Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pilgrimages to Macau

The  Catholic Times introduces us to Sister Theresa, a Korean Sister who is a  pilgrimage guide stationed in Macau. Officially accredited  by the  Macau Touring Office, she is the first sister to have worked in that capacity. She not only is a tour guide in name, but in reality is a competent  guide both in Lourdes, Japan and Macau.

She was invited to come to the Diocese of Macau in 2007 to work in the pilgrimage center. She began instructing guides in 2009, and in 2010 starting working as a guide herself.

Macau's  relationship to the Korean Catholic Church goes back to the time when three of the first seminarians Kim Tae-gon, Choi Yang-eop and Choi Bang-je were sent  there to study for the priesthood. They walked for over six month, enduring many hardships, before arriving at the seminary and beginning their studies for the priesthood. There are many historical reminders of these first seminarians in Macau, but few Catholics, she laments, are familiar with the history.

For 450 years the history of the Church in Asia can find a connection to Macau.The Jesuits were in the forefront, sending missioners to different parts of Asia and bringing  Western culture to  Asia. It was from this base in Macau that missioners departed for, among other countries, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Without mentioning Macau, it is difficult to give a true picture of the Church's history in Asia.       
She finds it satisfying to be a pilgrimage guide for our Korean Catholics, and since Sister is familiar with our Catholic history the pilgrims find the time spent with Sister very worthwhile. She says that showing the Chinese around, however, is even more satisfying when she can  introduce them to Catholic history and the life of the religious.

She volunteers her services  every Saturday and Sunday to guide the pilgrims to the  the churches of St. Lawrence, St. Augustine and St. Joseph.  When she is showing around those who come from China, the religious habit is a point of curiosity and they  all start looking for their cameras.

The  diocese of Macau is a great deal older than Korean Catholicism and yet still needs foreign missioners. Sister is proud of the fact that the Korean Church is younger and  is blessed with zeal and many vocations. This is envied by the Church in Macau, and sister finds  joy in sharing  with them some of the passion of the Korean Church.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Smile is Etiquette, Duty, and Privilege

Writing for the Mission Station Pastoral Bulletin a lay person from the Andong Diocese recounts his problems with smiling. He tells us he talks often of the importance of smiling, both in private and when he lectures.

However, something that perplexed him greatly happened recently. He was asked to give his picture to a magazine, so he went to the photo studio to have his picture taken. The photographer took 10 shots and asked him to select one. The photographer asked him to say kimchi, cheese, and even whiskey, repeatedly.  The photographer shook his head and said, "Sorry, sir, but the smile is not coming across."

He returned home and with the help of his wife, practiced smiling.  However, again he wasn't able to do it. What resulted was an  awkward expression. He felt it was his  failure to smile in the past that brought him to this plight, "A day that you don't smile or laugh is a day lost," he remembered thinking--a time of  not loving or receiving love.

He tells us that God gave us two  instruments we can use to show we are loved: one is the bright smile and the other tender words. Practice makes perfect and that is also true in this area of smiling and kind words. This has to be worked at before a mirror, he says. Smiling comes with practice and needs  effort.

The writer tells us about a young man who lost his job  and tried to get work for over a year with no luck. He finally went to an employment office and noticed that those who were hired were not the young, those of  sturdy built, or the well dressed, but those with a bright expression. The young man practiced before a mirror for a week and finally did get a job.

The writer tells us if one examines carefully and with patience they will see that one who can smile continually is a good person. There are many times we greet others perfunctorily. When we shake hands, we turn our gaze from the person and miss the chance to receive love and  recognition. He tells us if we are not prepared to smile and say some kind words when meeting another, we should postpone the encounter.  A smile is etiquette, duty and privilege.

The writer admits that he still cannot smile comfortably and naturally. Although not indicative of the way he feels, he inadvertently and habitually greets others with a vacant stare.  When that happens, he brings to mind the words of a salesman. Having worked hard all day and, now tired, returning home, he stops for a few moments in the hall way, regains his  composure and with a deep breath tells himself he will be meeting--and greeting--the last customer of the day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Korean Catholics Overseas

The following was published by the Catholic  Bishops' Committee of Korea for the Pastoral Care of Koreans Living Abroad, on Feb. 17, 2011.

According to the statistics, as of December 2010, the number of overseas Korean Catholics is 161,390, an increase of 2% (3,365) over the last year.
The statistics indicate that the number of priests sent to the Third World countries showed a drastic increase over the last year. In 2010, 330 priests were sent abroad, an increase of 80 over the previous year. While pastoral care of overseas Koreans has been the main reason of sending priests abroad traditionally, the statistics show that the number of priests sent for the missionary work in the Third World countries is growing these days.
Another noticeable phenomenon is the growth of Korean Catholic communities in Asia. The rate of increase in recent 3 years of overseas Korean Catholics in Asia is 15.4%, the highest number of all 6 continents. The number of overseas parishes for Koreans is 44, an increase of 4 over the previous year. In 2010, the number of Korean Catholics in Chinese underground churches were excluded. If they were counted in, the rate of increase would be about 20%.
The diocese which sent the highest numbers of priests is the Diocese of Pusan (26 priests in 9 countries), followed by the Diocese of Daejeon (24 priests in 6 countries) and the Diocese of Daegu (21 priests in 8 countries). Among the religious communities, Sisters of the Blessed Korean Martyrs sent abroad the largest number of Korean pastoral workers (38 sisters in 6 countries), followed by Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (35 sisters in 6 countries) and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (33 sisters in 17 countries).
There are 116,211 Catholics in North America accounting for 72% of the total overseas Korean Catholics. Then, there are 18,892 in Oceania, 10,725 in Asia, 8,479 in South America, 6,604 in Europe and 380 in Africa. Most overseas Korean Catholics are in the United States (91,141), followed by Canada (24,707), and Australia (13,922). Overseas Korean Catholics in Asia are mainly in three countries: Indonesia (2,126), the Philippines (1,395) and Vietnam (1,097).
According to the statistics of overseas Koreans published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea, the overseas Korean Catholics are presumed as 2.4% of the total number of overseas Koreans (6,822,606).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

