Thursday, March 31, 2011

Martin Luther And the Protestant Reformation

The 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door by Martin Luther will be coming up in 2017. The Catholic Times editorial discusses what was involved with the posting of the theses and clarifies the meaning of the word 'indulgence'--the "selling of indulgences" prompting Luther to post the theses and sparking the Protestant Reformation. Usually translated into Korean as "the forgiving of sin," indulgence is a word that is continually being misunderstood in the press, in history books and,too often, in many internet blogs.

The bishops have clearly pointed out that 'indulgence,' a theological term, is being misused when it is understood as a means to forgive sin, as a quick sell and purchase of salvation--as some critics have viewed it--by the donation of money. The bishops have sent the mass media a list of Catholic terms, asking that they be used correctly, anticipating that many articles will be appearing in the daily press in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And many of those articles will be discussing the "granting of indulgences," wrongfully understood even by Catholics at that time that sins could be forgiven on payment of money. In the history of the Church, one can always find those who have abused what the Church teaches for reasons of gain or out of ignorance. In an effort to collect money for different projects, many used indulgences as a means to collect money. That this was an abuse is clear; however, it  is not a reason to misunderstand or distort the meaning of this word, as understood by the Church. Indulgences do not forgive sin, whether by the use of money, prayer, good works, or by any other means; it forgives only the temporal punishment due to sin. (The sacramental forgiveness of sin must include confessing one's sins, usually verbally and usually to a duly ordained priest, sincere sorrow for having sinned, and a firm purpose of amendment.)  This will be difficult to  understand for those who have no sympathy for this process and for what temporal punishment for sin means or who don't care to know.

The editorial was also concerned that this issue might damage the image of the Church by passing along information not warranted by the facts. The Church has never said that by giving money sins can be forgiven, and this has been the teaching well before the reformation. As in present times, those who do not follow what the Church teaches should not be used as examples of what the Church does teach.

October 31 is Reformation Day and will be celebrated in the Protestant world. For Protestants, it is an opportunity to  continue the reform that was started with Luther. According to the columnist in the Catholic Times, the Reformation was also a time for self-examination by the Catholic Church, and a time to  begin the process of change. The Council of Trent came shortly after to clarify troubling matters that surfaced as a result of the Reformation; and in dioceses, seminaries were started to educate the clergy, many of whom lacked the knowledge necessary for their calling, a reason for the corruption that the Reformation brought to light.

Thanks to the reformation, the Church was motivated to work for new programs to educate its priests. The columnist mentions Fr. Hubert Jedin, one of the outstanding Catholic historians of the last century, who said it was the Reformation that enabled the Church to look at itself and begin it own reform and renewal.

Protestants, reflecting on what  Luther means to them, also present us Catholics with an opportunity to see where we have been and where we are now; on our way to an on-going reformation, keeping ourselves humble and penitent.                        

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Being Hurt an Opportunity for Growth

Writing for the Kyeongyang Magazine, a professor and executive officer of the Family Counseling Association begins her article with a mother's heart wrenching lament. She was walking home after buying some groceries and saw her daughter walking with friends on the opposite side of the street. Happy to see her, the mother called out her name and after their eyes met for an instant, the daughter quickly turned away and without a word, or recognition of any kind, continued on her way with her friends.  

There was a burning sensation in her stomach, the mother said. She was not able to concentrate on anything after she returned home. She cried. Was the daughter embarrassed about her mother? Did she think her mother would scold her? The mother was perplexed. 

The writer asked the  mother if she spoke to her daughter about it. Not at first, she said, fearing being hurt by the answer, and when she did ask, the daughter said she didn't see her, and without another word, avoiding her mother's gaze, went to her room.

This situation is normal in the growing up process, the writer believes. In wanting to be grown-up and adult, many children will go to any lengths to act independently, as if needing no support from their families. This should not be surprising to parents  but prompt them to turn their gaze toward themselves.

Parents should also be growing, she says, along with their children. By middle age, adults should be growing an interior life. While the growth of children, both physically and mentally, is easily seen, with adults this is not the case but the growth should be there.

Those who have  made a study of this adult growth, she says, divide it into exterior and interior growth.  With exterior growth, we reach out to others, not content to be concerned only with ourselves and our families, but concerned also with the welfare of future generations.

This concern for the welfare of others can also be called the enlargement of the self.  If this does not take place it will be like water, she says, in a puddle that in time will stagnate, become polluted and be a menace to others.

In contrast to the younger years, where the attention was on material prosperity, in later years attention should be on interior growth, on the mental, philosophical, religious and cultural aspects of life.  It will be a new beginning.

Children who see this growth in their parents and receive advice from this perspective will remember it. Children will  be aiming for this in their own life. It can provide the stabilizing influence of a compass needle that will point our children in the right direction in the years to come.            

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"You Did it For Me."

On Saturday the 26th of March we had the 10th anniversary Requiem Mass for  Fr. Benedict Zweber, a Mayrknoll priest who worked in Korea for over 30 years. The Requiem Mass, in the last church that Fr. Ben built in Incheon, was celebrated by the priests who  knew Fr. Ben and considered him a friend. The congregation consisted of  those who remembered his work for justice, for the poor and those who suffered.

His first assignment after ordination was Korea where  his brother had died years before. He was a very successful missioner with a great love for the country and people. During his 30 years in Korea he built many island mission churches in the diocese of Incheon, built a hospital, electrified one of the islands, and worked to recover land from the ocean for the poor farmers. He took to heart the words of Jesus from Mathew's Gospel chapter 25:40-- "you did it for me."

Koreans  on  the islands were living in poverty, and he became their father, doctor and lawyer, and helped them in any way they needed to live decent human lives.  The orphans and Amerasians  he helped to go overseas to adopted parents are too many to count. With Fr. Alfred Keane, a fellow Maryknoller, he was also able to help pass a bill that aided Amerasians obtain visas to enter the US.

