Friday, September 30, 2011

100th Anniversary of the Maryknoll Mission Society

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Maryknoll Mission Society. The Catholic Times interviewed  Fr. Edward M Dougherty, the superior general of the society, in presenting the first installment of Maryknoll's history of mission.

"Our  society began work in Korea in 1923, said Fr. Dougherty, and this year we are celebrating our 100th anniversary.  We have always been one with the Korea Church. We worked in the Pyongyang Diocese,  helped in the establishing  the Sisters of Perpetual Help,  were together with the Korean people fighting for  democracy and the rights of workers and  were with them in developing health education, welfare, and in working  for  peaceful unification. We have been working closely with them in many areas of development for the last 88 years."

He went on to say, "The Korean Church from its foundation has seen a rapid increase of the number of Catholics, and its participation in society is a sign of the zeal of Korean Catholics. It is easy to see the spirituality and sacrifice motivating their faith life."

He did mention one problem that he saw with the Korean Church. With its history of foreign missioners coming to Korea and helping the Church grow, and now with the maturity of the Korean Church  he wonders if the Korean Church is not  somewhat negligent in the work of mission to other countries.

The society  will also continue to  dialogue with religions in the countries in which Maryknoll  works.  This need for  dialogue between religions Maryknoll considers very important and will continue to draw up plans to implement this among the Maryknollers working in the different world cultures.                                                                                                                                                                                                          
Maryknoll  will continue to have events to commemorate the anniversary of the first Mission Society of the American Church. The superior general did say the small number of candidates  coming into  the society is a problem Maryknoll will have to face. With the changes in society there will have to be a change in the way Maryknoll  approaches prospects. We will be working  not only in the formation of new candidates, Fr, Dougherty said but also in improving the quality of those who are members of Maryknoll. He ends by thanking  the Korean Catholics for playing such an important role in Maryknoll history. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"In Reality the Wind Never Sleeps"

Wind as metaphor, reflected upon in an article on spirituality in the Korean Times, can help us, the writer says, in dealing with the 'tempests' in our lives. He was walking with a priest friend on the day that a typhoon hit Korea. Though they had advance notice of the storm, they decided to go for  a short climb at a nearby mountain when the wind started up.

"Gosh! the wind makes us humble," he remembers his friend saying. "It makes us  bow our heads." He also remembered that persons wearing hats kept their hands firmly on their hats, and walked with their backs to the wind.

Koreans often say, "In reality, the wind never sleeps," meaning there will always be something unexpected awaiting us in life. In the present and in the future, as in the past, these unexpected, wind-like moments will be there. At times it will be a typhoon wind that will shake us, its harsh wind bringing sadness into our life; and at times another wind will bring joy or anger, sorrow or pleasure.

Sometimes, there is no sign of a wind and life can seem peaceful or insipid. At other times when the unexpected comes, it allows us to ruminate about the meaning of life. And with bowed heads and humbled, we are given the opportunity for inner growth.

In John's Gospel, Jesus  tells Nicodemus, "The wind blows where it will."  Our spirit is moved by such winds, by the unexpected events that occur in every life, and that can be the motivating force moving us to greater self-growth.

Recently, the words of Simone Weil were remembered as particularly relevant to these reflections of the writer. Her words on the value of personally painful separations in life to be similar to the unexpected, wind-like events in life: "Two prisoners in adjoining cells communicate with each other by knocking on the cell wall between them. The wall, the thing that separates them, is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Teaching Frugality

Donations and frugality do not often go together. They did recently when a married couple donated over 30 million dollars to KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), the Korean MIT. Their lifestyle is an example of frugality that would be hard  to beat. The Chosun Daily carried the story of their donation on the front page, followed a few days later with an article describing their frugal lifestyle.

It was reported that they would take a toothpick and cut it with a razor blade horizontally and vertically to make 8 useful toothpicks. Some considered this an exaggeration but the journalist writing the articles asks, is it?

When eating out, they would bring home napkins to use again, and after washing their hands would use the same water to flush the toilet, or find other uses for the water. The husband does acknowledge that there will be those who think that what they are doing amounts to little but he believes that it is a good example for their children.

The Chosun Daily editorial said the gift of the couple is another sign  that  those with  money  are not holding on to it until their death in order to pass it on to their children,  but are returning it back to society which helped them make the money: a  good sign of a healthy capitalism.

As Catholics we have a tradition that sees the natural virtues as the virtues practiced "in medio stat virtus" (Latin for "virtue is in the middle"), midway between the extremes of too much and too little. In this case, the first thought would be that the frugality shown was too much, that time spent in making the toothpicks would have been better used for other purposes.

The happy mean is not easily achieved, and, possibly, the extreme does occasionally serve a purpose in a consumer society by allowing us to see frugality as a virtue that should guide more of our decisions in life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Place of Servant Leadership in Hospitals

A religious sister, president of the Catholic Nurses League, writing for the Catholic Times, asks how many people go through life without having spent time in a hospital? We are all pilgrims with wounds, she says. And workers in hospitals, especially, should consider themselves like the innkeeper of the gospel, who took in the one who was beaten and brought to the inn by the Samaritan.

 All persons working in hospitals have a sublime vocation, but managing hospitals in today's world according to ethical values is becoming more difficult. And the effort to have a more welcoming atmosphere in hospitals and to live up to the expectations of patients is an ongoing task.

The sister introduces us to James C. Hunter, who said," Whether an organization is doing well or not depends primarily on the persons in charge. Everything begins from above; there are no weak regiments, only weak leaders." Hunter also said that over  a third of the  most respected Fortune 100 companies are run with the servant leadership idea.

This concept is more popular in business situations, strange as it may sound, than in   religious contexts. Some meanings of the concept, found on the internet, refer to a leader who is primarily a servant, who listens to the people he's leading and contributes to their well-being. A servant leader is focused on how best to satisfy the needs of the people in his organization, and is constantly looking to solve problems and promote personal development, knowing that happy and motivated people are better able to reach their goals.
Medical treatment and management are one, says the sister. Medical facilities need to have a respect for life and a way of management that acknowledges this fact, which requires that leaders have a consciousness of a need to manage themselves. Without the correct atmosphere, there is a limit to  the development of the latent powers and creativity that exist within any group endeavor. When the  hospital personnel are  less than satisfied with the status quo,  this leads to  less than optimum medical services, and ultimately affecting how personnel relate to those visiting the patients in the hospital. 
Jesus has given us an example of servant leadership. "Let the greater among you be as the junior, the leader as the servant (Luke 22:26).  The sister stresses that this kind of leadership should be a part of the management of all hospitals.  We cannot  heal the wounds humans have, she says, with only technical means and specialized knowledge. Proper management of a hospital depends on a proper respect for life. It should be the guidepost for hospital personnel as they go about their daily tasks helping patients regain their health.

Monday, September 26, 2011

End of Capital Punishment in Korea?

The first day of this month marked a period of 5000 days during which there have not been any death row executions, though some who have received the death penalty still languish on death row. It was on Dec. 30, 1997, 5000 days ago, that 23 people on death row were executed. 