At Least Try Not to Hate

The Catholic Times' writer on spirituality discusses a common problem that is especially troubling for those desiring to live according to the teachings of Christianity. What do you do when loving another person seems impossible? He mentions the case of a young woman worker who came to him for help. "My boss at work," she explained, "is a woman I hate with a passion.  She  makes use of what I do with great ease and pleasure, but whenever I  go to her with a question, the only answer I get is "I don't know." And any time she does me a small favor she tells everybody in the office and makes me feel cheap. I find it difficult to sleep and I'm depressed. And I feel I can't quit because I got the job with the help of someone."

The writer let her cry. When she finally gained composure he asked her "How difficult are the working conditions that brought you to  hate your boss?" Her choked response was  "I hate her so much I want to kill her. I know it's wrong to hate like that, so I've tried to find her good points. As a woman to have  a position of authority in the company shows that she is very capable, doesn't it? That she has the ability I don't have made me jealous and is also  part of the problem."

We say the opposite of hate is love. And as followers of Jesus we know we have to love and not hate under any circumstances, which sometimes brings stress into our lives.The writer remembers a time when he had a similar problem to that of the young woman, and went to see an older member of the community to ask for help.  He was  reminded  that this problem was something  he had difficulty with in his confession for some time. Repeatedly he had heard that if you if can't love, at least try not to hate. In trying not to hate we may still hate, but we hate less, and over time it begins to diminish and we may then experience the beginnings of love. We sense something has changed, something more  fulfilling than hate has happened deep inside us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Earth Day 2011

The Peace Weekly recently editorialized on the many environmental problems facing our society. Earth Day, April 22nd, commemorates our newly found ecological consciousness that began, according to the editorial, in 1969 when a devastating oil spill in California contaminated many of the beaches on the West coast. From this incident the grass-root movement took hold and spread to many other countries of the world.

This will be the 40th year since the first Earth Day of 1970 sought to alert the general public of the dangers to the environment. Buying water instead of drinking water from the the tap is now an accepted practice in many societies. And, increasingly, we are eating organic food to avoid the heavily processed foods on market shelves and the pesticide-sprayed and chemically fertilized produce from our farms. Our air is polluted with green-house gases and acid rain, and now the atmosphere has been further polluted with radioactive particles. Even in Korea, schools have recently given time off from classes  because of the fear of radioactive rain.

Humans are the ones that have caused the problem. God put everything in order and determined it to  be good, and told us to preserve and manage it. This has not been something we have done well, destroying much of what was given to us. We as Church should reflect on what we have done as members of the larger community. Do we see only the earth as a place for humans, and consider material progress and financial betterment as the only values of interest? Have we as  Church gone along with this thinking?

Many still see the preserving of our environment  as something foreign to our faith life. Humans appeared late  on the earth but  have destroyed much of what we were given. It is time for us to realize that the preservation of the environment is our work and we have to be active in its fulfillment. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses it clearly (2415):  The seventh commandment (thou shalt not steal) enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals are by nature, like plants and inanimate beings, destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the earth cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of all, including generations to come. It requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A New Beginning In the Taegu Diocese

The Diocese of Taegu is making preparations for the second synod in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the diocese. The Greek word synod means a journey taken together. In English, we would say council. It is a call to all the members of a diocese to come together to discuss important issues confronting the diocese. Some of the issues to be discussed at the Taegu Synod will be addressed under four categories: Evangelization of the young, Evangelization in the new society, Concern of the church for the alienated and marginalized, and The relationship of the diocese with the deaneries and the life of  priests.

The Church in Korea  has had many diocesan synods. The first Taegu synod was  in 1997. "These synods themselves are part of the new evangelization," wrote Pope John Paul in his 1994 apostolic letter. " They were born from the Second Vatican Council's vision of the Church. They open up broad areas for the participation of the laity, whose specific responsibilities in the Church they define. They are an expression of the strength which Christ has given to the entire people of God, making them a sharer in his own messianic mission as prophet, priest and king." (#21)

450 priests, religious and lay people will gather together as delegates,  remembering the words of the bishop who called for the first Korean synod 14 years ago: "Since this was our first synod  we did not know what to expect. We did not cover all we  should have covered," he lamented. "The next  time, having had this experience, the second synod will build on the first synod with wonderful results."

The present intention of the Taegu Synod is to make use of what was learned from the first synod  and add and make up for what was missed the first time. We will adapt, a spokesperson said, to the changing times and consider present problems. The protocol is to have all the delegates vote on all of the the propositions brought before the general assembly. What has the approval of the delegates will be presented to the bishop for his approval; they then will be promulgated  to the diocese as their future work.

The Mass inaugurating the synod was celebrated on April 8th. The first meeting of the general assembly will be on June 12th. Four committees will meet to draw up guidelines prior to the first meeting of all the delegates. The work of the synod is expected to last for a number of years, and they are asking for our prayers for a successful conclusion.