During the difficult political times in Korea, he was also on the side of the underdog and worked  tirelessly with others to see a new political reality. His sensitivity to problems of justice in society  and the plight of the poor was well honed.   I can recall on one occasion when he said that to use bread to clean the fingers after using the oils for Confrimation bothered him greatly. Something that was easy to understand for one who worked with the very poor.

After being called back to the States to work on recruiting for vocations and raising funds for the society, he volunteered, at the age of 66, to go to Russia to do missionary work in 1997.

When he first arrived in Russia, he lived for three weeks in  Vladivostok before the  bishop assigned him to the island of Sakhalin, where there were many Koreans and he began another chapter of his missionary life. He followed some Korean priests who had difficulty getting a visa to work in Russia. He worked to open two more parishes on the island and also served an American community working in the production of natural gas on the ocean floor near Sakhalin. He was responsible for building  the Church of St. James on the island, even though dealing with terminal cancer of the bones. The church was dedicated on August 15, 2001, shortly after his death.

I attended the Mass with a follow Maryknoller, Fr. Richard Rolewicz, who represented the Maryknoll Society. One of the first members of the congregation I met that day was a young man who, as a baby, was sent to the States for an operation on his heart. (An operation they were not able to do in Korea at that time.) Hearing that I was a classmate from seminary days, he wanted to thank me and show his appreciation.  Many, like this young man in  the congregation, remembered the Maryknoller with fondness and gratitude.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Violence in Korean Films

A professor, teaching film criticism in the  fine arts department of a Seoul college, discusses in the  Kyeongyang Magazine the disturbing trend of including increasingly more violent scenes in films being made today, causing many moviegoers to be alarmed and even disgusted with the new trend.

However, some of the films that made the theaters last year, although violent, did have a worthwhile message to tell, she reminds us. They enabled us to see ourselves and society in a new way. Although many of these films had something worthwhile to say, the violence that goes with them is not helpful, in many  cases, in conveying the message.

The professor notes that these films continue to be made because they are market-wise and esthetically appealing, lucrative at the box office and the recipient of many honors.  What are we to make of this? she asks. Those who have a religious belief may be disturbed by these films when they show a disregard for life and a lack of  basic humanity. To what degree are they to be accepted?

In an effort to better judge these films that include violent scenes, sometimes gratuitously, she says it is necessary to find the reason for the film's violence. It is not made up by the makers of these films; it's a reflection of the society we live in, a mirror where we can sometimes see hidden aspects of ourselves and, at times, portents for the future.

The increase of violent crimes, the discord and anger in society. our economic problems, the disharmony between the classes, and  the feeling of victimhood by many inevitably find their voice in the film world. What we see in films is not less than what we have in society, and not something unrelated to the pathology of the society. In sum, the films show us life as we have it.

The cultural importance of the world of film cannot be denied. It influences not only how we see ourselves but how many of us discover the values, both good and bad, of our society.  Films should therefore strive to be, she says, a positive influence, and not tempted to depict debauchery and sin for its sensational appeal. They should encourage respect for life, motivating us to live the good life, which is reason enough, she says, for the Catholic Church to show an interest in promoting the production of better films.

There is one premise that must be remembered, she says. Film criticism, an increasingly important category of art criticism, should be done in a fair and rational manner. Although the interpretation, acceptance or rejection, of films may not follow the general norms of religion or be in harmony with the Church's teachings, it is the overall intent of the film that should be acknowledged and judged.

Some films with violence, she reminds us, have no redeeming value, while others do. It's up to us, she says, to be watchful that we don't build up a resistance to the violence we see in films, and desire more of it--that would be a problem.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Choose Life not Death"

Throughout the Catholic World, we hear the words the 'culture of life' and 'the culture of death,' taken from the encyclical  of Pope John Paul II. "In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death, we cannot restrict ourselves to a perverse idea of freedom.... We have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man...."
A professor in the theology department of Sogang University, writing in the Peace Weekly, discusses the concept of culture as encompassing the whole of our patterns of life: our thoughts, language, religion, morals, laws and values, among many other patterns that regulate our lives.

The Pope emphasized that the culture of life means, first of all, respect for life and life's values, and that a person's awareness and the   structures of society will foster this culture.

The culture of death refers to activities that include abortion, euthanasia, suicide, murder, torture, trafficking in  human beings. Material possessions are considered more important than quality of life issues, wealth and influence being the preferred goals of human existence; to be poor and powerless is, to this way of thinking, to live uselessly and without joy. A way of thinking that has a close relationship with materialism.
The professor asks where are we in our society. It is not very difficult to judge, he says. All we have to do is look at the daily news. This culture of death is not only harmful to the individual but to our neighbor and society.  Therefore, it is  something we can't ignore. However,  is it something, he asks, that we can change?
The Pope said that the culture of death is so strongly intertwined with culture, the world of finance, and with politics, that making the change is not going to be easy.  The professor thinks that it is possible. All have the disposition to  avoid the evil and to intend the good. We have to see the dignity of all humans.

He quotes again from "Evengelium Vitae" and the Pope's words asking us to change to a contemplative outlook on life:  
For this to happen, we need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a "wonder". It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image. This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death's door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.
The professor ends the column by saying that when we can see all of life through the eyes of God, we will have formed in ourselves the correct values that allow us to move from a culture of death to one of life.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Korean Priest in France

The relationship of the Catholic Church of Korea with France goes back to the time France was sending their priests to Korea to do missionary work. Recently, Korea received the visit of the ordinary from the diocese of Le Mans who has, together with the diocese of Andong, promised to be in a relationship of  solidarity and affection.

The 4th bishop of Korea was the martyr Saint Simeon Berneux, who was born in the diocese of Le Mans. The French Church years ago helped the Korean Church by sending us its priests; now is the time for the Church of Korea to help the Church in France.

This was written up in the  Peace Weekly, with an interview with the bishop of Le Mans and with an article on the first priest who will be working in the diocese, Fr.Lee Yeong-kil. While the ordinary was in Korea for his visit, Fr. Lee was his interpreter.