The Catholic Times revisits the issue of capital punishment in a recent editorial, and noted that on the 5000th day without execution, many who have advocated for the abolition of the death penalty gathered together to commemorate the day and to urge the National Assembly  to pass a law abolishing  capital punishment in Korea.
The editorial reminds us that the Catholic Church has been adamant in its emphasis on the sanctity of life, and a leader in the movement to do away with the death penalty. There is a quote from the Catholic Catechism: "Concern for eugenics or public health cannot justify any murder, even if commanded by public authority" (#2268). The late Cardinal Kim wrote in an article in the Catholic Times: "Many understand  that the death penalty is a  deterrent for crimes, but it is only a subjective opinion with no foundation in reality. There are other penalties that can serve the common good and protect human dignity."

Over the years there has been a great deal of controversy on the subject,and when we consider that it has been debated from all sides, the editorial believes it is time to come to a decision abolishing capital punishment. The facts indicate that it is not any help in preventing crime, and the desire for retribution--"an eye for an eye and a  tooth for a tooth"--no longer speaks to the people of the 21st century.

We should drop the belief that capital punishment is a deterrent for crime and look instead for the reasons for and  ways to prevent crime. Changing our ways of acting and thinking about this  controversial subject will require an on-going effort. Many persuasive reasons have been offered to do away with the death penalty, and if we  do not make the effort to accomplish this much -needed task, we will have shirked our duty as concerned citizens of our country and  responsible human beings. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The picture on the left, painted by a Korean religious artist, depicts the entrance of the first missionary priest into Korea from China, Fr. Chu Mun-mo. The gate separated  Korea from China and was the entry point to Korea for many of the early missioners.

In the liturgical calendar, September is the month of the martyrs, a time to reflect on their place in the history of the church.  The  Peace Weekly introduces us to Fr. Chu, a martyr, and the first priest to minister to a community of 4,000 that was evangelized without the help of foreign missioners.

Fr. Chu entered Korea in December of 1794, sent by the Portuguese Franciscan  bishop of Peking, Alexander de Gouvea to this community of Catholics. It was formed by reading books on Catholicism that were received from China. The members of the community decided among themselves to appoint priests to serve the community.  Lay  people said the Mass and dispensed the Sacraments until they realized this was not permitted. They then asked Bishop de Gouvea what to do.  News of the community in Korea gave him great joy, and he  promised to send them a priest. The first priest died before arriving in Korea, and it was Fr. Chu, who became the first pastor of this community of Catholics. At that time, there were only five foreign missioners in China, and the bishop thought  an Oriental would be faced with less difficulties.

In the beginning, few people, either in China or Korea, knew that a priest had arrived, and when they heard the news, it was like having an angel coming into their midst from heaven.  Fr. Chu soon began the study of Korean, baptized, and heard confessions. However, it was not long before the news of the presence of a foreigner reached the royal palace, and orders were sent to arrest him. Learning of this, the Christians made an effort to hide him, and when the police came one of the Christians attempted to deceive them by impersonating the priest, but it didn't work; three of the Christians were taken and executed. Because of the death of the three Catholics, the priest felt it was his fault  and limited his future appearances with the Catholics.

He appointed leaders for the different communities, and started the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.  He even selected women to fill the role of leaders, which was a change from the customary role of women in the Confucian society of that time.  A noble woman, Kang Wan-suk, who was well-educated and a leader in the early community, was baptized by Fr. Chu. She hid him in her house because homes of the nobility were not searched. But news of her status within the Church leaked out and she was imprisoned and tortured, but they couldn't make her divulge his whereabouts; she was finally executed.

Because of  the ferociousness of the persecution, Fr. Chu fled to an area close to China, and was planning to leave Korea, but when he heard that the Christians were suffering because of his presence, he decided to return to Seoul and give himself up to the authorities. He was  decapitated on April 19, 1801. His missionary life lasted only 6 years but the number of Christians had increased to 10,000 by the time of  his death. But there was now a structure in place that helped continue the work he started.

Thirty years passed before another Chinese priest came, and a few years later the priests of the Paris Foreign Mission Society entered the country. It was thanks to the wisdom of Fr. Chu that a structure was in place that continued the work of the original community. The history of this time is enveloped in a great deal of sadness, but also joy in having been able to nurture the seed of faith the community had received, even during the hundred years of  persecution.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Regulation of Births and Catholics

It's commonly understood that that the Catholic Church is against the regulation of births but that is not the case,  claims a a professor emeritus of the Catholic University, and in his column for the Peace Weekly he tells us why.

He quotes from the  beginning of the encyclical  Humanae Vitae: "If, therefore, there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling  birth in a way that does not in the least offend the moral principles which we have just explained" (#16).

The method the pope refers to, the professor says, is easily understood.  The man's sperm and the ovum of the woman have a life of  about three days for the sperm and one day for the egg. Care taken to determine the period of ovulation will mean about seven days of refraining from sex.

The professor explains that the period of ovulation can be determined by changes in the body and certain bodily conditions before and after ovulation. If one makes an effort to become  aware of this, it is not difficult to determine the fertile period. Most of the world is now familiar with the Billings Ovulation Method.

Ingrid Trobisch, in her book, the Joy of being a Woman, mentions that while doing missionary work in Africa she noticed that the women knew about the cervical  mucus  but didn't know what it meant and its  relationship to fertility.

The Church, says the professor, recommends the natural  method of regulation because it fosters love and trust between husband and wife, while admitting that not all will find it easy to follow. There  are times in the life of a couple where abstinence is necessary because of sickness of the  wife or the husband is away on business. But more important than these reasons for abstaining is coming to an agreement about whether to have or not have children.  If the reasons for abstinence are present, the Church recommends that natural means be used to regulate births.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Childless Marriages and the Future

Childless  marriages are now in vogue in Korea, a country with a great love for children. A novel written a few years ago tells the story of two young people wanting to be together but not wanting to be in a committed relationship. After dating for seven years they finally  decide to marry and then decide to divorce  seven months later. His dog, he said, was to take the place of children. An editorial writer in the Chosun Daily discusses the novel's plot and its implications for the future health of our society.

The court report of marriages last year shows that 46 percent of the 116,800 divorces had no children. This is the largest number of childless marriages ending in divorce recorded in Korea. The percentage of marriages with one or two children that ended in divorce was 25 percent; those who divorced with over three children was 4 percent. The biggest reason for divorce, according to the writer, was  the difference in temperament and money problems.

The ease of  childless couples divorcing is  part of the present reality. As divorces become more frequent so are remarriages. The number of remarriages in 1990 was 4.7 percent; in 2009 it increased to  12.8 percent. The number of divorced women who are marrying men with no previous marriage has increased three times from what it was 19 years ago. It shows this is no longer  a problem in society.

Of the total  number of households, 24.4 percent had no children, for the first time outnumbering households with four family members, 22.5 percent.

A recent survey of 500 workers to determine the state of happiness of married couples found that childless couples registered 74, on a scale of 100, which was 63.6 points higher than those with children. Those without children do not consider children necessary for happiness. And to accommodate the increasing number of childless couples, apartments  are being built with no rooms for children but with rooms to enjoy the companionship of friends and with places to party.