The Korean Church has shown a great interest in these synods but the results have not always been successful. A lot of money has been spent with great expectations, but also with some misgivings. It's perhaps a necessary first step in breaking down some of the thinking from the top-down approach to governance to a bottom-up approach. The bottom-up style--a difficult and often bothersome way of solving problems--will take some time to get used to, but Taegu is showing us the way. May this second attempt be a lesson to the whole Korean Church of what is possible.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Joy of Easter

The Desk  Columnist of the Catholic Times tells us about a grandmother that had nothing to be happy about and yet was happy. By the standards of our society she should have been pitied. Her husband and child had died many years earlier; she was poor and had no one to look after her, and yet when the writer visited her, she was singing doing the housework.

Reflecting on his own life, the writer had everything going for him, and yet he was not as happy as the  grandmother. He asked her what gave her such joy in life. She said with a smile that she is living with the Lord and how could she not be happy and thankful. The writer was embarrassed but remembered that faith --not knowing, thinking, and talking a lot--is crucial to a fulfilling life, a life lived with with the Lord, the way the grandmother was doing.

Faith is meeting the Lord daily and sharing what is received with others. A faith life is not something added on, but the very life itself. It is relating with Jesus in a personal way: sincerely, obeying  his will, responding to his love. Going to church, knowing  the scriptures, and praying is just one part of a faith life: our life has to manifest what we believe.

Our faith life is nurtured by the scriptures and  sermons, helping us to live a mature faith life. When we meet trials, we know what our attitude and  responses should be. However, it is not uncommon that when trials come, we lament and fear overcomes us. At that time, everything that we thought we knew disappears. Doing the will of God at that time seems very remote: we indulge in resentment, fear and despair. Life goes one way and our beliefs another.This is called by some the "separate rice soup" approach to life: you get the soup and rice separately. You can put the rice into the soup or eat it separately. It's your choice. When you go to Church you are a believer, otherwise life runs its own course.

Today is Easter.  Celebrating Easter for us is the climax of the liturgical year. It is a time when we are encouraged to renew our life according to our belief, not once a year but every day of our life, and especially during the difficult times. Experiencing the grace-given Easter joy in life, as our grandmother did, is the way a Christian gives proof of Easter. A Happy Easter to all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Returing to the Past with the Seven Last Words.

Some years ago a very musically talented Augustinian Father arranged to have  a Tenebrae Service on the last seven words of Jesus on the cross, on Holy Saturday morning in a parish in Incheon. The service was beautifully done and had great meaning for the congregation.  The altar had a candelabra  with 7 candles lit and the Paschal Candle that represented Christ was on the side. After the reading and the meditation on each of the  words, we had an interlude with music. After the last candle of the candelabra candle was extinguished the Paschal candle was removed.  The music performed was Haydn's for a string quartet.

The service was explained by Haydn himself in an introduction to the composition of his work on the Seven Last Words:
  Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on the seven last words of Our Savior on the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners; indeed, I found it quite impossible to confine myself to the appointed limits.

These services were very common in the past but after  Vatican II because of the change of time to the evening for the   Good Friday Service,  the practice of the Seven Last Words disappeared, for the most part. You do have it in convents and monasteries and also in certain parishes but  no longer has the prominence as in the past. Having the service on Saturday morning was very appropriate and makes the building up to the last three days with the Seven Last Words  a fitting preamble to the  Climax at the  Easter Saturday Vigil Mass.

Surfing to  see what was listed under Seven Last Words in Korean I was surprised to see so many Protestant Churches having the service.One of the most beautiful meditations that I have read on the 7 last words was by a Protestant minister. You also see some ministers recommending the rosary to their congregations. The praying modes of the different Christian Communities should be something that we should be able to accept. The Protestant musical tradition has entered the Catholic Church, and the Protestants are being attracted to many of the Catholic prayer forms. This should be a help in  understanding each other with fewer misunderstandings, and  giving us a common desire to be closer in discipleship to Jesus.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Examine My Hands" Good Friday Meditation

Writing in the "With Bible" magazine a Religious sister recalls her visit to a convent with a deaf person, during which they attended a Mass. She watched carefully as a sister at the front of the church passed along to the hard of hearing the words of the Mass and what was occurring on the altar, using not only her hands but her body to communicate. She wondered if there was any more beautiful way of giving praise than the soft and easy movements of the hands to form words, and the singing responses in sign language. It was, she said, like heat waves of life dancing in the air on a spring day.

For many centuries, artists have used the 14 stations of the cross as subjects for their art. She mentions a modern day rendition that appears in one of the churches in Seoul: the stations are depicted solely by the different positions of the 'hands of Jesus' carved in relief.

The hands are in different sizes, positions, textures and in a variety of frames.Each one separately can be seen as a unique masterpiece: hands supporting the cross, perplexed hands on the ground, violent hands grabbing the clothing, spastic  hands receiving the nails, entrusting hands after death. There is no extravagance in the expression of pain and anguish. Instead, the artistic description follows the  laws of the medium and is restrained in expression. Standing before the station, one is not overcome by the suffering  and extreme sadness but what is seen elicits repentance and regret. The form has been refined so it is not the emotions that are moved but one is still left with the meaning.

Jesus used his hands often in his ministry: Touching the lepers, blessing the children, holding simple food in his hands, washing the feet of his disciples, and finally stretching his hands out on the cross, and, after death, showing his hands to his disciples so they would know he was the one that walked with them before death.