Fr, Lee had been sent to France for studies and received a doctorate from the Paris Catholic University. He is now pastor of a parish in the diocese of Le Mans. To his many parishioners interested in the Korean Church, he tells them:  "Koreans have a great interest in the Catholic Church. Their Catholics are very enthusiastic and try to live the life of faith.  Confucianism has also helped them have  respect for the  elderly. These are the strong points of Korean Catholicism. Now that God in his providence is guiding us in this relationship with France, isn't this what we can give the French Church?"

The Church of Europe is far ahead of the Korean Church in academics,  but when comparing the spirit of the times that is opposed to the Church and the small  percentage of those attending Mass, the Korean Church is far ahead of the European Church. Korean priests can help to change this situation, the columnist believes, by bringing some of the Korean enthusiasm to the French Church.

The big surprise to the bishop of Le Mans was seeing Koreans meeting in their villages to read and discuss the Scriptures. French Catholics, he said, do not read the Scriptures.

Fr. Lee says that from the time of the uprising in France of May 1968 (the largest wildcat strike in history, involving more than 10 million workers) the people have shown a coldness toward the Church. The protesters took to the street with placards: "We are against all  that are against."  A good interpretation would be: give us freedom to do what we want. Since the Church is against so many things, this was seen by  many as motivation to  turn their back on the Church.

In France, it is difficult to find any spiritual group meetings like the Legion of Mary, and village groups are not seen.  The few who go to Sunday Mass return immediately to their homes. French Catholics would number about  80 percent, but the majority don't practice their faith and don't know much about it.

Recently, Fr. Lee had a barbecue party with his Catholics, similar to what is done in Korea, and the response was enthusiastic. Our way of fellowship does appeal to the French, he says. We can learn the scholarly ways of the French, and the French can learn from our dynamism and vitality. We can both benefit from the exchange.

The Koreans, with their background in  the Yin-Yang philosophy of life, seem not to have trouble with many things that bother those in the West. Being against means that you are for something; and when you are for something, it means you  are against something. There are two sides to the one life we have to live.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Facts" Are Not Always Facts

The Desk Column of the Catholic Times had an interesting understanding of Napoleon Bonaparte's stature, which is understood by most to have been short. Students who are short have looked to Napoleon to give them hope and confidence when competing with their taller peers. When hearing this was not the case, they tend to have doubts about other long-held beliefs.

The columnist gives two reasons for the misunderstanding. Those who were guarding Napoleon were the pick of the army and taller than normal. In comparison to them--and he was often in their company--he looked short. Secondly, after he was sent into exile to the island of St. Helena where he died, the report of the postmortem examination stated that he was 5.2 pied. Converted to standard English measurements, he was 167.6 cm (5' 6-1/2") which was slightly taller than the average Frenchman of that time.  When the English took pied to be their feet, they came up with 158.5 cm (slightly more than 5' 2") and the misunderstanding about Napoleon's height began.

What happened in the case of Napoleon is found in not a few cases in history. A fact of life Napoleon knew well--having manipulated facts throughout his career to further his own ambition--when he said, "History is a set of lies people have agreed upon." And these agreements about facts (when not outright lies) that are not facts often result from a trusting and unquestioning attitude about the validity of long-held beliefs.

The columnist then turns to the Four River Project and the protests of many religious groups to stop the government's plan to develop the rivers to ensure a better water supply. He sees this controversy as embodying the same kind of confusion that surrounds Napoleon's height. The  government sees the project as necessary for the economic health of the area, creating thousands of jobs and revitalizing the countryside along the four rivers.  This is illusory, says the columnist. It is not what is happening. And even members of the government, he says, are not seeing the practicality of the project, as was promised. 

Improving the quality of the water by improving the 'containers' is what is being said by the government. But they are not using, he says, our standards of water quality, which raises doubts about the other standards they are using.

The talk that the project will enhance the ecological life of the river basins and beautify the rivers is one-sided thinking and narrow-minded. Without backing their claim with proof, their talk doesn't deserve to be considered rational.

During Lent we are  trying to extend our vision, concludes the columnist.  Let us see how this lesson on the confusion and misunderstanding surrounding Napoleon's height can help us be more discerning and less gullible about the many subtle deceptions that are sometimes unwittingly passed along because they've been accepted for so long, and sometimes deliberately passed along because they serve someone's vested interests.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Creativity in Pastoral Work With Youth

One of the dioceses in Korea has attempted a new approach to spreading the gospel among our young people.  Each of the six deaneries of the Suwon Diocese will set aside a parish for use by the youth of that deanery, offering them an opportunity to meet together in one parish with other young people from the deanery. 

An attempt will be made to make these 'youth parishes' as inviting as possible to the young, so they will have a place they will want to come to. Although the young people are welcomed, the priest responsible for the youth of the diocese said it is meant primarily for the many young people who have stopped going to church. They will have their own Mass, catechism and religion classes, service programs, clubs, cultural events and festivals to match their desires. Each parish will have their own specialties that fit the make up of the deanery to which they belong. And each youth parish will have their own youth council to draw up plans and implement them with the pastor, the assistant and parish sisters. Parishes that have good youth programs may have no need for this approach. But all will be free to participate or not.
The diocese has promised  to make this an auspicious start with financial help and whatever else is necessary for success. The experiment will be evaluated at Christmas next year. If successful the number of parishes involved will be increased at the 50th anniversary of the diocese.

The success of this dream will depend on how well the youth parishes implement the programs and motivate the young  people to attend.  No matter how good the  programs are, without  the cooperation of the parishes the experiment will not succeed. The bishop is in full support and is asking the priests of the diocese to do what they can to make this innovative outreach to our young people a success.

Attempts of this nature have been tried in many dioceses over the years with all kinds of programs and events, but with mixed results. Hopefully, this attempt will be successful and point the way to even greater success  in other dioceses in Korea.                                                                         

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Peek into the Life of a North Korean Refugee

Another vignette about the life of  North Korean women refugees living here in the South appeared in a column in the Peace Weekly by the Sister working with refugees in Incheon. Taking one of the women to a large market, she noted how everything surprised her, from the  size of the market to the number of products on the shelves.

