Thursday, October 20, 2011

Humanism and Catholic Family LIfe

After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Bernard Wonkil Lee came to  the island of Gyodong where he started the first Catholic community on the island. The trip from North Korea had been short, but when he lost hope of  returning home, he soon became the leader of the island's Catholic community, which developed into the Gyodong Mission Station.

The Peace Weekly in its special feature on a recent meeting of an international forum on Catholic humanism, convened to consider what is meant by Catholic humanism, used the life of Bernard Wonkil Lee as an example of what this might mean for all of us in living a more fulfilling life. One of his sons, a priest from the diocese of Washington DC, reminisced about his father, who was, he said, a man of action and a trail blazer, whose daily Mass attendance had a great influence on his own life and family.

Wonkil Lee remained here on the island until 1954 before moving to Seoul, and after retiring in 1988 went to the United States where his sons were living.
In all these different locations, his Catholic humanist principles were evident by the concern he had for those who were having difficulties in life: he taught the illiterate to read and helped those who were hungry.

One of the participants in the forum, a professor at Seoul University and a one-time education minister in the government, spoke on humanism and the family, noting that there has been a breakdown  of the family not only in Korea but in other parts of the world. This world-wide development, he said, has to be brought to an end if we are to have a truly functioning society. Catholicism considers the family as the origin of, and primary stabilizing force in, society, as it was meant to be in God's plan. A healthy society, he emphasizes, begins with the healthy family. Even if much of society has been infected with evil, the family need not be contaminated if strengthened by the humanistic values of Catholicism, which allows each member of the family, and thus society, to express our inherent human dignity.

The professor proposes a plan to implement this within the context of Catholicism. Beginning with family attendance at Mass, he notes that family members often attend Mass at different times. There are Masses for the very young and also for teenagers; he would like to see them all attend Mass together. The family could attend, he suggests, a Mass at 9:00 am and, after Mass, have the parents teach the children. And those who come to the 11:00 Mass with the family, could remain after Mass with the parents again teaching the children. He would also like to see the Church take more of an interest in the young parishioners, getting them actively involved in educational programs aimed at eradicating the problems within families.

The other participants shared their ideas on what Catholic humanism should mean. The professor who proposed working directly with the family is applying the same ideas here that motivate Marriage Encounter and Focolare movements. Whether it's feasible now to devote more time and effort to working on family issues, considering the pressures of society on the family, is a difficult decision for the Church to make.

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