The sister reflects on where the hands of Jesus might be found today. Haven't they been bequeathed through the Church to  us? she asks. They are a poor replacement, she admits,  but we, as Church, are his tools--weak and deficient as we may be. "My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection" (II Cor. 12:9). She ends her article by reminding us that it is all grace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paris Foreign Missioners In Korea

An interview with Fr. Georges Colomb, Superior General of the Paris Foreign Mission  Society (MEP), was written up in the recent Catholic Times. Korean Catholics, he said, invited the missioners to come to their country, and not  an invitation from Rome.  This desire of the Korean Catholics moved the hearts of the early French missioners, even though knowing that death awaited them in coming to Korea.

The early years of missionary work in Korea were not always without problems, but the  early missioners were still able to send three seminarians to Macau, as support from MEP continued unabated. Ten of the missioners died a martyr's death and there is no regret. The faith and sincerity of the early Christians were repaid by the love and sacrifice of the missioners.

The growth in the  number of clergy in Korea is due in part to the influence of the Paris Foreign missioners. This was the initial intention of the missioners and the first goal of the society, in contrast to the situation in the Philippines and Indonesia where the religious orders where the  evangelizers.

In Asia, from the time of the beginning of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society in 1658, more than 120 dioceses have been established and 5000 seminarians formed. Except for Cambodia, all the different areas have a smaller number of Paris Foreign Missioners doing mission work, but in recent times we are seeing , he said, an increase in the numbers entering the society. Presently, there are 20 seminarians in formation. This year we had three deacons and three priests ordained. In June, we are looking forward to  having four more ordained to the priesthood.

Fr.Colomb mentioned that 10 years ago the society started a program for associate members, and a program for lay volunteers. The volunteers are trained and, under the auspices of the society, sent to experience the life of a missioner, many of them eventually entering the society.

The MEP are considered married to the country where they are sent, feeling a connection not only with its history but with its language, culture, and traditions. The society is  happy to see the  dynamism of the different churches in Asia, and the missioners continue to work for the formation of the local clergy. As long as there is even one missioner left, he will be united with the local clergy. Having left their own country for the mission country, missioners remain wedded to that country for eternity.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Another Way of Seeing the Japanese Tragedy

  Another columnist in the Catholic Times returns to the subject of the recent Japanese tragedy: the earthquake, the tsunami and, making matters worse, the nuclear radiation--all adding to the great  suffering of the Japanese people.  She reflects on the her own life with gratitude but is it possible, she asks, to feel at peace when so many others are suffering?

She mentions that the Japanese ambassador, who attended the Korea Hope Concert, thanked the Koreans in flawless Korean for their help. It was not difficult to understand  why the entertainers who participated in the concert wanted to raise money, since Japan has been very receptive to the Korean world of entertainment. It was not so easy to understand the help that came from the 'comfort women, who for years demonstrated before the Japanese Embassy and saw many of their members  die  without  receiving recognition from the Japanese government. This brought tears to the eyes of many.

The columnist mentions that the Koreans, known to be a warm and compassionate people who in their 5,000 year history have been invaded hundreds of times, have not once invaded another country. That should be sufficient proof of their outstanding  character.  In contrast, the Japanese could be described as cold-headed or, more accurately, persons of reason. We can congratulate them on their calmness and order during this tragedy. They have been educated from an early age to be concerned for others and not to inflict harm on others.

These are wonderful attributes, she goes on to say, but is curious to know why Japan is not  known as a country  concerned with the needs of other countries. The Tokdo island (now occupied by the Koreans but claimed  by the Japanese) is still an unresolved controversy. And why, without a word of explanation or warning, did they release radioactive contamination into the ocean? Nonetheless, during the disaster Korea has continued to help.

Japan has many reasons to be thankful to Korea. The culture and art of the Paik-chei kingdom flowed into Japan and continued even later at the time of the  invasion of Korea by the Japanese in 1592. And they still refuse to correct the mistakes in their history books by giving a correct understanding of history to future generations of Japanese.

She recalled that Pope John Paul asked for forgiveness from the world for faults of the Church during its long history. The columnist wishes, as she continues to give to the suffering people of Japan, that the Japanese would reflect on their history--in the manner of John Paul--and ask for forgiveness from the countries she has harmed with invasion and pillage, and  be 'born again' with a good, friendly policy toward her neighbors.

A history of suffering at the hands of another is very difficult to forget; we know memories tend to linger within a culture and in the hearts of those who have been subjugated. It  should be a lesson to keep before our eyes even when we continue to do all that is necessary to show our love for those in pain, despite the pain they have caused others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Possiblity of the Good Life

Competition is a word we hear often and most of the time used negatively in Korean Catholic thinking. In the column devoted to  the making of a culture of life in the Peace Weekly, the writer considers competition as having a very negative effect on our happiness.

Even when we have all that is necessary for life, we are not always happy. In our society, many have a superabundance of the good things, and still not the happiness they want. When success is the goal, there are always some who will be more successful; money is often a means to more money and not a way of enjoying leisure, and time with those they live with.

We all have a different idea of what the good life should be, many sacrificing everything in search for it. We compare ourselves to others and try to reach and overreach them by any means available, and at the same time, tiring and stressing ourselves in the process. 

There are many who have all that is necessary for the good life but have many internal scars and sickness of the heart that prevents them from enjoying what they have. Enjoying a great deal of success, some can't dismiss the lingering attachment to other possibilities in their life. The weariness and the desire to better themselves operate against the present happiness they should have.

This spirit of competition in the life of many diminishes the spirit, gives birth to jealousy, and depresses us. The person we have become, we do not like.

This way of looking at who we are is far from what the reality should be. We are God's masterpiece and one of a kind; not  one that  should be compared to another. It is finding who we are to be that will bring happiness into our lives. God is leading us now, we are God's work, and once that realization enters our consciousness things will begin to change.

