Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not an Unfamiliar Father- Son Relationship

A columnist of the Catholic Times recounts the not unfamiliar tale of a difficult and, in this case, perplexing father-son relationship. After having "tried everything,"  the parents of a middle-school-aged boy sought advice from a priest. The exasperated father told the priest that nothing worked in getting through to his son; he would just spend his time at home looking out into space. The mother explained that the father tries to be good to the boy, but she believes that his authoritative manner is difficult for the son to accept.

The mother went on to say that during grammar school, the son was obedient, well-behaved, and  a good student. But all this changed in 2nd year-middle school  and it has now come to a point where father and son are not talking to each other.

After hearing what they had to say, the priest  recommended that the father and son go on a four-day  trip.  It was not an easy thing to do but the father was ready to try anything that would better the situation. It was more difficult for the son, but with continual cajoling, he finally agreed. Since the  priest suggested the trip, he recommended they follow certain rules: they were to go to any place the son wanted, respect the son's plans,  and before going to bed exchange feelings on what happened during the day.

Ten days after the trip the priest met with the father and son and saw in their faces that they had a good trip. "Yes, it was a good trip," they said, thanking him.  But the priest was surprised to hear that it  worked out so easily; the father then told him what had happened.

"I was prepared to do everything he wanted but when we arrived at the destination he had nothing planned," said the father. "I was ready to explode. The only time we saw each other was during meals, and whenever we were together he would just stare at the clock. At these times, I felt the urge to give him a beating." 

"There were no plans?" the priest asked. "We went mountain climbing and swimming,"said the father, "but just for a short time; the rest of the time he was in his own world. On the way home, on the train, grace came into our lives. I dosed off and when I awoke, I saw my son looking out the window, crying. I asked what was bothering him, and he told me one of his friends he had helped in school turned against him and began bullying him. He wanted to bring this up but was afraid of how I would react. It was the bullying that had changed everything.  He didn't want to go to school and couldn't concentrate on his studies. I wiped his tears and stroked his back, and he laid his head on my shoulder and continued sobbing."

The son had wanted to draw up the plans for the trip but was afraid of  what the father would say. It was then, said the father, that he realized everything he said or did was noticed  by the son. And that if he had been a less demanding father, his son probably would have told him of the bullying at school much earlier. During the trip, he didn't get angry or do any commanding, which drew the son closer to the father. But the son, not knowing how to behave, did not have the  confidence to speak. The column ends with the priest giving advice that, though obvious, is all too often forgotten: fathers have a difficult task but when they listen to their sons and refrain from getting angry and show patience and understanding, the relationship often becomes one of trust and confidence.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Catholic Publishing in Korea

Koreans are not known as great lovers of leisure time reading. Because of their work ethic, leisure time is not readily available and if it were, they would prefer climbing mountains rather than reading books. This poses a problem for the book publishing business and for the Catholic Publishing Corp., the oldest of the Catholic publishers now working in Korea and celebrating this year 125 years of publishing. The editorial in the Catholic Times reminds the Catholic Publishing Corp. that its history of publishing in the Catholic Church of Korea began in 1859 when the fourth Vicar Apostolic of Korea St. Simeon Francois Berneux began printing books in Korea with  a wood block printing press. This makes it their 152th anniversary and not 125th.

Interviewed recently by the Catholic Times, the priest-president laments that although the cultural advances in Korea are breathtaking, Catholics have not kept up by reading and buying books. Which means the more they publish the more they go into debt. However, this will not diminish, he says, their efforts to get Catholics to read. If we look only at the publishing end of the business we are in the red, he says. But when we look at the evangelizing aspects of the work, it is all profit. It is impossible  to evaluate this aspect of the work by the expenditure of money. When someone has a closer relationship to God by reading a book, that can't be quantified with money.

The present concern of the company, he said, is to hire more qualified  editors, find new  publishing projects, and make the infrastructure stronger, which requires bringing in specialists and significantly increasing the payroll. He will begin addressing these needs by sending a good  number of representatives to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

Another concern he hopes to address is the lack of books for young people. This lack is especially worrisome to him because in a society where God is missing, books for the young are crucially important. He hopes to publish more in this area with a more focused sensitivity to the needs of the young. He  also wants to uncover new writers, and begin to invest in the burgeoning e-book market. 

Both Catholic papers praised the ambitious goals of the company, and looked forward  to seeing the company take a leading position in the publishing world. It would be, it said, an important step toward  cultivating a Catholic culture among our Christians.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Globalization and Neoliberalism

 What is the understanding of the Church concerning the almost daily changes in the world? How should the Church respond to these changes? Just as we are told new wine needs new containers, there needs to be a new understanding of what is going on in our newly globalized world, said one of our Korean bishops in his weekly column on economics.