Although most young couples are living with some money problems, the offer of the government of subsidies for children is not attractive to them. If this trend of childless marriages continues, in the year 2050 the number of elderly in the country will be 62.9 percent of the total population. And those able to work will be few and the cost of welfare will increase. We will soon be asking, who will be around to feed the cow?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mission Is More than Doing

The Columban Foreign Mission Society is the only Catholic religious society in Korea, except for the  Protestants, that sends lay people overseas as missioners. The Columbans usually send unmarried lay people, but three years ago they accepted a married couple, Stephen and Veronica, who have just returned from their assignment in Chile. The "'Here and Now" Catholic news website profiles the couple.

Stephen had graduated from the Naval Academy, and after a brief stint in the navy worked for a year fixing electrical signs and CCTV cameras to gain experience of the life outside the navy.  He soon met his future wife; they were both members of a parish in Taegu where Stephen was very active. Veronica, also a faithful Catholic, said her faith was only of the head, her heart felt empty--until she met her future husband. Since they were of one mind, they were thinking of marriage but first checked the internet for opportunities to do mission work, and discovered  the Columban Father's website.They were told by the Columban Fathers that it would be better to marry first before signing up for mission work, which they did.
They began their formation as missioners by taking a course of instruction for nine months that was far from easy. They studied theology, received  pastoral experience with abused women, bereaved families and aids patients. They attended seminars and a clinical, pastoral education program which helped them to understand themselves better in order to be more effective in helping others. To allow for a more natural feedback experience, each of them took the programs separately. Veronica felt that even if she did not go to the missions, this period of instruction was extremely important for her personally.

Their mission assignment in Chile was not easy. Shortly after arriving, Veronica gave birth to a son. She went  through a period of culture shock. The relationships with the other lay missioners was at times awkward, feeling on the outside, but it was all a learning process. Their work was with the young people and although their language ability was poor, they realized that being a missioner is not only doing things but that their living as a family was a means of teaching. They also were being evangelized by what they were doing. The work of a missioner, they realized, is more living the Christlike life than preaching the good news.

They have returned to Taegu and are preparing for another 3-year period of mission work in Chile. They have no money set aside but have a great deal of trust in what Jesus said, "Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides" (Matthew 6:32).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Loss of Civility on the Interactive Internet

"Before you write a comment to one of the blogs or internet bulletin boards remember that you are a person of faith, make the sign of the cross, and then write your comment."This was the plea  of a  follower of the premier Catholic internet site of the Seoul archdiocese.

The Korean language portal site of the Seoul archdiocese, "GoodNews" (, with its interactive bulletin board is a cause of concern to many: it is still buffeted with the abusive language of the netizens. Because of the efforts that have been made since the site went online in 1998, there have been conspicuous changes for the better but personal attacks and ideological battles continue. Even those who go to the site frequently are surprised by the comments that are submitted, causing many to wonder how persons of faith could possibly write such words. The article in the Peace Weekly discusses the problem, which is common not only in Korea but  possibly wherever you have interactive dialogue on the internet.

Many write to say they came to the site to hear about Church reportage, but found, instead, participants hurling insults at each other. A typical comment:  "I was hoping to find a Gospel message or some spiritual help but found only inappropriate  content, which was disappointing."

The site has over 300,000 members, and about 100 join daily. According to the conditions of use, those who are responsible for the site have the right to erase objectionable material and refuse the use of the site to the offenders. But the site's reason for being is to encourage the netizens to speak out freely, which might explain why efforts to regulate from above are makeshift and rarely enforced. The article suggests that those using the site should do the regulating and see to it that the users follow rules of internet etiquette. The team leader said, "It is necessary to respect the freedom of those participating, but it is important to have more constructive  comments on the Church and faith life than abusive ideological battles." He added that the site is, after all, the face of the Catholic Church in Korea.

The sensitivity of  Koreans  not to inflict pain on another is evident in everything they do--until, when seriously provoked, someone loses his cool and explodes. But it is  doubtful that the feelings of discontent will have any  effect on the way future comments are made. There is, however, still hope expressed by some that in some future time we will learn to be more civil to others we disagree with.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Street Retreats for the Busy

Retreats are usually made away from the hustle and bustle of daily life in the quiet of a monastery or a retreat house. An article in the  Chosun Daily introduces us to a Jesuit priest who brings the retreat to people where they live and work.

It was an early Saturday morning and about 10 persons met in front of one of the universities in Seoul. The priest gives them a piece of paper nicely folded and a stone.  The paper recounts the incident in the Gospel of John about the woman caught in adultery who was dragged to our Lord. "'Shall we stone her?' the crowd asked him. Also written on the paper:  "In my hand I have a stone. I can use this stone to  throw it at someone. Or I can condemn myself and use the stone on myself. What would Jesus tell me to do with the stone?" The group takes the paper and stone and goes off for an hour to reflect and comes back with their heartfelt responses.

For his Street Retreats the priest  selects a topic each week, which he places on Twitter, Facebook and a Jesuit website, and asks that the retreatants take one hour to reflect on the topic and post their reflections on Twitter or on their own blogs. Once a month, offline, he will meet with a group in Seoul that will have an experience like what was presented at the beginning of this blog.  He even recommends that they take pictures during the Street Retreat. This is part of the Catholic tradition that encourages looking at a holy picture so we can enter  contemplative prayer more easily. The stone that was given was to help them use the senses to concentrate and enter more deeply into contemplative prayer.  When looking at the photographs at a later date, after having all the five senses involved, the thoughts one had during prayer may return to the person's attention for further and deeper reflection.

He has about 400 followers on Twitter and although in the beginning they were mostly Catholics, now any Christian can find these online retreats helpful in their prayer life. He was happy to hear that the Catholic Times will include his weekly meditation especially for those who do not use smart phones or the internet.

This is  a grace to have  time to spend in a Street Retreat. The article in the Chosun Daily ends with the words of the Jesuit: "The people I meet on the Street Retreat are not stopping their daily activity to remain in their internal world, but are developing their senses to see how God is working in and through the world. I want to help them experience this  presence of God as they go about their daily activities."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vocation of Teacher

The Korean Association of  Catholic Educators met recently to discuss ways of moving away from educating only for intellectual knowledge to a more all inclusive  approach. Education should include the spiritual and the other essential aspects of a fulfilling life.The educators agreed  that this would renew Catholic education.

Since the Catholic Church is very much involved in the education of the young, the educators were interested in preparing standards for the future. In the discussion, they considered the relative merits of IQ (Intelligent Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient), and SQ (Spiritual Quotient). As one of the participants said, the Catholic perspective is concerned with all three.

Another participant mentioned that the  leaders of the future will  be asked to develop a program that emphasizes a person's innate, intuitive and spiritual potential. If the Catholic  educational charter is followed, it  would do much to change the present method of teaching, said one participant. He recommends that an all-out effort be made to implement the charter in the classroom.