In life, there are times when all is upside-down, we don't know where to go. At those times we should stop and reflect and let God direct our path. We are breathing, we  have life; it's a great gift, a blessing, a miracle--reason enough for gratitude.  

College exams, finding work, desiring a promotion--all the many ways we are  in competition with our friends and colleagues consume too much of our precious time. In our Church society we try to promote a warm and friendly community--one that will help us overcome the negative influences of the competitive society we live in.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A View of the Tragedy in Japan from Korea

A Religious Sister at one of  the Catholic Universities writes about the generous response of the female students to the earthquake and tsunami destruction in Japan. They collected a sizable amount of money and publicized the needs of the victims and asked for prayers. Pictures of the devastated regions were placed on classroom walls and the corridors of the school, covering them like wall paper. It was a heart-felt expression of their desire to help the Japanese materially  and spiritually.
Korean society, from the famous to the ordinary citizens, in a short period of time, generously contributed large sums of money for those hurt by the catastrophe. However, what was most surprising was that the 'comfort women,' who have been asking the Japanese government for compensation for using them as sex slaves during the second world war, and have demonstrated every Wednesday before the Japanese Embassy, met to show their grief for what happened. They can see the difference between what was done to them and the current tragedy in Japan. 

There have been all kinds of reflections on the terrible tragedy by those who believe in God. How can God allow something like this to happen? Where is God in all this? Some see it as a punishment. Others see it as a warning. There are also those, she says, who see it as a punishment for not accepting God and being immersed in materialism.

Sister says if she were asked the same question, her answer would be that God is not the cause of what happened. God is present in those who are suffering and, she believes, participates in their suffering. The scope of the suffering experienced is immense, but we also see the growth of love and  mercy and the greatness and goodness of humanity. She notes that what the students did in response to the tragedy brings all of us closer to a feeling of oneness with them.

Every year since 1993, 20 students from Japan come to their school in the summer, and in the Fall, 20 from Korea go to Japan. Following the visits and for many years after, they continue to exchange messages and news. At the end of one exchange, a student said, " Japan is no longer a place on a map but a country with a face, extending not only to  the students but also to their families." The sister hopes there will be more of these exchanges that will put a face on a place that usually is just a place on a map.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Place of Competiveness in our School System

The  premier Korean National Government Science and Technology School has been in the news lately. Since the beginning of the year, there have been five suicides at the school: four students and one teacher.

The Desk Column in the Catholic Times reports that some blame the way the school is run for the suicides, including a grading system that can determine tuition costs, and other policies that put the students under a great deal of stress.

The journalist feels that the competition engendered at the school is the primary cause. It is the way we have made our society, she says, and not surprisingly it tends to  appear in our schools of higher education as well, leaving students with few other options but to compete among themselves. But this competitive atmosphere is not conducive to learning.  Our colleges, long touted as temples of learning, have been invaded by the same competitive spirit that has infected our society, becoming  places for getting employment at the expense of learning.

The students, the teachers, and the governing bodies of universities are all primed to compete, and the stress affects each of them at their very core: Professors are pressured to excel and to do research in addition to teaching, leading to time-management problems that disrupt the relationship of trust between teachers and students. Obligations to make  financial capabilities public, ratings by the government, and decreasing student enrollment--all make for a competitive workplace. 

Consequently, in many cases, the students take subjects with little relationship to their major but simply to get good grades.  Professors also become interested in increasing their capabilities and the temples of learning are no longer what they were meant to be.

The rector of the school  felt it necessary to breed this competitiveness to attract the best students, and then educate them to contribute at a high level for the future benefit of the country. This is the present thinking of the government: competitiveness and efficiency. Not all think in this mode for we have those who feel we should not only be moved by financial reward but also by our own dignity as persons. Many teachers at the school are skeptical of the direction the rector has taken the school over the years to revolutionize the school.   

And now the public has weighed in after the recent suicides with questions concerning how we run our educational system; the tendency now is to take another look at the schools to see what improvements can be made. Our writer concludes with a desire that the Catholic school system also be given another look to see if it also has taken on the competitive mode of our society, keeping in mind what it means to be faithful to the Catholic vision of education.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Making a Difference in the Life of Others

A priest recounts his experiences while on a spiritual pilgrimage to India, during which he visited the ashram of Vinoba Bhave (1895-1984) at Paunar.  He remembers Vinoba's room at the ashram as being sparse and simple, similar to that of Gandhi's. Although a Hindu, he had hung on the wall in the passageway in front of his room a crucifix, a reminder of the Christ spirit that Vinoba meditated on and that influenced his life--the same spirit the writer felt in making the rounds of the ashram.

Vinoba was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian independence movement. He was one of his most intimate followers and his spiritual successor. "Love," he said, "is the strongest force there is. What changes the world is not knowledge but love." Love for him meant a life committed to  non-violence, which was the spirituality he pursued throughout his life.                                                                                    
Many considered him the second Gandhi; for 13 years he traveled barefoot throughout the countryside, urging landowners to give some of their land to the poor. "Steeling is a crime but saving up a great deal of money is a bigger theft. If you have five children, consider the poor your sixth child," he said, "and put aside 1/6 of your land for that child." The result of this movement, called the Land Gift Movement, was more successful than any government program that had been tried.

In one of his literary works, Vinoba wrote: "The work of women has not been seen.  We are not able to get peace with only the work of men. In the future women will also have this role; we have to become conscious of women's mental strength." (He was one of the first to have an ashram for women.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
The priest, along with others on pilgrimage, was able to see the caste system up close by spending time with the untouchables. The guide told the pilgrims that religion made it possible for the untouchables to face death peacefully. It was an expression that stayed with the priest even on his  return to Korea. "Religion," he said, "is what makes them able to face reality and gives them a goal in life.  In this world of darkness, they have hope." Isn't this what we mean by salvation in religion? he asks.  Seeing the faith of these untouchables made him see his own faith life differently.