Globalization is to be seen not only negatively, he said. In matters of finance and culture, countries, when not limited by their borders, are benefited in many good and profitable ways. There can be, among other things, sharing of medical knowledge and economic expertise, along with the flow of monies to the underdeveloped countries from the developed countries. Though the proponents of globalization stress the  positive contributions to the global economy,  opponents stress the  negative side. Money that comes into the marketplace from the wealthier countries can tilt the economic scales against the underdeveloped countries and fuel unlimited competition, which favors the developed countries. This face of globalization, which is often called neoliberalism by the opponents, is the other side of the same coin.

In 1970, the recession circled the world; the movement to counter the recession was neoliberalism with its free markets, relaxing of regulations, and emphasizing property rights and individual initiative. The proponents of this position said  government intervention by any country into the marketplace would do harm to its efficient operation, believing that the unregulated forces of the marketplace   guarantee  economic success for all participants. In their view, the least control is best for a smoothly running marketplace otherwise  governments would be forced to spend more on welfare, encouraging the workforce to lose the  desire to work, fostering social unrest. 

It is this potential for disrupting the labor force in the underdeveloped countries, leading to a depressed economy and unemployment, and further alienating its under payed workers that is overlooked by globalization proponents. say their opponents. The developed countries not only are putting pressure to open all markets to the usual goods but are aggressively forcing the underdeveloped countries to accept advanced technologies and questionable items like genetically modified foods, which can negatively impact traditional methods of farming and manufacturing.

Korea, though not an underdeveloped country, has direct  experience of what it means to deal with the power brokers in the grain market. Grain prices are determined not by the free play of the market, but by the big multinational companies and by investor speculation. Adding to the difficulty experienced by many countries, the world bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) which provides funding do not always have the poor in mind when it comes to  loans. A fact Korea has experience first hand. The bishop emphasized that both sides of  globalization, as seen by proponents and opponents, must be kept in mind if we are to get a valid picture of the current world economy. Perhaps less pressing, but equally important in the long run, is the harm done to the environment, often cited as a side effect of globalization, which occurs when underdeveloped countries adopt industrial and farming methods of the developed countries in efforts to compete with them in the global marketplace.

The bishop concludes with an example which underdeveloped countries, and those who have more than  economic interests at stake, have difficulty understanding. Why did the United States, he asks, refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases?  Many see this as the United States staying on the sidelines because of the harmful effects to their economy that would result from implementing the Protocol provisions. Though no one believes that the poorer countries can solve the climate problem, since their contribution to the problem is almost zero, the US position seems to be content to leave it up to other countries to solve the problem.

The economic realities today are too complicated even  to begin to give a brief, completely understandable picture of what is involved. But what is clear and indisputable are the many misunderstandings and the bitterness the underdeveloped  countries have toward the developed countries, who are, they claim, the sole beneficiaries of globalization. Whether the accusation is deserved or not, it  should be considered worthy of discussion by the developed countries. Korea, being one of these developed countries, with many multinational companies overseas, would do well to point the way to discussing measures that would lessen the misunderstandings and bitterness that now characterize so much of international trade.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Face for the Catholic Diocese of Seoul

Thirty years in preparation, plans for the reconstruction of the Myeong Dong Cathedral have now been finalized. The date for the work to begin, according to the Peace Weekly, is September 16, a day eagerly awaited by all Catholics, as it was by this site's blog of the day, April 7, 2010: "New Face for the Myeong Dong Cathedral."

Although construction plans are primarily concerned with preserving and enhancing the historic character of the Cathedral, several other objectives will be accomplished. The grounds in front of the Cathedral will be transformed into a plaza and park open to all, eliminating the road that now leads up to the Cathedral. Underground parking beneath the plaza-park area will accommodate the present vehicular traffic, which will not be allowed in the vicinity of the Cathedral, and which now poses problems for the structure itself and for the safety of both pedestrians and drivers, especially when crowds gather in front of the Cathedral on Sundays and for special events. Not only will the underground parking remove some of the congestion, it will  also restore the front of the Cathedral to the way it looked in 1900.
A long-cherished desire was to have all the diocesan offices, now in different parts of the city, brought together in one building. That will soon be a reality. Another desire soon to be realized when the construction is complete is to have a Cathedral parish with enough space and modern facilities to serve an estimated 2 million Catholics by the time of the forthcoming 200th anniversary of the diocese.
The construction will proceed in four stages and will not be completed until 2029. But it will not take that long for the Catholics of the Cathedral diocese to begin envisioning the many benefits they will be enjoying, sometime in the near future.