A middle-school teacher attending the symposium "Granum" (Latin for grain), summarized many of the ideas of the meeting in her blog, noting that she finally came to a better understanding of what it means to educate the whole person, and realizing that educating for creativity means more than imparting knowledge. The danger, she stresses, is believing that the goal of this educational approach is to make students more altruistic. Not so, she says; concern for the welfare of others is not the goal of educating the whole person but is an important consequence of the education.

Knowledge can be a dangerous thing or can be the salt and light of the world. Educating the whole person means that what is learned becomes part of our value system and leads us to  maturity.

Life, she reminds us, is a continual meeting: meeting with oneself, with others with nature, with events and with things. Inanimate things all  have a purpose, she says; they exist not for themselves but for others. Education and all learning in life begins with the person and extends outward in concern for all other persons, and ultimately, all that exists. 

She concludes with  the words of one participant who stressed that we should always keep in mind the words of the Our Father: "Thy will be done on earth...." Awareness of this transcendental purpose is necessary, she says,  for all who have the vocation of teacher.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Experiencing Prejudice for the First Time

Although most people know that being prejudiced is wrong, it is still very much in evidence in most of the world. Over the years I have heard stories of Koreans coming back from trips to the States who have expressed their hurt feelings because of the prejudice they experienced there.  Most of them would have known about the discrimination against the American blacks but were not expecting to experiencing it themselves.

In a sermon on the internet, a priest mentioned that before he went to the States to study he was intimidated by foreigners. After he began to study English and was able to interact with Americans, he came to see them in a different light because of their concern for the workers; it was a feeling he did not have.

However, living in the States he began to observe what seemed to be a sense of superiority and excl
usiveness from many of the Americans he encountered. He felt that they considered Koreans just another short-in-stature-non-white Oriental.  Not identifying himself as a priest, he was thought to be just another   foreign Chinese worker.
He experienced this on many occasions, and when he returned to Korea the feeling of admiration toward the white foreigners disappeared and a warm feeling toward the non-white foreign workers increased, as he felt himself  becoming angry at the treatment they were getting from their employers.

He believes the reason for his changed feelings may be because of the prejudice he felt was directed at him while he was in the States when he was thought to be a Chinese worker. He now feels that if a white man and a non-white foreign worker were in trouble, he would help the non-white worker first. He admits to having his own 'prejudice', the kind he believes we all have and should have for those we feel closest to.  This was the main point of his sermon.

Although we hear stories that young Asian students feel discriminated against when trying to get into the better colleges in the States, this may be more jealousy than racially motivated. They are better at their studies and spend more time in preparation, which  opens them up to be  criticized for their lack of social virtues.

Koreans also have their problems discriminating against others. Fortunately, there is probably nothing as helpful in changing  discriminatory attitudes than to be on the receiving end of discrimination oneself.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Status Quo Does Not Benefit All

When we are too concerned with the details to see the big picture, we may be told "You can't see the forest for the trees." This tunnel vision can mar the historical record when we select some incident and think we know what happened without understanding the background of the incident. the society, and the mind set of the people living in a different culture than our own.  Sister Im Keum-cha of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Community has written a historical novel, " Break," which intends to show that the entrance of Catholicism in Korea was not only a Catholic thing but affected all of society.

The novel centers around the years 1830-40, as seen through  the eyes of its two protagonists, who are not Catholic but are able to see the problems of the society from having traveled widely and benefited from the status quo. They realized that this stratified society of  privileged and disadvantaged citizens has to be be broken; this goal to break the status quo gave the novel its name.

Catholicism brought into Korea a belief system that spoke about the equality of all. This thinking was not absent in Korea but Catholicism was showing how this could be achieved by putting into practice its beliefs.  It was because Catholicism was breaking down the status quo that brought about the persecution.

Sister has a doctorate in oriental philosophy,  studied in Taiwan and has taught in universities here and in the States. Her intention in writing history packaged in a historical novel was to make available her more academic works in a genre that would be of interest to all. She did this by introducing to us two protagonists whose primary concerns where not for themselves but for all of society. They could  see the world as bigger than their own life situation.

Both Catholic papers reviewed the book, one review quoting the words of one of the protagonists, who at the end of the novel whispers to his son: "Those who adhere to only one way will not allow for  change. But when we don't have change only a few will live well and the rest will live with anguish and without meaning. Change means to look for a new way. That is the way you should go. It is the  way to find meaning in life." It is this message the sister wants to  leave with the reader. (The word used in the title of the novel is the word I  translated as change in the above paragraph.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Educating the Whole Person

Korean students do well in competition with students from other countries, and the percentage of high school students who go on for higher education are second to none. And the number who go on to  study overseas would also rank high. Embedded within the culture is the belief that success in life depends on education. This desire for knowledge is remarkable but there is a dark side.

Most parents realize that this desire  for the benefits of education may lead to separating the head and the heart. But the pressures of society are such that it's difficult for them to protest. School studies are often supplemented with private tutoring, which is a financial strain on the family, but when other students have these opportunities, parents find it difficult to do differently.

There are efforts being made, however, within the educational system to place less emphasis on academic brilliance and more emphasis on educating the whole person. And just recently a priest, recently installed as president of a Catholic school in Seoul, indirectly alluded to these problems in his inaugural speech. Although admitting to having little background in education, he said he will  be learning by teaching, and quoted a Latin phrase in support of this intention. He does have a great deal of experience in the field of human growth, having received a doctorate from the Gregorian in spirituality.

Here are some quotes from the inaugural address, showing the direction he will be taking:

"Since the students have not established their own values they look upon  their grades  as something absolute, so if they receive low grades they consider themselves failures." He wants to nurture students that have the soul space to grow in their lives: "Persons who have the values given by Christianity as their foundation can face failure when having the soul space that allows them to see more than the failure....I hope students will have the same concern for their dignity as persons as they do for their studies." He wants students to pose ultimately important questions and to search diligently for the answers. "Like Don Quixote, in the words of Cardinal Kim, push like a fool toward the windmills, where the head and the emotions are not in conflict."

There are many, like the president of the Catholic school, who see the problems but solving them in a society that views success in good grades and winning in competition  will be difficult. It is very satisfying for a nation to be  number one in its efforts to educate its citizens, but when the standards are not helpful in cultivating a spiritually healthy human being, then the nations must consider changing the standards that have been set. This thinking  will have to become part of our common educational  legacy if we don't want to see more dropouts from society.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wanting to Live a More Meaningful Life

There have always been persons who want to live the Christian life more fully by cultivating an interior life. Many join a religious order or society and some join  lay  communities of men and women, which are often ecumenical, sometimes have a religious orientation, and sometimes have no beliefs. But most persons who join these lay communities want to share their life and material goods with others. Though the communities may be composed of Catholics, families as well as individuals, they are not formally recognized by the Church. The one thing they have in common is their dissatisfaction with the ways of society.

We are introduced to such a  community, the Community on the Mountain, in the recent Kyeongyang magazine, by a priest who works on the pastoral committee of the Seoul diocese. He begins by telling us that  society is made up of  all kinds of innovative minds that continually  surprise us with their discoveries: today we have smart phones, robots, cosmetic surgery, even the possibility of changing men into women and women into men.  No one knows what surprises will come tomorrow.