In a movie they saw at the ashram, Gandhi was quoted as saying that in the beginning he thought that God was Truth; later he came to believe that Truth is God.                                                         

Marx famously said, "Religion is the opiate of the people."  A remark often used to show how religion can turn one's attention from this world to a pie-in- the-sky view of life that makes life bearable for those who live in this 'vale of tears.' In the case of the untouchables, this view of life is easily understood. But for most of us the dignity natural to humankind should inspire us to work to better the lot of those who suffer, replacing the pie-in-the-sky with a down-to-earth understanding of human dignity that religion endeavors to teach us. With this as motivation, we can in some measure do what Vinoba was able to do: make a difference in the lives of those who because of their lot in life find it difficult to experience this dignity. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Medicine as an Art

The Catholic Medical School has a program that is different from the other medical schools in Korea. Started in 2009, the program, called omnibus omnia: Latin for "Being all things to all," will provide students with a Christian vision of society. Not only will they learn how to diagnose and treat disease, but along with the typical medical school courses they will learn to see and treat the whole person and acknowledge their rightful place in society; it will be a holistic medicine

The Peace Weekly headlined their article on the program: "Fostering Catholic Identity in Medical Training." The program will require students to have 300 hours of classroom study during their four years in the medical school. The first two years will focus on the Catholic vision and holistic approach to medicine; the next two years will concentrate on the practical application of this vision and what medical expertise should mean.

It is not an exaggeration to say the education program will include all areas of study, including religion, history, literature, philosophy,  psychology, economics, politics, and sociology. It will attempt to see the medical profession from as many different angles as possible, in order to educate the whole person in all its many dimensions. They will bring in leaders in these areas of study to give lectures. And there will be efforts to present first-hand accounts of the disease process by those who are suffering the disease.

In this way the students will get a chance to speak to those suffering from different diseases not only in a clinical way but also in a human way. Rote memorizing of course material will give way to a dialogue approach, which will be one of a number of approaches to make the program more effective. And instead of the passive cramming method of education, there will be a more participatory approach on the part of students that will allow them to express themselves both in speech and in writing.

The professor of  medical humanities and the social science curriculum will be in charge of the program.That there was a lack in this area, he admits, and this will be remedied in the omnibus omnia program in the future. The school's goal is to graduate holistic physicians who have a broad vision of what it means to be in the medical profession. The professor says that this vision will be one that permeates all the teaching that is done in the schools affiliated with the Catholic University and not only in the medical school.

This lack was felt in Korea for some time and it was good news to hear that the Catholic Medical School has decided to do something to remedy the situation. The limitations of the specialist can sometimes be detrimental to the the overall goal of healing the whole person. To bring in the 'catholic' approach to life and incorporate it in a curriculum for a medical school will do a great deal in making medicine not only a science but an art.           

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Research Center of the Korean Catholic Church

At the Spring meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference, the bishops decided to set up a pastoral research center to examine and organize the present  pastoral efforts, and give direction for future efforts.

The bishop of Chejudo, and  president of the bishops' conference, Peter Kang U-il, who gave an interview to the Catholic press on this issue,  will head the research center. They will attempt to do what the dioceses would have difficulty in doing independently: gathering knowledge and expertise from resources throughout the country in order to develop programs for the whole country, form lay leaders, and provide for the on-going education of  clergy.

Catholics in Korea number over 5 million, but how much of the teaching of Jesus  has become part of their life? How much has it influenced the way we live? Because we have been baptized does not necessarily mean, the bishop says frankly and with some disappointment, that we have been evangelized. We have to examine again what  this new evangelization means for our future. Working with small Christian communities will be a big part of the evangelizing vision of the Church, and leadership programs for lay people will be tied in with these  small Christian communities.

Although the number of priests has increased greatly in recent years there has not been, after the seven years of seminary, any formal program for the continued education of the clergy.  To do this on the diocesan level in a unified way is beyond the capabilities of the different dioceses.

From the 7th to the 28th of October, 2012, some 300 bishops from around the world will meet in Rome for the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to reflect on the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith. In preparation for this meeting, the bishops have the task to report on what is being done in our country to promote the new evangelization. Usually this is done by individual dioceses but with input from the research center we will have a unified white paper on the issue.

The intention of the research center is to work together with the many research institutes and pastoral centers in Korea, exchanging information and acting as a go-between. Our participation next year in the Synod of Bishops in Rome should be greatly benefited  because of the resources that now will be available to the new research center. 

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Unreciprocated Love is not Complete

Many years ago there was a popular Korean pop song 'Kap Do-ri and Kap Sun-ni'. The lyrics told the story of boy and girl who lived in the same village and  loved each other from afar. Their love, they thought,  was non reciprocated. Both got married to others, crying  on the inside and making  light of it on the outside.

A Sister professor who teaches Scripture and Hebrew at the Catholic University starts her article in the Kyeongyang magazine with this anecdote and mentions  they probably tried to show their affection for each other, but it wasn't understood for  otherwise the situation would have been different. Non reciprocated love to become complete love has to be reciprocated.

God has been writing love letters to us from the beginning, but we often miss the message. He showed this love by  creation, in history, in Scripture and In Christ. He approaches us but we  fail to adjust to his wave length. Our glory is that of all his creatures we alone have  the capacity to return that love.