The Sister stayed  close to her so she wouldn't lose her in the large crowd. The woman bought a 5kg bag of brown sugar. The Sister asked her why she bought so much; she laughed, telling  Sister it would be alright if she didn't  know.

But knowing the Sister's desire, she relented and said that it was to wash her face to make it smoother and more woman-like. She then sang a little North Korean ditty: "Womanhood is a flower/ a thrifty flower of the house/ an affectionate wife and sister/ without them an important part of life would be empty." The song uses an old word for a wife not used in the South, meaning "the sun of the house."

These refugees are thinking of those they left behind and are dreaming of being reunited with them some day. So they try  to save money in every way possible. They will walk instead of taking a bus. When they need to call Sister, they will often hang up after the first ring, not  wanting to run up the telephone bill and hoping the Sister will know who called and will return the call. 

Since they have no skills they work at odd jobs, such as packaging chocolates, assembling hand phones in their homes and in restaurants washing dishes. In trying to realize their dreams, they pay little attention to their health. And feeling sorry for the children left behind, they try to make up for it by buying for the children that manage to rejoin them, but too young to appreciate it, expensive clothes and hand phones.

Their life is full of intensity and warmth for the family, a part of life the South was accustomed to in the past. These women from the North are showing us the kind of life that once was the common experience of many in the South,  but now is fast disappearing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Addiction to Internet Games

We revisit again the  problem of internet game addiction of the young. A professor emeritus in preventive medicine of the Catholic Medical School writes in the Culture of Life column in the Peace Weekly that the level of addiction is serious.

A survey made last year of 123,000 students from a 4th grade grammar school and a 1st year middle school found about the same level of addiction in the grammar school as it did in the middle school-- over 5 percent. Another survey of students, age 9 to 19, found that 14.3 percent, or about 100,000, were addicted  and in need of therapy.

The effects of this frightful addiction are not limited to the excessive amount of time spent in gaming. The effects are also felt throughout society, as our young people, becoming languid and spiritless, withdraw from society. This addiction, like alcohol and drug abuse, can lead to mental and physical health problems and complete lose of self-restraint. The very young who take up internet gaming are even more susceptible to being harmed, and the prognosis less hopeful. And for some, depression and suicide are possible outcomes.                                                                                                                                                           Even though the facts are clear the government still views the problem of internet addiction as an individual problem. To promote the internet industry, they are willing  to accept this dysfunction. The Korean market for internet games is vast, and the foreign news media see this economic fact as not unrelated to the addiction. The income from the internet game industry this year is expected to increase by 17 percent. The professor wonders how many more problems are we going to have before the harm is seen as serious.

The evening shutdown of the games--promoted by a number of groups--from 12:00 midnight to 6:00 am is a help, the professor admits. But in the society we have made, simple regulations alone, he insists, are not going to remedy the situation--urgent problems need urgent remedies.
The Catholic Church, with its on-going interest in promoting the culture of life, should be especially interested in developing programs to wean our young people away from the lure of internet gaming, and its potential for harm, into pursuits that will benefit both the individual and the society. 


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Lesson on how to Alienate People from the Church

A diocesan priest, professor at the Incheon Catholic University, writes in the Pastoral Bulletin for priests that one of the big issues confronting the Church in Korea is the large  number of tepid Christians. We also call them "on holiday Christians"  but by whatever name they're called, they have distanced themselves from the Church. Whether it's the weakening of their belief or someone in the Church they dislike or for some other reason, they find going to Church  a burden.

To blame this situation on selfish individualism or the materialistic society we are living in, the priest assures us this is not the proper perspective. In the last  years of the  20th century, many Europeans, he reminds us, still believed in God and in his goodness, but felt a growing dislike for the Church and a conviction that it was no longer relevant in today's world. He wonders if this  perspective would not be  a better way of describing the situation we are facing in the Church today.

The Church has become not a place of hearing the "happy news" but a place where those facing  difficulties and worn out by life have been given more and heavier difficulties to contend  with, without the necessary understanding. The Church, for a growing number of Catholics, has become not a place of rest but a place where they are considered sinners, treated coldly, a place of many words and much weariness. Let us put aside whether they are treated like  adults, he says. They are required unconditionally to obey their priests if they are to be considered good Catholics. Their emotional life often is  treated lightly, and when they are people with little money, power and honors, they often are disregarded and made to feel alienated. Is it any wonder, he says, that the Church has become a place where we cultivate tepids.

The Church should be, he says, like a mother, a spiritual oasis. A place where the mind finds rest: a place of religious experience, of sharing. A place where through sacrifice we become acquainted with grace. A place where we don't look for money or material things but happiness and freedom.

For those of us who believe in Christ, the Church should be a place where the cross is not an embarrassment but a sign of the resurrection and of our salvation. This world is the place we are to find liberation, to feel the great love of God and his providence. To give ourselves fully to the quest for fulfillment, we turn naturally to the Church. If the Church can change into this kind of refuge, then it is not only God that becomes believable and good but the Church as well.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Interview with Korean Ambassador to the Vatican

Korea's new ambassador to the Vatican, Han Hong-soon, appointed last year, gave his guarded opinion on a few subjects dealing with the Korean Catholic Church in an interview with the Dong-A-Ilbo.                                                  
The ambassador was the head  of the Catholic Lay Apostolic Council of Korea and knows the Church well from his many years in positions of authority. He was one of five members selected in 2008 to the Vatican's International Council on Financial Matters. Previous ambassadors were career diplomats, but his background is in academia, receiving his doctorate in economics from the Roman Gregorian University; he taught  economics for over 30 years in a Korean university. He did not look for the job, he said, and when it came, he suddenly felt like the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusulem for the last time.

Asked about the future of the Korean Church with the retirement of Cardinal Chong: there will be changes. The Cardinal had submitted his resignation before his 75th birthday as is required. (Cardinal Kim's resignation was accepted when he reached 76.) Cardinal Chong is now 80 years old and his resignation has still not been accepted. He is highly respected in Rome, said the ambassador, and in canon law few are his peers.

To the question what  did the Pope say about Korea when he presented his credentials, he answered that the Pope said that Korea has gone from a receiving Church to a giving one, and  a great deal is expected from such a large group of educated Catholics.