The Community on the Mountain has over 30 members and is working on two  projects that the priest describes by posing two questions that the community is in the process of answering: "Can we, without working for money, discover the art of being  happy? And can we, without  competing with one another, find success?"  When the answers to these questions have been found and put into practice, he says the earth will shake, and the first signs of the change will likely be that we will lose interest in having the finest education possible, or getting the highest paying job possible.  He then relates a few of the things that  the group thinks important to reach their goal.

Children in the community are required to work, besides going to school. They have to feed the animals, clean the chicken coops, and help with the many tasks of the community. In the past, learning and labor were not separated like they are today, where children are not to work but  study. The writer feels that for a person's mature growth work is required.

In Japan, one of the communities that required the children to work was featured in a TV program that accused the community of abusing children. The journalists had no idea of the value of labor for helping to nurture creativity and spirituality. They saw working with the hands as something lowly and for those without education. Without work, the priest says,  knowledge does not have  soul.

Another point he makes is that the children eat only after the adults have eaten. This surprises visitors to the community, but the priest explains that in our society children often consider themselves as being the center of the family, which is not the way it should be.  If we are truly to respect our children and help raise them to be responsible adults, we have to show them they are part of the human family. If they do not learn that lesson they are easily spoiled and will be difficult to discipline.

He finishes the article by contrasting what parents would say to a child leaving for study abroad: "Let us  know immediately when you need money." And what a Christian would say: "You should be in search of God's justice and  practice justice yourself." Teaching  our children the art of true happiness is the first principle behind education for a person of faith, which means becoming the person God wants us to be, a  complete human being. As expressed in Luke 2:40, "The child grew in size and strength, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Hypothetical Korean WYD

The recent World Youth Day in Spain, attended by well over a million young people without serious problems, prompted a journalist for the Peace Weekly to imagine what  a WYD  would look like in Korea in 2020. He imagined a new pope who would be taking his first trip to Korea for the event. Although Brazil will host the next WYD in 2013, the journalist wanted to take a look at the difficulties of  hosting a WYD in Korea.

For the Church to host an event of this size without  government help would be, he believes, impossible. Finding appropriate meeting places and sleeping facilities, and making the necessary travel arrangements would be obstacles difficult to surmount. The Church did host, in 1984, the 200th  anniversary of the beginning of Catholicism in Korea, and the 44th Eucharistic Congress in 1989, but these events were, for the most part, internal to the country, and foreign visitors, even for the Eucharistic Congress, numbered only about 7000. With an expected 300,000 visitors coming to Korea for WYD for a stay of about a week, the journalist wonders how the citizens of Seoul would  react to the noise, the regulating of the transportation, and the disruption of city life--all to accommodate one religion.

In a country like Spain, where 90 percent of the population acknowledges Catholicism as their religion, this inconvenience was accepted, but what would be the reaction in Korea where Catholicism numbers just over 10 percent? If we did  have a WYD in Korea it would  be hosted in a country that would  have, in comparison with other host countries of the event, the fewest Catholics.

It would be necessary, the journalist says, to get the permission of the citizens to accept the inconveniences, and also of the  other religions.  In Madrid, even late at night, there would be young people singing and playing the guitar, and causing a commotion in the subways. In Korea recently, a young foreigner who was making a loud noise while on the subway was told to keep quiet, which started a fight. This small incident would very likely  be multiplied thousands of times during WYD because of the large number of young people.

Even if the week were arranged as well as could be expected, there would still be the difficulty of having enough varied  programs to keep everyone interested.  In Madrid there were over 300 different programs available. WYD would also be an opportunity of introducing the Korean Church to the rest of the world: a Church that began without foreign missioners, nurtured with the lives of the martyrs,  and developing into a dynamic Catholicism, in which we take much pride.

The majority of the attendees in Madrid came from Europe, and many others came from Central and South America, attracted by the short distances and fewer expenses.To attract the young people to come to Korea will be an even bigger task.

To come to Korea from the West would mean a plane ride of over 10 hours and an expense three or four times that of going to Madrid from the West. The first time they had the WYD in the Orient was in the Philippines. And most of those who attended were from the Philippines, which made the image of a worldwide youth event  questionable.  Total expenses for the Madrid WYD was 72 million, 63 percent from registrations, 33 percent from sponsors, and 4 percent from donations.

The journalist seems to be rather pessimistic on the ability of the Catholic Church to host such an event, believing that the conditions necessary for a successful WYD would be outside the control of the Church. Although the organizational ability of Koreans is exceptional, organizing a WYD would be the least of the worries. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Free Will And Dante's Divine Comedy

"Before me things created were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure. 
Abandon all hope, you who enter here."

The Desk Columnist of the Catholic Times begins his column with the words written above the gate to Hell in Dante Alighieri's  Divine Comedy. He read the poem when he was in middle school, and it left a lasting impression on him. He reflects on the poem in his column.

Dante, at the age of 35, in the evening of the day before Good Friday, was wandering in a dark forest. The next day at dawn he came to a hill which he tried to ascend and  met three wild beasts and his guide, who was like a father to him, the Roman poet Virgil. The poet leads him through Hell and Purgatory, where he meets Beatrice, who will be his guide to Heaven, where his eyes will be opened to the love of God.

The poem begins with sadness but ends with joy. The columnist mentions that the part that bothered him the most in middle school was to see the large number of clerics Dante had placed in hell. He was able to come to an understanding of this later in life:  Dante was showing his disapproval of the corruption of the Church of his time.

The columnist wonders if Dante would see the problems we have in the world today as representative of the hell he described: divisive feelings among people and nations, wars, jealousy, greed, hatred, etc. Our free will choices have been harmful to ourselves and others, as Dante makes clear, especially in the first book of the Divine Comedy: The Inferno. Free will is a gift of God, a faculty that allows  us to accept or refuse what is good or bad according to our reason.

The cantos of Purgatory have a great deal to do with philosophy and free will. It is our choices that will determine the road we will be taking, leading either to happiness or to misery. Dante considers free will the greatest of the gifts we have received.  And when we use it to make the right choices we will meet our Beatrice, who will lead us to heaven.

It is easy to have doubts about our freedom. However, as Christians our freedom is beyond doubt. We can limit our freedom by the  way we live, acting from instinct and habit, influenced by others and losing the ability to love, which only can be an act of a free person. The columnist wonders if hell is the place where we lose all our freedom.             

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Will Happen at the 200th Anniversary?

When Korea became a Vicariate Apostolic 180 years ago, it entered officially into the Catholic world. In 20 more years we will be celebrating the 200th year of the the Vicariate that developed into a Church operating autonomously in 1962 with its own dioceses; no longer could Korea by considered a mission country.

Reflecting on the history of the Church in Korea, a retired history professor, interviewed by the Peace Weekly, expressed surprise that not much attention was given to celebrating the 180 years as a Church. We were different from many other countries in Asia, he said, because the French foreign missioners, unlike the Spanish and Portuguese missioners, felt it important to train the Koreans for the priesthood, which  stimulated the growth of the Church.