We do realize, at times,  that he is sending us a message of love but   fear that if we accept this  love, we lose our freedom. Many others  see God as not interested in the problems of humans and not necessary: he prevents humans from progressing. Others find his message unpleasant--to deny ourselves, be protective of nature, and accept those who are not to our liking. Our first ancestors were faced with the same problems, and thought it would be better to be like God.

God is not free to demand love or a response, for it is no longer loving or dialogue when it is not entered freely. We can see this relationship right from the beginning in the Scriptures: the refusal to accept God's love, thinking we lose if we do.

God is answering our thirst for life. It is necessary for us to have experience of life to be able to see  our thirst and realize it is only God that can satisfy it. This experience of God working in us, Sister sees as most important.  Listening to the Word  enables us to be what he wants us to be. We can't reach this with reasoning and by proofs of science,but by  going into our hearts and seeing how his words correspond to our desires.  God created  with his word and continues to create with his word. It is when his word is conceived and given birth in us that we have life and can respond to love.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One of the Benefits of the Religious Profession in Korea

The daily papers recently reported on a study by a  research team from Wonkwang University that  compared the average life span of people from 11 professions. The data shows that those who work in the religious professions have the longest life span, those in the entertainment business the shortest. 

Based on data from the office of Korean Statistics and on obituaries for the past ten years, the study shows that clergy, professors and politicians are more likely to enjoy longer lives, while journalists, athletes and entertainers tend to live shorter ones, clergy, on average, living 82 years, professors and politicians,79; journalists,72;  athletes, 69; and entertainers, 65.

The research team suggested that the longevity of clergy results from a temperate lifestyle. However, due to the widespread interest today in staying healthy, there's less of a gap in life span among the various professions in this 10-year study than in a similar study with data compiled from 1963 to 2010. Clergy is still at the top of the list with an average life span of 80 years, followed by politicians, 75; university professors, 74; business people, 73; legal professionals 72;  high-ranking officials 71; and, at the bottom of the list, entertainers, artists and sport figures at 70 years of age. The only career where the average life expectancy is declining is show business: from a life span of 75 years in the  90s to the current 65 years, partly because of the substantial number of show people who have taken their own life in recent years.

A priest writing for priests quotes a Buddhist monk as saying: "In  Korea those in ministry usually have serious financial problems after they retire. The Catholic priests' financial needs are cared for by the diocese while only about 20 percent of Protestant ministers have guaranteed support.  Buddhist monks also have a similar problem. Depending on how much they have saved, help is provided by the larger temples or by individuals. This is the reason they do not get involved in society after retirement like the Catholic priests."

Catholic priests do have guaranteed financial support from the diocese which does take away much of the stress from their retirement years, unfortunately this is  not always the case in the other professions.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A New Diet For the Future

Writing in the Pastoral bulletin a priest  recalls his trip to Europe and a conversation with a Dutchwoman about observing the days of abstinence in the Church calendar. "Before God," she said, "we are all mature and able to judge and act correctly...." Her point being that when the Vatican tells those living under different cultural conditions to abstain from meat on Fridays, it is sometimes difficult to accept and to follow. The priest got the impression that, for many, tradition and the authority of the Church can not be compared in importance to their  personal convictions that carry the 'authority' of a heartfelt assent.

The interest in observing days of abstinence in Europe during his time there, he said, was almost completely missing. And even in Korea the concern for the days of abstinence is far from what it was in the past. Perhaps because the reason for these days of abstinence is not known in most of the Catholic world, some Catholics even buying expensive fish to eat as a consolation for giving up meat.  

However, in certain parts of the West there are those who are campaigning for Mondays as a day without meat. Here in Korea, with the onset of the foot and mouth disease, some are using the slogan: "Let us eat less meat and more vegetables."

There were about three and half million animals buried because of the foot and mouth disease, at a cost of 2.68 billion dollars. The main reason for the tragedy is the way we raise our animals, keeping them penned up in unsanitary, stressful conditions causing disease to spread quickly. Compounding the problem, the animals, natural grass eaters, are fed grains, waste food from restaurants, powdered bone meal, and the remains from slaughter houses. To fatten them for market, the animals are given growth hormones, and to keep them healthy while living in unhealthy living conditions, they are given medicine and antibiotics, often exceeding their use in other countries. Those who are familiar with this way of raising  our animals are losing their desire to eat meat.      

If we are to change the way we raise animals there has to be a change in the way we eat. The increase in meat consumption is twice what it was back 20 years ago. 40 percent of the meat we eat is imported, and this will increase in the years ahead because of the recent foot and mouth disease and because the production of food in Korea has decreased.

Along with less food being produced, there has been an increase in the amount of grains fed to animals, which is to be expected since it takes seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat. The more animals we raise the more likely the world's poor will face the prospects of starving.

If we are to make the growing and consumption of food more sustainable, we will have to change  to an environmentally friendly way of raising our animals. For a spiritually directed life, our writer says we have to reconsider our consumption of meat products and have a more abstemious lifestyle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Being Your Own Worst Enemy

Recent  events in Korea have made bullying a newsworthy subject. It is a serious problem, says the columnist on spirituality for the Catholic Times, that can result in death or lead to mental problems.

Bullying can take place in every sector of society but is a serious problem especially for children, who have little in the way of defense.  The columnist introduces us to the word 'Seutta,' which in Korean means to shun oneself. It occurs when a person in a community or organization does something that  turns others against the person, a common occurrence in society.The persons usually don't realize there is a cloud of distrust hanging over the group because they are  present. They don't  partake in the community and make no effort to join.  And the community does not recognize them as members and the individuals usually don't know why.