He was asked about the possibility of another cardinal for Korea. (Japan, which has only 500,000 Catholics, had  two  cardinals in years past.)  The ambassador mentioned that Cardinal Kim, on his visits to Rome, had asked for another cardinal, and that he also will when the occasion presents itself. Korea, he said, is entitled to another cardinal. 

The interviewer asked about the priests in the Catholic Peace and Justice Committee ,who were asking for the Cardinal's resignation. A position criticized  by many lay people. When asked what the Vatican thought about this issue, he said they were pleased with the way the Cardinal handled the situation.

The ambassador also discussed, off the record, some of the possible candidates who are in a position to follow Cardinal Chong, and when asked about one possible candidate, who is not on good terms with the Government, he had nothing to say.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Goal of Religious People-- Living in Harmony

"The basic norm for religious people to live in harmony is to respect and understand one another. We have to rid ourselves of self-righteousness and exclusiveness." These are the words, quoted in the Peace Weekly, of Archbishop Kim of Kwangju, the new president of the Korean Conference on Religion. He  is also the president of the Korean Bishops Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Inter-religious Dialogue.

The Archbishop said that Korea is a department store-like country when it comes to religions. He aims to try to work for an understanding among religions. Remembering the conflict recently between Protestants and Buddhists, he was moved to work for harmony among the different religions.

"Korean people have a respect for  different religions," he said. "It is part their religious nature." The beautiful coexistence we have had, and continues to exist, was broken by only a small  segment of Protestant fundamentalists and should not be seen as a Protestant problem. We have to make efforts, he said,this doesn't happen again; these conflicts are not easily understood by the majority of our citizens.

What I hold with great value, the archbishop said, I should see others holding with the same value. He reminds us of the Korean expression to put ourselves in the other person's shoes when we are tempted to speak or act in a critical manner.

During his two years as president, he said he would like the religious people of  Korea to help establish a bridge of communication with the religious groups in North Korea, in order to begin solving some of the smaller problems between us.

When religious people  get involved in  societal and political issues superficially, without great thought, it can be understood as demagoguery. We need more study and self-reflection on our problems,not only to point out the problems but to look at them from our religious outlook, to diagnose and offer directions for the future.

He hopes that the Korean academic worlds of philosophy and theology will show us ways to look on our long-standing problems from different vantage points, giving us hope and a vision for a better future.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Conversation With Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk

On March 18,  Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk will be celebrating his 50th year of priesthood. It is rare for an ordinary in office to be celebrating his golden jubilee. In a two-page spread in The Catholic Times, the managing director reports on a conversation he had with the Cardinal.

The cardinal recalled his years with thanks for the great love he has received despite what he called "his many failings." He was baptized in the cathedral parish of Myong Dong, served as an altar boy and said his first Mass in the Cathedral, and now lives in the Cathedral parish.
As an only son, in the past he would not have been accepted for the priesthood because of the cultural expectations for an only son in  Korean society. He recalled mentioning to his mother his desire to be a priest, knowing the difficulties this would cause her and even expecting some opposition on her part; if so, he was prepared to give it up. However, she wasn't surprised, suspecting that was his intention from the time he was an altar boy. But to go to the seminary, he needed the permission of the bishop, Archbishop Ro Ki-nam, who had been assistant priest at the  Cathedral  for 12 years, during which time the lay head of the parish was the Cardinal's grandfather. Archbishop Ro often visited the family and knew it well. The mother, once she knew the desire of her son, went to see the bishop to get permission and persisted even though he was opposed. She finally got her way. The Cardinal remembers his mother as a person with the faith of Abraham.
I became acquainted  with the  Cardinal's mother  from the time in my  first parish in Incheon, where she was a parishioner for a few years. She was, a very happy, devoted and outgoing person.

The Church in Korea when he was ordained, the Cardinal recalls, had few members. While in Rome for studies he was often asked where he came from; he would  ask them to guess. Usually the response  would be Japan or China, in that order; Korea would come in about 10th. Korea at that time was largely unknown to the Europeans and even more so when it came to the Korean Church. 

The Cardinal remembers the time after being appointed bishop of the Cheongju Diocese, when there were only six Korean priests and 20 Maryknoll priests in 22 parishes. When he left to become the ordinary of Seoul, the 100th Korean priest was ordained for the diocese.
Asked about problems encountered during his 50 years as a priest, he said that not all has been peaceful but does not remember any really serious issues. There was always someone there to help him, he said, and his habit of writing a book each year of his priestly life also helped him overcome any difficulties; he devotes at least one hour a day to writing. 

His hope for the Church is to have us more concerned with evangelizing ourselves and the Church. We are always being called, he said, to change and to be renewed, which was also the subject of his pastoral message this year. With this way of thinking, the Cardinal feels the new evangelization will take hold and spread.

 May the Cardinal continue to be blessed with  good health and happiness, and continue to write a  new book each year for the rest of his life.                                                                         


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Distractions in Prayer

The Koreans have a great respect for ritual and rites, partly because of the Confucianism that has influenced the culture. As a result, our Catholics find it easy to adapt quickly to the liturgies and rites of the Mass, which are performed with a great deal of devotion and attention, also evident when performing other spiritual exercises. 

In a recent article in the Catholic Times, the columnist refers to some questions he has received on what to do before the Blessed Sacrament when in prayer. How long should one spend in meditation? Should we use the Scriptures? What should we do with our hands? What is the best posture?

Although they have tried, when before the Blessed Sacrament, to leave the body by closing their eyes, the mind goes from one thought to another in an endless stream; trying to keep the mind centered is difficult. As the Koreans say, 50,000 thoughts come to us in a day, and during our prayers is the time most of them seem to appear.

"Today is not my day to meditate!" may be the distracting thought that may come during our time before the Blessed Sacrament. The word for distractions in Korean is a 'mind that is divided'. Whether we want them or not, distracting thoughts are always with us. To be completely free from them would mean not to be among the living, and, the columnist laments, some do in fact  rid themselves of distractions by taking their own life.
When it comes to how much time should be devoted to meditation, he recommends doing away with the idea of obligation by making every moment a sacred moment, like our breathing. The less attention we give the distractions, the better; without our attention keeping them in mind, they will come briefly to life and just as quickly exhaust themselves.

