Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Visit to North Korea with the Eugene Bell Team

This is a report from the Maryknoll Korean local superior, Fr. Gerald Hammond,  on his recent trip to the North.

I am delighted to report that our April 2011 visit to the DPR of Korea was one of the most successful we have ever experienced.
 On this visit we were able to confirm that the quality of care given patients by local medical officials is steadily improving at the six multi-drug resistant tuberculosis treatment centers supported by EugeneBell in North Pyongan Province, South Pyongan Province, Nampo City and Pyongyang. Local caregivers we met with on this visit were also enthusiastic about EugeneBells training program. The decision to adopt WHO standard MDR-TB mediations last year has increased medication costs more than 50% per patient per year (approximately 1,600 USD). Due to the more powerful prescriptions however, we found that treatment outcomes have improved dramatically. EugeneBell enrolled 55 new patients this visit but sadly, had to turn away hundreds more for lack of enough medication.
It was an honor and blessing to be able to offer the first Easter Mass in the northern half of Korea in more than 60 years. Maryknolls work began in North Korea. For more than half a century Maryknoll missioners have prayed for an opportunity to return. Every Mass in North Korea, thus, is for me a homecoming of sorts. I was delighted too that Father Emmanuel Kermoal of the Paris foreign Mission could join me.  The Polish Ambassador, H.E. Edward Piertrzh made the Polish Embassy available for the Mass.
Approximately sixty people from more than a dozen nations from Pyongyangs small foreign community attended the service. Many of those who came were not Catholic but everyone seemed delighted to have a chance to participate in public worship in North Korea.
Though unused to attend church regularly, everyone did their best to participate with the help of an overhead projector. Their enthusiastic responses to the readings reflected a deep hunger for the hope and peace offered to them through the Easter liturgy.

We all enjoyed singing several hymns including Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” “O Lord My God and Amazing Grace. No one seemed eager to leave after the service. After the Mass, Ambassador Piertrzh hosted everyone to a traditional Polish Easter breakfast 

On every visit to North Korea, it has always been my policy to make a full disclosure of my identity as a priest, as well as the identities of Catholic organizations whose medical work I represent. Thus, the North Korean officials who facilitated our visit were informed in advance about the Easter Mass. No one raised any objections. Instead, our official hosts seemed genuinely pleased that we had been able to arrange this special religious service for the foreign community on our visit, perhaps the first recognized Easter Mass in the history of their country.