The ones who are bringing this about  are for the most part  egotistic and narrow-minded. Although they say they love the community, they act in ways contrary to the good of the community.This also is the reason many  leave the  community.

The columnist agrees there are many ways to see the problem of those who are bullied and those who make themselves lonely by their actions.  He feels the root cause is a lack of trust, fearing others and the world.  They feel small and timid in the presence of others, and when they  compromise they feel  they lose something of themselves in the exchange. Not wanting to acknowledge the fear and uncomfortableness they feel within themselves, they tend to react with selfishness. In defending themselves they often form factions in an attempt to  sooth their loneliness, without realizing that what they think they will lose they actually gain by trusting.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

It is said that trust is the unconditional acceptance received from another and returned in kind. Does that mean, the columnist asks, that when we do not receive it we are not able to give it? Trust that I give to another, the columnist believes, will return to me; it's a reciprocal gift.

Bullying and 'Seutta' are problems that arise, the columnist concludes,  when we do not trust others enough. This is a problem not only between individuals and groups  but also between countries. A healthy approach to the problem is to give the benefit of the doubt to the other until it is shown, after a sufficient period of time, that it was not merited.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

High Expense Low Efficiency Educational System

Writing for the Catholic Times a professor reminds us that 80 percent of the students that graduate from high school in Korea go on to college. Over 2 million students are enrolled in college and 600,000 are studying abroad, and 25 percent of students are taking time off from school for one reason or another.

The financial burden on students is twice what it was 10 years ago. In other OECD countries, college expenses would be 1/10 of the families income while in Korea it is 1/3, which means that most families have to go into debt.

Back about 40 years ago families could sell their ox to send their children to college. After graduation, they would be able to pay back the money they borrowed, but that is no longer true. Now over 40 percent will find it difficult to find appropriate work after graduation, and of that number only 6 percent go on to graduate school.

90 percent of students who graduate have over a B grade, so it is not a  question of lack of ability. From the time they enter college they try to prepare for their future employment. The days of romantic dreaming, human rights issues, and student movements are no longer easily found on campus; the intense competition of our modern society has seeped into the campus.

With tuition costs going up, students know that about 40 percent of them will not be able to find work. This also affects the teachers who push ahead with their own studies to improve future employment possibilities. This can mean they will have less time to devote to  class preparation. 

Our society has not been able to provide enough work for the number of students who graduate from college; supply of students exceeds the demand. The government has tried but has not succeeded in fixing the problem.
The number of colleges and college graduates she has produced is second to none in the world.  No one can deny that this is a reason Korea has gone from being a poor country, not too many years ago, to where she is today. However, is it not time  to reflect on whether we have too many graduating from college? And whether the burden on families sending their children to college is now at the critical point?  Might it not be time, the professor concludes, to reevaluate the high expense and low efficiency educational system we have created?

Friday, April 8, 2011

First Latin Mass Celebrated by a Bishop in Korea

In Korea there has not been much talk about the apostolic letter "Summorum Pontificum" that  gave permission for celebrating the Latin Mass used  before Vatican II. Since most of our Catholics entered the Church after the Council, the desire for the traditional liturgy as in the West was not present.

In a previous blog, it was mentioned that Korea has not been as polarized on this issue as many others in the Catholic world. The Society of Saint Pius X in Korea (a traditionalist order of priests founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre), with its strong desire to return to the pre-Vatican II days, has also been a deterrent which keeps the bishops from implementing the 'motu proprio' of Pope  Benedict on this issue.

However, the Catholic Times covered on its front page the first public Latin Mass by a Korean bishop, with a congregation in the Cathedral parish in Kwangju. This Mass will be celebrated once a  month in the Cathedral, accompanied by Gregorian chant. The first Mass was celebrated on April 2nd with priests, religious and about 250 Catholics attending.

We have had other Latin Masses celebrated in Korean over the years but they have been without publicity or officially recognized. This is the first such Mass accepted by a bishop of a diocese and celebrated in the Cathedral Parish with priests religious and congregation.

The diocese of Kwangju has made the liturgy the theme of its pastoral plan for the year, and this Mass was in line with the plans to help Catholics appreciate the place of the liturgy in our lives. In his pastoral letter after becoming bishop, he wrote, "The liturgy is the life and mission, source and summit of Church life; our hope is that through the liturgy we will come to know in what direction the diocese should go."

In the sermon Bishop Lee said he wanted to bring to mind the history of the liturgy and the values associated with the Latin Mass of the past. He reflected on the Korean Catholics who were nurtured  on the Latin Mass and attended  a Mass in a language they did not understand and  wondered  whether our  present faith-life is deeper and stronger than that of our ancestors in the faith.  He hopes this will allow the Catholics to appreciate the liturgy more. The present and former bishop and priests will take responsibility for celebrating the Latin Mass.

Will this be a sign of where the Church In Korea will be going in the future? There are many areas of our liturgical life that would be helped by remembering the 'two tables': as a meal and as a remembrance of Jesus' love, as shown by the  sacrifice on the  Cross. The Latin liturgy could probably focus the congregations' attention  on Christ to a greater degree than the present liturgy because the words would  not be as important as the actions of the Mass itself and its overall meaning.

The Church of Korea will have to consider the pros and cons of whether the introduction of the Latin Mass and Gregorian chant will be good for the Church or not. The Catholic population of Korea in 1965 was about half a million so the numbers of Catholics who felt a desire for the days before Vatican II are few. The inauguration of the old liturgy with the blessing of the ordinary of  a diocese will be an interesting matter to watch.