Today, the first Sunday of Lent we meditated on temptations. The distractions we often experience when praying are like little temptations. The meditation for today, in the Magnificat Magazine--from Fr. Walter Hilton, who died in 1396 -may be helpful in dealing  with distractions: "... temptations no more defile the soul than the barking of a dog or the bite of a flea. They torment the soul but they do it no harm if they are despised and set at naught. It is not wise to fight directly against them and to seek to be rid of them by force, for the more one fights against such thoughts, the more they return."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Flower Day Morning Art School

The Peace Weekly editorial reported that about 100,000 students stop their schooling each year. To help solve the problem, the Catholic Church has for some time set up alternative schools, both sanctioned and not sanctioned by the government, for those who find it difficult to attend the government schools. Some of the alternative schools follow the basic curriculum of the government schools. Of the 170,000 students eligible to attend these schools, only about 5000 are taking advantage of the opportunity. The alternative type of schooling would also help prevent the many North Korean children now living here who cannot attend the regular schools from losing out on their basic education. 

This month, the  Flower Day Morning Art School began its program for students.  For those who dream of working in the field of art but because of family poverty are not able to pursue the dream, this school will make the dream possible. There are dormitories and a beautiful campus, it will begin with nine students. The efforts of many were required to bring the dream into reality. The school, the project of the Seoul Young People's Group, is free for those with artistic gifts and too poor to follow their dreams.

6000 sponsor-contributors have made the dream possible; 28 have volunteered their talents and 3 have been hired as teachers. This is a work in progress and an attempt to give hope to many who have talent in the arts but because of family conditions can't avail themselves of the chance to study.

Eligible students will have graduated from middle school or have the equivalent of a middle school education. Those who graduate from the three-year course at the school and have  talent, will be given scholarships to go  to college.

Courses will include computer graphics, metal arts, pottery the plastic arts, creative use of natural dyes, and much more. Classes will be small to provide more personal attention. The Flower Day school is a wonderful dream come true. Hopefully, the sponsors will help keep the dream alive for many of our young who because of family circumstance would not have been able to realize their dream of what could be. For those who can read Korean the web site:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Overcoming the Obstacle of Stuttering

On the  spirituality page of the Catholic Times, the columnist discusses how a young  religious overcame an inferiority complex and now sees that affliction as a blessing.

The columnist recalls the long talk he had with the religious, who had doubts about his vocation right up to the day he was ordained; the reason was his stuttering. He wondered whether he could be a  good  priest while having feelings of hopelessness. This showed up repeatedly when he was in the choir, and it was his turn to lead the prayers, which would then bring back stress and despair into his life; the negative feelings about himself resulted in a dislike for his brothers, who he believed were laughing at him, making his despair even worse. 

When he considered what his life would be like after ordination, with his stuttering before the Christians, he became more irritated with himself and embarrassed. Thinking of leaving, it happened that he was visited by an older priest who came to  see how he was doing. He told the priest of his feelings of helplessness because of his stuttering. The priest told him that during the litany of the Mass of ordination,  he should ask God for what he  dearly wanted, and it would be given to him.  He wondered whether it was right in such a public situation to ask for something so personal. The older priest told him you will not know whether God will take it as a personal request for a healing or use your stuttering for something else.

"God," the priest said, chuckling as he left the room, "can use your stuttering for the good of others." His words stayed with him, and during the ceremony the next day he was at peace. When he lay prostrate on the floor during the litany he prayed, "Lord, please at least when I am speaking your words to others let it be without stuttering." From that moment on whenever he said Mass, gave a sermon or spiritual talks, he has never had any difficulty. At times in conversations with others, he will stutter a little,  but not in his work as a priest. 

Looking back on his life as a religious he's grateful for the inferiority feelings he once had. Even now, when he gives his sermons and feels the signs of stuttering coming back,  he reminds himself of the priest's advice, sees that he is rushing things, and tells himself to stay calm and  composed. He takes a deep breath, and when he reflects on what he is doing, the stuttering signals disappear. The inferiority feelings have turned into feelings of being blessed; he has found tranquility and a restful spirit.

Monday, March 14, 2011

'Time Does Not Flow'

A diocesan priest writing the lead article in the Kyeongyang Magazine reflects on a book, read many years ago, "Time Does Not Flow,"that argues that the problems we face today have the same origin as the problems faced in the past. Do we spend enough time, he asks, reflecting on the conditions of our society and on the values we treasure most?

He cites a number of issues our society is currently facing: the Four River Project, the North-South standoff, military deployment overseas,  disagreements on welfare, judicial independence and political pressures, balancing environmental concerns with economic development, inequality of educational opportunities, among many other controversial issues. Each segment of society has a different understanding of how these issues should be resolved, each segment, having its own value judgments, often find themselves  in conflict with other groups in society.

Many have heard about "Don't Cry, Tonj," a documentary film honoring one who sacrificed himself for others; this is a value that transcends time and does not change. The film presents the life that Fr. Lee Tae-seok lived fully right to the end; our hearts go out to him, and with tears, says the priest, we agree with the choices he made and the life he lived.  

When we see what is happening in society among some of the privileged we have doubts, whether the leaders have a consistent moral value system. We routinely see the evasion of the law and breeches of ethics that the ordinary citizen has difficulty imagining. Our congressional public hearings evoke anger   rather than pride and trust in our representatives, our children give up their citizenship, rampant investment in real estate by politicians, widespread tax evasion, false resident registration, and falsifying educational records ,testifies to how pragmatic our values have become. And for each infraction there is some excuse.
This year we remembered the second year anniversary of the death of Cardinal Kim. A writer in the daily press said of him, "With the passage of time we cherish his memory all the more."  We respect his values and what he stood for.