Cliquishness and exclusiveness, a criticism that the Catholics do not want to hear, is also a driving force behind the new plans for the Cathedral grounds. The area around the Cathedral is  one of the most expensive pieces of property in Korea and opening it up to all the citizens is a visual effort  of the diocese to communicate with the outside community and to dismantle some of the walls that have prevented easy contact with the larger society.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Nothing is Free

Once upon a time, as stories in the olden days often began, there was a king who loved his people and wanted them to live the good life. But how could he best do this, he wondered. He decided to bring together the wisest men of the kingdom, and told them to set down in writing what the the people needed to know to live a life worth living.

Hundreds of sages, after much discussion, put together 12 volumes of wise sayings, and presented them to the king. He told the sages that the people were too busy and had no time to read 12 volumes, and that they should reduce the number of books. After reducing the 12 volumes to one, and presenting it to the king, the sages again were told to reduce it further so the people would be able to quickly understand how to live the good life. After some months of further discussion and deep thought, they came back to the king with one sentence:  "Nothing in the world  is free." Of all the wise sayings that have been passed down to us over the years, the sages found this saying to be the most valuable.

The Desk Columnist  of the Catholic Times wants us to reflect on the wisdom of this parable. In Europe, they say: Only the cheese in the mouse trap is free. We know that in life if  one side gives and the other side only receives, this kind of relationship  does not last long. There has to be a mutual giving and receiving to have the relationship continue. That's why our ancestors' "spirit of mutual help," "exchange of services and labor," and "the bucket and water relationship" have been so important to Korean thinking.

God is always giving, but we have to cooperate with what was received and is being received with our 'yes'. The 'free' gift that Jesus gave us, as a token of his love, came with a cost. The whole idea of grace may be misunderstood if we believe it demands nothing from us. Grace is indeed free and is moving us continually, but we can choose  not to  cooperate, to receive but not to give back. This whole idea of justification (whether by grace or by works) has led to one of the most contentious issues between Protestants and Catholics. It is surprising that we have not been able to overcome this misunderstanding  by what we have experienced in life.

Though the saying that "there is nothing free on the earth" may seem not to be true, since we tend to think that the most valuable things on the earth are free, we would be forgetting that even the seemingly free things we are blessed with on earth are not without cost, as the columnist makes clear. If we have received something, even if it seems free, it involves a debt we have to repay, an exchange  between the giver and the receiver, a relationship expressed by "The way we plant is the way we will reap." A principle we do well in following.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fan Clubs and Sunday School

There seems to be always somebody looking for reasons why something is not going well. In recent years Sunday school programs have not been doing as well as expected, with decreasing attendance the norm in all the parishes. To deal with this situation, and others, many of our young priests are going on for degrees in youth studies, which will bring new ideas into pastoral work with the young.

A  Peace Weekly article profiled a young priest who wrote his master's thesis on the fan clubs now popular with many of our young people, specifically on how much time young people will devote to participation in society as a result of their participation in fan clubs. The clubs can be dedicated to any of various interests concerning the stars they adulate, but in all cases the clubs are run by the  members.   The priest sees a similarity between the deference given to celebrities by their fan clubs and the way Catholics participate in the Church.  Even though club members have never met the stars they adulate, they think of them often, wanting to do what they do, but desiring  nothing in return.

To put it bluntly, we are Jesus' fan club; we are his enthusiasts. While the priest was studying for his thesis a member of a famous band had to leave the band because of what he had said publicly.  For 3 months the fan club marched in silence to have him reinstated.

To gain first-hand knowledge of these fan clubs, the priest joined a club that decided to help a preschool group of children. It was during this time of sharing deeply with the fan club members, seeing their energy, creativity and spontaneity, that gave him the opportunity to discover some answers to the Sunday school problem.

We often say the stagnation we see in the Sunday school programs is due to the passivity of the young people. However, the priest's experience with the group that helped the preschool children clearly showed that passivity  was not the problem. He found that young people, when properly motivated, can be very active; in this particular case, hiring buses, preparing for a concert, and all the while giving the praise for how well the work was progressing to the group they were helping, even though it took time away from their own personal lives.