During the recent past the efforts of the Church in working for justice for everyone strengthened its relationship with society, contributing to its growth and helping the country to transition to a democratic society.

The professor says that the work of the Church in evangelizing the culture has enabled its numerical growth and  maturity. However, he sees a problem developing today: few young people are in the forefront in  efforts to evangelize the culture. Convincing the young to participate more in this endeavor continues to be an important concern of the Church.

Evangelization is best done when the  Christ  we see and have in  our hearts is the Christ with which we want to evangelize the culture. By inculturating the Church into the culture, we integrate justice  and love throughout society, as we devote ourselves to working for the common good, which requires, says the professor, that we work for the reconciliation of our country.

Thirty years ago, at the age of 37, the professor was involved with the preparation of the 150th  anniversary of the formal  beginning of the  Catholic Church of Korea. At that time, he said that the young, the middle-aged and the old people of the Church were involved. He looks forward to that being true on the 200th anniversary.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Importance of Volunteer Work In Society

The society we live in presents us with the many challenges that come with change.  We are members of society and are building the future. The correct understanding of society has to start with ourselves in love and harmony with our neighbors. A correct understanding of community will come when we have this love and harmony with others. There is no greater value in life than this.

A columnist in the Catholic Times starts her article with the above words and tells us that of the more developed countries in the world Korea ranks fourth as a country with internal discord and in the amount of money allocated to resolve the discord.

This discord is seen most clearly by the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor, a decreasing middle class and, not mentioned by the columnist, inter-religious discord, regional prejudice, and the injustices and indignities faced by non-Koreans living in our society. Removing the discord requires, she believes, a change in all facets of our society. She  wants to see more sharing and voluntary service to the community by all citizens, and more concern expressed and put into practice by the leaders of our society.

The columnist feels that the concept of noblesse oblige in our society is not practiced to the extent that it is in other developed countries. She mentions that in 2001 the UN proclaimed the International Year of Volunteers. Working without recompense has been a  part of all civilizations, contributing to the welfare of others locally and in the larger society.

Volunteer work can begin with mutual help, then taking on more difficult tasks such as coping with crises and relief assistance, and dealing with the myriad problems of poverty; this work has many faces and is not confined to the boundaries of any one country.  We know that it is not only a  sharing of God's word but also a sharing of the talents we have received. This will require educational programs to get people more involved with others, increasing the prosperity of society and the happiness of  all. The columnist feels that the sharing of talents will be the catalyst that will change and humanize society, fostering dialogue, building community, providing a sense of mission that  will  contribute to living fully human lives. The light of this effort will brighten the  dark places of our society with love, and she feels confident that when this effort is joined together with others doing the same, we will have lit the torch that will illuminate the whole world.

She concludes the article with the words of Pope Benedict in his encyclical God is Love. "Significantly, our time has also seen the growth and spread of different kinds of volunteer work, which assume responsibility for providing a variety of services. I wish here to offer a special word of gratitude and appreciation to all those who take part in these activities in whatever way. For young people, this widespread involvement constitutes a school of life which offers them a formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not simply material aid but their very selves" (#30b).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Interest in a Sane and Compassionate Society

Misunderstanding and hostility among people is grudgingly tolerated by many as inevitable, as we continually see this discord being played out in politics, in the economy, in ecology, and of course in religion. And  yet the dissension among Christians--perhaps most evident today in the rift between those who  are primarily concerned with having a personal relationship with God and those who extend this concern to all his creatures--is difficult to understand. The words left and right, conservative and liberal, traditionalist and modernist are used as words of insult or praise.

The divisions that exist among Christians concerning theology, discipline, and liturgy are  easier to understand than the  division between those who do not separate God from creation and those who do, as if  concern for society and its members, along with the social structures we have made, is an affront to God and should not be our concern.

The Korean Church has realized that the understanding of our Catholics on what the teachings of Jesus should mean in our daily lives was deficient. For many there was no understanding of the Social Gospel. The Catholic Times gives us a brief summary of the present situation and of the efforts being made to bring more understanding of the Christian life to more people.

In 1994, after the first  meeting of the  Asian Laity meeting  in Korea, the Seoul diocese began a school specifically for teaching the Social Gospel. Now in its 16th year, there have been 72 programs and 3110 graduates who have been sent out into society. Such organized programs that have been sponsored by a diocese and have lasted this long are not easily found in the world of Catholicism.

The success of the programs has influenced other dioceses to start their own Social Gospel Schools, and Social Gospel teachings have been incorporated in educational programs before Confirmation.

Since 2006, the programs for teaching the Social  Gospel have spread into many dioceses of the country. Though the leaders in the Church agree that much has been done, our Christians are far from seeing the crucial importance of Christ's teachings for achieving a humane society. It is hoped that the spread of the Social Gospel Schools will provide the needed impetus to give more of our Catholics a mature understanding of our present society and what a sane and compassionate society, in  comparison, would look like.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Understanding Religion as Praying for Blessings

Shamanism, the folk religion of Korea, and of many other countries throughout the world, has influenced the practice of both Buddhism and Christianity in Korea. Even in our technologically advanced society, many find the possibility of finding quick solutions to personal problems appealing. In one city alone, Seoul, we have hundreds of Shamanistic temples that bustle with clients. It is an influence that turns many people off when they see it in Christianity, since it is so different from the teaching of Jesus.

"Praying for blessings," as many Christians do, is in many ways similar, according to a columnist in the Catholic Times, to a Shaman's attempt to communicate with spirit beings to bring a  benefit to the supplicant, including healing, warding off evil influences, and predicting the future. The columnist wonders which is to be preferred: a Catholic, who goes to Mass every Sunday but doesn't pray for the rest of the week, or one who goes to Mass and prays for personal  blessings? He admits to not being sure of the answer.

In explaining our tendency to ask for personal help to fulfill our desires, he compares it to the natural reflexes we depend on to defend ourselves: the boxer raises his arm to block a punch he sees coming, or the pedestrian who steps back onto the curb when seeing a car coming in his direction. This is a natural response to what threatens us, and a sacred duty for survival built into our very being. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with entrusting  ourselves to God for our well-being, and yet the Church is asking us to rid ourselves of this praying-for-blessings kind of spirituality. Why? the columnist asks. 

Because prayer, he says, is a dialogue with God. But praying for blessings is using God as a means or a tool to gain prosperity or comfort. A person accustomed to this way of praying is prone to covetousness. Instead of instilling a thankful attitude for the things we have, asking for what we don't have nourishes the desire for having more than we need. It is using God to enjoy the  goods of this world instead of using the goods of this world to enjoy God.

When praying for blessings there is usually little thought of others but only of personal desires. When concern for others comes into play, there soon follows the breakdown  of the praying-for-blessing way of living. The columnist reminds us that breaking the habit of  praying for blessings, and replacing it  for a more mature prayer life, is far from easy, precisely because in many cases the habit has been with us for a lifetime. Praying for others, he feels, should help  break down the habit.