The writer urges us to  bring to life the kind of society most of us want to see. It will require, he says, a firm commitment on our part, starting with some basic values and courageously working to see them implemented.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ranking Teachers In Ability to Teach Creativity

Over the years, many educators have talked about including in the Korean school system more educational programs that stress the importance of creativity.  The guest columnist in the Catholic Times, a college professor, thinks the reason for the talk reflects the desire of many to enhance the capabilities of our society to compete on the world stage. The old system, stressing memorization and the ability to express oneself, will become less important as more effort is placed on providing a nurturing atmosphere for creative expression.

He feels that the decision to judge all teachers--in grammar, middle, and high school--on their aptitude to teach creativity will be no easy task. Society is not prepared for this change, and time will be necessary.

All know that the Korean educational system, with its primary focus on memorization and personal expression, has not valued critical thinking or cultivated creativity but aimed at getting students into first-class colleges. And teachers were praised for how well they presented textbook learning to students, knowing the text,and get good grades. The present teachers have  gone through the same system; it's the only one they know. To judge them now on their ability to foster creativity, having been trained for instilling practical and technical knowledge rather than creativity, may be an unreasonable expectation.

When we selected teachers in the past, we were looking for those who had a reservoir of special knowledge and not those who had creative ability. If we are going to switch to this new approach, the professor feels that planning for the change is necessary, allowing for a great deal of time to make the transition. With the time that is required from an overworked staff to implement the changes, no less than a superhuman effort will be necessary

And judging what is required can be done only after a careful study of what creativity training means in a classroom setting. We also need to know what society thinks of this new teaching approach and how teachers can be sure they are following rigorous and practical guidelines for creative treaching.  Otherwise this talk will consist only of empty words.

Speaking plainly, the professor said that there is not a lot of material that even the scholars in the field agree on.Since we don't know much about what is required in this new way of teaching, it's going to be difficult to judge fairly who is doing a good job.There is always the danger of killing the very creativity we are trying to foster when we start ranking teachers, schools, and districts. Judging them on their creativity training is going to be difficult.

Four great teachers: Jesus, Confucius, Socrates and Siddhartha have been mentioned as examplars of creative teaching. How would we go about grading them for their teaching ability? the professor asks. He thinks it may be arrogant on his part to ask, but believes the question is no less difficult to answer when applied to our teachers, our schools and our district. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dialogue And Happiness in Marriage

A priest who develops programs for pastoral work in the diocese of Seoul begins his article in the Kyeongyang Magazine with the well-known story from the Talmud. A king sends two of his servants on a mission, one to find the most beautiful and good thing in the world, the other to find the most evil and deceitful thing in the world. Both returned having found the same thing--the human tongue.

The mind, says the priest, when not questioning the value of words has a tendency to trust in their genuineness. When one says "thank you" or "you damn fool" to a spouse, the unquestioning mind does not judge whether it was a situation that merited the word but accepts it as true  and stores it in memory. A good reason, he believes, why words should not be spoken lightly. A word spoken thoughtlessly in less than 30 seconds can last in mind hurtfully for 30 years.

If one wants to know how much love there is in a marriage find  out how much dialogue. All  unhappy couples know what is necessary for happiness but to do it  is not always easy.

 The dialogue between a couple can be divided into three types: quarreling (using words to turn against the spouse); irrelevant remarks that stray  from the topic (using words to turn away from the spouse); and being in sympathy with feelings and sentiments (using words to turn toward the spouse). The turning against and turning away kind of talk builds up stress and leaves scars. Turning toward dialogue helps to heal the scares and overcomes the stress, and leads to the happiness of the couple.

But the spoken word is incomplete unless heard. Listening is just as important, if not more so, than speaking. Whether what is said is accepted is not as important as the intent to listen to the partner.

The priest mentions that Genghis Khan wasn't able to read, but he listened to others, and  said, " My ears have made me wise."

He gives us the 1:2:3 rule.  Speak for one minute, listen for two minutes, and assent to what is said at least three times.

He ends the article by telling us that within a couple of years we can learn to speak on pretty much any subject, but to listen well, with an open and accepting heart, can take a  life-time of learning.  Listening is the basic requisite for dialogue and not only necessary for dialogue but for a life well-lived; it is an art. Dialogue that is right speech and right listening is the short cut to happiness in marriage. Unfortunately, many are taking  another path  without the same results.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Breaking the Addiction to Mediocrity

Wedesday began the season of  Lent; a  good time for  resolutions that will bring meaningful change into our lives. It's easy to go along with the old ways of doing things, forgetting that a strong  desire can change a life of mediocrity into one of fulfillment. A priest-psychologist, writing for the "Bible & Life" magazine, ponders the difficulty faced by those with an alcoholic problem in bringing change into their lives.

He recalls the muted scream from someone who heard his talk on alcohol addiction: "I read that those who try to overcome their addiction have a success rate of only 3 percent. Do you think," he asked, "that I can beat those odds?"
The question was not serious, but a heartfelt cry from a person who had tried and failed.  Alcoholics have a desire to change, and what is not well understood is the need not to search for a cure for the problem, as is commonly done, but to manage the problem  by providing the care that is necessary. The writer has seen many programs on the problem of alcoholism but rarely on the recovery period, probably because of the  difficulty involved.

We must never forget. he says, that the primary reason we are interested in the problem of addiction is to have the person shed the addiction and lead a better life. Telling them that only a few succeed in doing this is not helping them but taking away what hope they may still have. 

Recovery from alcohol addiction is never easy. One has to have a firm resolve and realize they are fighting a difficult enemy. It will be a long journey and persons who are on that journey will find it scary. But there are  helpful oases and safe havens along the way, if they persevere.

Returning to the person who heard his talk on alcohol addiction, he advises him to tear that page out of the book that says only about 3 percent succeed. Statistics from outside the country have the recovery rate from 50 percent to 60 percent.