The priest feels that utilizing  the fan club format and its built-in enthusiasm will help solve the problems besetting our Sunday school programs. We need to make use of the  same energy shown by the fan clubs, he says, its potential for creative and  dynamic action to invigorate the Church programs. As they are now designed, our programs follow the cramming method of education, and the students are not given any opportunity to participate.

His conclusion, using prayer as an example, is to start praying before you start defining what prayer is, before you start reading about it in books. After praying, then share your thoughts  on what was felt, and only then go on to the theory.  We should never forget that before speculating on how to deal successfully with our young people, we need to start by listening to them. remembering that whatever is finally done to correct the present difficulties with the Sunday school programs, our young people are and should remain our main focus.                                                                                                                                                          

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Negative Aspects of Religion Easily Seen

A professor emeritus writing in a Catholic magazine contends that Christianity is being challenged by the current attacks on all religious beliefs and by an increasingly secular civilization. The first challenge comes from the "New Atheism," which is receiving a lot of media attention lately, and the second challenge, from the materialistic values aggressively promoted by our consumer-driven civilization.

Atheism as a movement  is not new but can be traced to the Renaissance and  the humanism that followed.  The present atheism is a different strain from those of the past and what we saw in Communism. Current opposition to the belief in God is more intense than in the past, and the number of  those who sympathize, both intellectually and emotionally, with the atheistic position continues to grow.

Those who think that this atheism is a result of Communism are living in a dream world, says the professor. He believes that the atheism we have today was born in a Christian culture and matured in the civilization of Europe, and that the monotheism of the three religions based on the faith of Abraham--Christianity, Islam, and Judaism--is especially the object of much of the criticism. After the destruction of the twin towers in New York, many who are not atheists have come to agree with them that  religious beliefs can and have become problems in achieving and maintaining peaceful societies in many parts of the world.

Probably, says the professor, there are Catholics in Korea who believe since Catholicism has a good reputation in Korea these problems should not be our concern. But he disagrees; he believes it will be necessary for Catholicism to be open to the pluralistic society, showing tolerance and going beyond the simple moral guidelines of good and evil.

Christianity forms the basis of the civilization of the West, with its values of equality, justice, love and the dignity of the human person. The words of Jesus, now known as the Golden Rule, briefly summarize his teaching: "Treat others the way you would have them treat you." This teaching refers to all persons. Jesus made this clear in his parable about  the Samaritan, its message being:  accept all persons as brothers and sisters irrespective of race, nation, social status, money, religion or ideology. This is not easy, but it provided the moral foundation  of our Western civilization.

In our present society, little attention is given to the lessons of history. However, within history lies a purpose and meaning to help guide us through life. As is often said, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." And as a Church, the professor reminds us, we can't afford to forget this warning. What is important, he believes, is to keep the general direction and intention of our history in mind. Society today is concerned with all kinds of material values and is  busy quarreling  about money matters and how  to get ahead. What is important is to keep the general direction and intention of our  civilization in mind. The professor ends by saying he feels  God is happiest when  we remember the purpose and intention of history in our lives.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Buddhist Temple-stay Visit of Benedictine Monks

Korean media found  it worthwhile  to  publicize  the visit of eight young German Benedictine monks who have come to Korea for a 40-day exposure to Korean culture.They are also interested in seeing their elder Benedictine monks, as they pursue their work in and around the Waegwan monastery, to gain a deeper appreciation  of their own mission call.

They are living at the Benedictine monastery, where they are learning about the culture of the country, hearing lectures on the language, politics, finances, and  the history of Catholicism in Korea. They will visit the many works that have been undertaken by the Benedictines over the years--and it has been many years. The Benedictines, the first male religious order to settle in Korea, arrived in the country more than 100 years ago.

During 3 days of this month, the young monks spent time in a Buddhist monastery to experience  the life of Buddhist monks.  To help them to know themselves better, the chief monk, on the first day of their temple-stay, gave them a question they were to reflect on while at the temple. His question:  "How many points do you have to have to enter heaven? Is it 100? 70? 50? And who gives the points?" The Benedictines thought it was an interesting question to ponder.

In silence, they went mountain-climbing, listening to voices from the heart. Like the Buddhists, one of the Benedictines said Catholics also respect all of life, and that doing the bows was a way to appreciate the others religion. When eating, they knew that they were to take only what they could eat, not leaving any food on the plate. The temple-stay was a helpful time for the Benedictines, and one monk said the experience helped him in his own prayer life.