As an example of what prayer should be, the columnist refers to the prayer of Jesus as he hung on the cross: "Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done." In this prayer, he says, we have the integration of personal desire and the will of God--there could not be a more perfect example.                                                    

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Religious Freedom Understood Differently

Religion in North Korea is not an easy subject to talk about. There is a disconnect between appearance and reality that goes back to the time when North Korea based its policies on Marxism, considering religion superstition, the opium of the people, a tool of imperialism to exploit the masses. There have been significant changes since then, and an adviser to the Bishops Committee on Reconciliation with North Korea brings us up to date with her article in the Kyeongyang Magazine. 

From 1970, signs of change appeared with a thawing of the relations with the West. The religious federations began to come back to life and churches were restored. In the 1980s religious books and Christian religious services were allowed, including Catholic Masses; and churches were built.  Religion was grafted onto the Juche Ideology (independence and self-reliance).

In the country's constitution of 1972, it states: "Citizens are free to practice religion and  to speak against religion." It was amended later to: "Citizens have freedom to practice religion, build religious buildings and have religious services." The proviso that one has the freedom to speak against religion was dropped and replaced by "No one has the right to use religious influence to hurt the order of  society." Which the government is free to interpret in any way it wants. In the 1980s the  attitude toward religion again changed, as problems with the economy brought a desire for presenting to the world a better image of the country. The idea of bringing the South under their control was no longer pushed. Instead, the government decided to work with religious groups for a united Korea, with religion grafted onto their Juche ideology.

The way  people see the  religious issue in the North can be divided, says the writer, into two groups. One group sees churches being built, religious services being held, and religious groups being active, giving proof, they feel, that there is  religious freedom in the country. The other group says there is no real freedom of religion because of the divinization of the country's leader, and because the activities of the religious groups are more political than religious. Another viewpoint would agree with both groups, adding that though the practice of religion does exist in the North, if we look closely at the statues of the Labor Party of the North, they make no reference to religion, allow no freedom to evangelize and preach freely, and those who do are punished.

And also not to be forgotten, there has been persecution of many who have practiced their faith in the North. A house group in 2010 was dispersed, and the three leaders of the group executed, the others sent to prison. The writer suggests that the Church in the South, in its work of evangelization, set as one of its goal the task of helping the North  extend the current changes to a more meaningful appreciation of the value of religion.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts of a Parish Priest

As is true for most of us, a priest, writing for priests, expresses dissatisfaction with the situation he finds himself in. After 13 years in the priesthood, he finds himself in a rut, doing what he has always done and probably always will do. In his own life he has made, he feels, some improvements, but wonders whether living within the present structures caused him to lose his creativity and become  passive.

Yearly baptisms continue, but the total number of Christians doesn't increase, and fewer persons are going to the sacraments and attending Sunday Mass. He compares his situation to a frog in the water; each time the temperature increases the frog becomes more languid. Having become accustomed to the gradual increase in heat, the frog fails to realize what is happening.

Although he attempts to meet the guidelines that have been set, there is little progress. For five years he has felt that his efforts were like trying to grab hold of the passing clouds. Catholics are proud of being Catholic, he said, but they don't have great loyalty to the parish. When he compares this with what his Protestant clergy friends are experiencing, he finds this all the more disturbing.

When a priest is moved out of a parish and another arrives to take his place, we have a tendency to expect changes in the parish. The parishioners are prepared for something different from what they have been used to. Catholics experience pastoral care as the receiving objects of the care and do not, for the most part, participate as subjects of the care. In parishes we also have much moving of families because of finances or the educational needs of the children; this moving to another parish community can be difficult for both the families and the parish community.

We seldom stop to consider, he said, if this might also be true of the priest who has a stay of three to five years as a pastor of a parish. Is that sufficient time to make plans, become devoted and focused on the work? he asks.  He has serious doubts about the wisdom of these Church regulations.

Overcoming the temptation of being just a functionary within the Church can be achieved, the priest believes, with more and better education both for the parishioners and for the priests. How can they learn together? How can the Catholics  become the subjects of the faith life--not the passive objects of the faith life--enabling them to see  the  world with the eyes of the Gospel? How can what they learn help change the community?  If we continue doing as in the past, he concludes  the needed changes will not come and things will remain the same. Change, if it is to come has to come from the community, be accepted and understood by the community. Guidelines and regulations that served well the needs of the Church in the past must be overhauled to meet the present needs of the people and of the priests who minister to them. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pollution In Rural Areas of Korea

Many city dwellers of today have at one time or another dreamt of leaving the city for the quiet and tranquility of rural life. Some have realized that dream, but it has not always been what they expected. A professor of horticulture, in his column for the Catholic Times, explains what they are likely to find when taking a trip to the country. Often in the evening they will probably become aware of a smell not noticed before: it comes from incinerating farm rubbish.

Burning to dispose of rubbish has always been part of rural life, but in the  past the material burnt was mostly organic; that is not the case today. Weed killers, vinyl, pesticides and other chemicals used on the farm are now part of the matter incinerated. He quotes a study indicating that 85 percent of the residue from the burning is used to make compost, which is then returned to the earth as fertilizer, posing a serious health hazard for all, no matter where they live, as it  becomes part of the food chain. 

We have been given, the professor reminds us, water air, earth, mountains, oceans--all of the natural world, and it is our duty to pass it on unpolluted to future generations. Our cities have done a good job segregating disposable trash and garbage that is biodegradable from hazardous materials. The government should now step up its efforts in the rural areas, including  programs to educate the public  on environmental issues. Though recycling of vinyl has begun in the country, there is much more to be done.

The professor is surprised and  depressed that the mass media, environmental groups and social movements have not made the impending degradation of the rural areas more of an issue. He surmises that since pollution has been a common element in much reporting over the years, these singular kinds of  environmental problems are overlooked. However, it is precisely the lack of concern, or any consciousness of wrong doing, that should make us turn  our attention to what is being done. The material incinerated today is no longer the organic matter of the past.

He concludes with the hope that Christians will get behind this movement for a cleaner environment, not only in the cities, where pollution is obvious, but where it's not so obvious, in the rural areas. Much of the failure to deal with environmental issues in the rural areas comes from a lack of knowledge. He suggests that the government work together with the rural agencies to convince farmers of the serious nature of the problem, so that the present hazards they face, as well as everyone else who eats the produce they grow, can be eliminated.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pope John Paul II Learning Korean

In a  series of articles in a Catholic magazine, the ordinary emeritus of Chunchon diocese, Bishop Chang Yik, was asked by the interviewer to recount his experiences with Pope John Paul II. The bishop recalled the time in 1982, when the pope, who was scheduled to visit Korea in 1984, expressed a desire to speak the language of the people when he arrived here. Responding to John Paul's desire, Cardinal Kim of Seoul entrusted Fr. Chang, studying in Rome at the time, with the task of teaching him Korean.

Fr. Chang was at a loss on how to approach the teaching of Korean to the pope.  But he was determined to put all his energies into finding the best way. Searching materials at the library, he found a number of ways to convey the Korean pronunciation, beginning with the alphabet and drawing each vowel and consonant to make it easier to learn each letter symbol. The pope's secretary called him on the Pope's Day (a holiday in the Vatican);  and learned that the pope wanted to start that evening at 6:30pm, only to discover that the car he had parked on the street had been towed away, with the material he had prepared for the class-- a small disaster. But he could still work with the alphabet, and since John Paul was familiar with the study of languages, he found the classes enjoyable and quickly learned the alphabet.