Lent is a time to begin a new way of living. To do everything as if it was going to be our last Lent. While the alcoholic is addicted to alcohol, many of us are addicted to a life half-lived. Living in the past made present only by our calendars and watches will not bring change into our lives. To see a change we have to have a strong desire for change. It is a dying to the life of mediocrity, being born again to a fuller life, and living the paschal mystery.  We also will have the help of our community and the graces that will come if we open our hearts and  have a strong desire to see change. Catholics who make  Lent truly a time for meaningful change are no less deserving of praise than those who work to overcome their addictions to alcohol.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

'I am Sorry, Thank You, I Love You'

Many years ago a classmate from seminary days and a fellow missioner here in Korea gave jackets to his altar boys for Christmas, and not one of them said thank you. He was surprised and mentioned it to the sister in the parish. He was told the boys were extremely thankful, but  expressed their gratitude in their eyes and  by wearing the jackets daily.Their gratitude was not with words, but with body language, a language not easily perceived by a foreigner. 

This 'silent language' has mostly disappeared and we hear the words 'thank you' often. A columnist in the Catholic Times reflects on the personal impact of three common expressions: I am sorry, thank you, I love you. "When we have been favored and treated kindly by another," he says, "we often do not say thank you. When we make another person uncomfortable and cause pain, we often forget to say sorry. A basic truth of daily life is to be concerned for the other. It is to give the other person what we would like to receive in return. If we live in this way, there is no anger, our feelings are not hurt, and our lives will glow."

He tells us that in the West, 'I am sorry, thank you, and I love you' are the words of the magician. Like a magician, saying  these words something good happens. "All know this," he says, " but we find those words difficult to express. When we feel gratitude let us express it with words, when we feel sorry let us say it. It often feels awkward to say thank you so it is not said, and we make another sad.  We find it difficult to say I am sorry, so we don't apologize and distrust arises."

In the family and in our daily life, if we used these words more often we would have more harmony and peace.  The columnist tells us about a research institute's report that found that the use of these three expressions, by their energizing effects, could prevent cancer and the effects of aging. But if we are not careful our words can be like daggers. The Korea proverb reminds us that we can pay back a debt of money with words.

When we use the right words, we leave another person with a good impression of us. An actor who says his words with his whole body is considered a good actor. We also should speak with our whole body. This is especially true of us who are people of faith, people who should have thanks, forgiveness and love in our hearts.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Abuse and Use of Internet

We often hear stories of crimes committed by those who have become addicted to internet games, stories that are even difficult to put into words.  A priest writing as a guest columnist  in the Catholic Times expresses his opinion concerning the movement to shut down the games in order to deal with the addiction.

He believes the problem is not primarily with the addiction but rather with family circumstances that do not allow for proper care of the children. He mentions a case in which a middle school child killed his mother and then, regretting his action, killed himself. Here was a widowed mother who had to work to maintain the family and wasn't able to look after the child. Effort should be directed, he feels, toward finding ways to support these families and to fund studies to determine the causes of internet  addiction.

Different groups in society are pushing for implementing the goals of 'Game Shut Down',  the words used for the movement. The intention is to block the reception of the games from midnight to 6:00 am for all under 16 years old, a goal many have wanted for some time. It would extend the time children have to sleep and  protect their health. However, the priest says this goal is complicated by families that urge their children to stay up late to study. Students who study at the academies to better their chances of getting into college are looked upon with pride. He sees no movement to 'Shut Down Study' to protect the health of these children and give them a good night's sleep. The 'Shut Down,' he says, is an effort to prevent the children from taking time from  studies and spending the time in playing games, but the projected plan is not in keeping with the times. He feels it is not equitable and will actually have little practical value.

If the addiction, and not the many hours of study and occasional gaming on the internet, is the problem, efforts should be made, the priest says, to zero in on the reason for the addiction. The result of all addictions is  the same-- alcohol, gambling, drugs. As they do in other countries, efforts should be made to have those addicted acknowledge the problem and to set up rehabilitation programs to help them return to a normal life.

For children who are addicted  to the online games, he feels that rather than forcibly blocking  them from going online, it would be more productive to find out why they have this non-healthy  approach, and then to help them recover so they can use the games in the way they are meant to be used. The misuse of something should not automatically take away its use; instead it should provide us with an incentive to study the root causes of the problem, and to set up guidelines so that children most at risk can make better use of the internet.  That the abuses are many is no longer open to debate. What should be done continues to be a persistent question. A question that deserves to be taken seriously by society.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Call to Action

The following  e-mail came from a Maryknoller who thought
it would be of interest.

Call to action from SPARK, PCI Member Organization
 Solidarity with people of Jeju Island, South Korea 
A call from SPARK Pax Christi International's member organization in
South Korea

Seoul moves to destroy JejuIsland - coral habitat to make way for an
Aegis destroyer base aimed at China!   

JejuIsland, a World Heritage Site, is a jewel of biodiversity whose southern coast 
is home to a soft coral habitat. In 2001, the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration 
designated it a national monument protection area. Its Gangjeong coast is also a 
seasonal habitat for hundreds of dolphins that live there from June until September.
They migrate from Alaska through the North Pacific Ocean to JejuIsland, the only 
dolphin habitat in South Korea.

And now the Seoul Government is about to destroy the dolphin habitat and 

the traditional farming and fishing village of Gangjeong to transform an island
known for biodiversity, international peace, honeymoons, and school trips into 
a focal point of rising militarism and an arms race in East Asia. Seoul's target: China, 
ironically the home of many of the tourists who visit Jeju.

On Christmas Day, there was a peace mass, called, 'the Christmas mass to save life 
and peace of the JejuIsland.' It was led by Bishop Kang Woo-Il, Chairman of the 
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea and the Bishop of the Catholic Jeju diocese, 
along with many priests and women religious on JejuIsland. The event was hosted
by the Special Committee for the Island of Peace, Catholic Jeju Diocese. About 
400~500 followers and Gangjeong villagers gathered and declared their commitment
to save Jeju, Island of Peace, from the naval base construction. Bishop Kang Woo-Il, 
who led the mass, said,  "Military bases cannot save peace and life" and that he 
"would be together with the lonely and oppressed Gangjeong villagers."

The latest report says that the navy is making moves against the people who have 
been trying to block the construction machinery from beginning work.