Monday, July 18, 2011

Hwang Kan Church Fire

The word 'Hwang Gan'  caught my attention when reading the Catholic Times' editorial recently. It's the name of a parish that was built by one of our Maryknollers some 54 years ago. The church was almost completely guttered by fire on the 4th of this month; it was a case of arson by a man who wanted to commit suicide, a reckless act that stunned everyone.  Failing to kill himself, he was arrested. Fortunately no one was hurt. The incident caused much wonderment among the Catholics who witnessed the meaningless destruction.

The editorial uses the occasion to remind us that there is much we can learn from this random act of  destruction. It brings to mind that the act of this man who  was fighting  his inner demons and attempting suicide was not an act of a  person on the Galapagos Islands unrelated to society and Church. Something similar happened in 1998 when the oldest western style church in Korea was set on fire by a man who had been drinking. The editorial wants us to give thought to those who are having difficulty with life and feel left out from what is going on in society. It is our job, the editorial says, to wipe their tears and give them strength.

The number of suicides in Korea are many and not all have anything to do with the economic situation or societal problems but are caused by personal problems that can't be overcome with the present state of mind of the victim. The ripple effect of suicide is  great and the family of the individual would suffer the most possibly because of the failure to read the signs.

There is a history to any act that only God knows. The Korean Catholic Church is trying to sensitize or better to conscientize (  to make someone or yourself aware of  important social issues)  the Catholics on the role of the Social Gospel  in society. This is readily seen by the number of articles that have appeared in the Catholic press. This year is the 120th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (Of New Things). It was an attempt to clarify the Church's social teachings as society was trying to cope with the newly emerging industrial economy.

Pope Benedict XVI puts service to the poor and love of neighbor at the same level of essential activity of the Church as the administration of the Sacraments and the proclamation of the Word. This is what the Catholic Church in Korea will be working to inculcate in its new evangelization of Christians. 

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