The pope wanted to say the Mass in Korean during his stay in Korea, so the common parts of the Mass were prepared with the Korean pronunciation and the meaning of the words in Latin. Since the pope was always busy, more than 40 meetings were needed to accomplish this crash course in Korean. Fr. Chang kept himself always on call, and the pope not once kept him waiting, not even for 5 minutes.The pope would begin the lesson with not much small talk, and was always eager to begin, having done his homework. Putting his newly acquired language to good use while still in Rome, he would say Mass in Korean for the Korean students, religious, and clergy. Fr. Chang was greatly moved to see the effort the pope was making to prepare for his trip to Korea.

The pope prepared the itinerary for the trip, wanting to visit places the government preferred that he not visit, such as the marginalized citizens of the country, and Sorok Do Island, a sanatorium for those with Hansen's Disease, being the first place he wanted to visit.

During the visit, the pope was scheduled to speak publicly at least 20 times. He prepared drafts for all his talks, and wanted to give all these talks in Korean. Fr. Chang told him that would be too difficult. "Who would understand me  if I  speak in a foreign language?" John Paul responded.  Fr. Chang did convince him to compromise: to speak in English, but to begin and end his talks in Korean.

The pope  showed great love for Korea for having suffered  as did his own Poland. When one thinks of how busy the pope was, yet still wanting to give all his talks in Korean, it is hard not to be moved by his love for the people he was visiting.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Korean Catholics and World Youth Day

Madrid 2011, World Youth Day, was a reminder that many young  Catholics were still enthusiastic about their faith life. Both Catholic papers interviewed the three Korean bishops who attended. More than 1300 persons from Korea were present and ready to respond to their call and mission within society.

The bishops agreed that they saw much joy in the meetings with the young. It was an opportunity to experience the universality of the Church and the one family of brothers and sisters, overcoming difficulties of language and culture to experience their oneness. To the question on what they saw to be the biggest lack in the preparations, they agreed that having few places set aside for the different cultural groups to meet and share their  heritage was a major problem.  

The bishops were particularly concerned with the problems in Korean society that the young have to face, especially the high unemployment. One bishop felt that the young were overly centered on themselves and hoped their experience in Spain would help them be more communitarian. It was the hope of the bishops that the young Catholics, on returning to Korea, would  put into practice what they had experienced, as they confront the proverbial fork in the road: compromise by living a worldly life or maintain a strong faith life. not only

The interviewer asked the bishops what would they like to say to those working with the youth in Korean dioceses. They felt that the young needed to feel the love of God and the love of the Church for them, and feel the joy of living the faith life. One bishop stressed  the young are not only  the future of the Church but should be part of the present Church, although this is not currently the case in Korea. Another bishop pointed out that those  working with youth should never forget they are teachers and mentors and not only friends.The hope is that  the young will apply what they experienced in Spain to live a more integrated life in the Korean Church.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Inchon Hope Forest" in Mongolia

Many of the citizens of Inchon have for a number of years planted trees in  Mongolia. Other cities, and certain industries, from 2008 to 2010, have also helped. It is part of the "Green Start Movement," profiled in our Inchon Catholic bulletin. The goal of the movement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the non-industrial sector of the country, along with supporting the tree planting efforts of our citizens in Mongolia.

The writer of the article mentioned going to Mongolia to see the "Inchon Hope Forest," where the citizens of Inchon have planted their trees. It is hoped that this newly planted forest will help to stop the desertification of the country by setting up a windbreak, reducing the winds that now carry the yellow sand to other parts of the Far East.

Because of the climate change in Mongolia, over 90 percent of the country is turning into a desert. Most of the rivers and  lakes are drying up, and this past winter, because of the severe cold, more than 80,000 animals died. And in Korea, because of industrialization and the movement of people to the cities, the effects of climate change are also being experienced, though differently than in Mongolia. Here the trees and land for farming in the cities have disappeared. We continue to use fossil fuels, and our eating  depends on what we import.  If we know the dangers that inevitably come with climate change, says the writer, then we should see the preciousness  of our earth and the dangers of turning over production of our food to others.

To begin addressing one of the problems of climate change, a new practice is taking hold in our cities--city farming: farming in boxes, farming on verandas, farming on roof tops, farming on the outskirts of the city. We are seeing the beginnings of a cultural movement that encourages consumers to grow and enjoy  some of the food they eat. This movement indicates a new and deeper appreciation of life, and of the steps needed to change our way of living.

The plight of the Mongolians are making us think a little more critically of our consumer society and our comfortable lifestyle.  The pain and dust storms being experienced by the people of Mongolia are sending us a message we are now beginning to take to heart.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Christian Muslim Dialogue in Korea

In Korea, there are about 120 to 130 thousand Muslims; about 35 thousand are Koreans. Among OECD countries, the country with the greatest increase in the number of immigrants is Korea. If this trend continues, as is likely--in the last ten years the number of immigrants has increased 611 percent--Korea will soon cease to have a homogeneous population. And it is easy to foresee a time, suggests the desk columnist of the Catholic Times, when a  significant portion of the population will be Muslim.

Since 55 percent of the world's population are either Christian or Muslim (with one billion 600 million Muslims) it is imperative, the columnist says, that we start talking to each other. After citing the recent London riots and the Norwegian tragedy that were fomented, at least in part, by the terrorist mentality now being spread by Muslim extremists, she goes back to the time of the crusades, when the conflict between Christianity and Islam was the central story. Since Islam has emerged as the second largest religion in the world, and since even in Europe we can see its strength growing as the number of Muslims increase, it is becoming increasingly clear that dialogue is necessary if we are to have world peace. And the Vatican continues to keep the way open for this type of dialogue.

The Pontifical Council For Inter-religious Dialogue as usual has sent to the Muslim community a message for Ramadan, their month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, which began this past month.  The message starts with "Dear Muslim friends" and continues, "Christian and Muslims, beyond their differences, recognize the dignity of the human person endowed with both rights and duties. They think that intelligence and freedom are indeed gifts, which must impel believers to recognize these shared values because they rest on the same human nature."  The message is just one effort, among others, to improve communication between the faiths. As we know, these attempts at productive dialogue have not been easy.

In 1955, the Korean Muslim Society was founded, developing later into the Korean Muslim Federation. And in the 70s many Korean workers stationed in the Near East  accepted the Muslim faith, further increasing, along with the number of foreign Muslims working here, the number of Muslims in the country.

Two years ago, according to a government survey, there were 65 mosques in the country, and this number has undoubtedly increased, and will continue to increase in the years ahead. What should be the response of the Korean Catholic Church, asks the columnist, in the face of this growing Muslim presence in the country? She believes the Church should turn its attention to the growing significance of Muslim religion and culture in Korea, and find ways to reach out a supporting hand as this new culture to our country tries to adapt to our ways and our culture, and at all times keeping open the lines of communication between the two faiths.