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.

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