with an easy life style and with leisure and close to nature. This will enable the older people to have a contemplative approach to life, and the break with their surroundings that dementia signifies will be checked  by those who are part of the older person's life.
It is not easy to talk in the vain in which our columnists writes for it seems to blame  the  person  for  what happens in the later  years. In many cases this has nothing to do with what is happening, and yet since the columnist is speaking from his experience, which may not be that of many others, it is refreshing  to hear what his experience has brought to his attention.