The temple-stay program, which the government inaugurated and helped finance, enabled foreigners, as well as interested Koreans, to learn something of the traditional culture of the country. However, at the end of last year the government cut  some of the funds for the program, causing friction with the government. The president, a devout Presbyterian, is seen by Buddhists as not being friendly to their interests: at the beginning of the year, all members of the government's ruling party were banned from attending  Buddhist events. But this situation has changed. The government has reinstated the funds to their former level, and after some misgivings the  Buddhists have extended their hand in peace, and the government has reciprocated.

Catholic monks making a temple-stay should be a sign to  Koreans that the Church desires to see harmony between all segments of society, especially when it occurs between religions;  their efforts to understand and to dialogue with each other sends a message that speaks loud and clear to all of us.  It could also be a sign of what will be required to ameliorate the situation between the North and the South.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Substraction May Be More Important Than Addition

Preparing for my sermon yesterday on "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit," I was helped by a passage  from a book written by a Korean priest. He mentioned that while studying in Austria, he was invited by a Korean family to come over to their house for a meal. He was forewarned that they had a mentally handicapped daughter who would often run around the dining room table making all kinds of noise.

That evening , while they were eating desert, the girl very quietly came to sit at the table, took a napkin and wiped from the lips of her father some of the desert that still remained there. The wife, with tears in her eyes and a choked voice, said, " Father, we have no special  expectations for the child, but it is moments like these that we live for." The girl knows that she breaks her parent's heart, and these acts are in compensation for the love she receives. These little acts are a great consolation to the parents.

In daily life, it is not the big things that give us strength and happiness but the small things.  It is when we get rid of our desire for material things that the road to happiness opens up before us.

Catholics are disposed to believe that the evangelical counsels of the Gospel are a blueprint for happiness, but the values of our culture say no, and there continues to be a conflict between the two. But it is more than likely that in time there will be sociological surveys that will put to rest which view of life is more conducive to happiness. The culture wants facts, and when the culture decides to uncover the facts, values will change.

Speaking from his own experience, the priest has been convinced that when we live without the  burden of  covetousness, we can expect great happiness in our lives. Though good appearance and health, achieved by losing weight, are goals appreciated by all, the priest would like to see the same effort given to decreasing the weight in our inner life. Whether it is the body or the spirit, the less baggage the more happiness. We should, he says, be more proficient in the art of subtraction than in the art of addition.                                                                                                                                                                                 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Temptation to Lie is Always Present

All of us find it convenient at times not to tell the truth, to deceive and, sometimes, to tell outright lies.  In the competitive worlds of politics and business, politicians and merchants often feel it necessary to lie to achieve their goals. And many others have come to accept lying as an unavoidable strategy for those who intend to succeed in our highly competitive societies.

Moral theologians have always had trouble with giving wiggle-room not only for the mundane lie but also for the lie that people feel necessary to save the life or reputation of another. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2483) has come down on the side of strictness: "Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a  lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord."In an earlier edition of the Catechism the words "in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth," have in recent editions been  removed.

We will never know, on this earth, the damage done to society because of lies. But we do know, on a personal level, that when trust is lost it harms not only others but ourselves.

We can all recount stories of deception we have experienced, and in a Catholic magazine a number of  persons from the literary world have decided to tell their stories and how they feel about lying.  One of the writers mentions the time she was riding on the subway when a well dressed man approached her, saying he came to Seoul to be with his classmates but  had too much to drink and didn't have enough money to return home. He showed her his business card and told her he would send the money to her as soon as he returned home. The card indicated that he was a school teacher and listed his telephone number. Shortly after he left,  she felt he may not have been what he said, and called the number. "This number you have called is not listed," she was told. She had a good laugh.

Another writer quotes the Korean proverb, "Lying well is better than having a small rice paddy." He believes lying can be a help in conducting ones life, explaining that to lie well is not to do harm to nature or to others. But also says that lies like this are extremely rare. There is little doubt that lying does prove helpful in achieving the material goals many desire, but these goals are often pursued mindlessly in the competitive world we live in, and we don't  see what happens to us and to others as a consequence of this behavior.

One writer concludes his essay with a listing of scripture quotes on lying. "Each one deceives the other, no one speaks the truth.They have accustomed their tongues to lying, and are perverse, and cannot repent" (Jeremiah 9:4). " Delight not in telling lie after lie for it never results in good" (Sirach 7:13). "A liar's way leads to dishonor, his shame remains ever with him" (Sirach 20:25). "The false witness will not go unpunished, and he who utters lies will perish" (Proverbs 20:9). "Do me justice , O God, and fight my fight against a faithless people; from the deceitful and impious man rescue me" (Psalms 43:1).

And we all can say: "Lord, help me to guard my lips from lying. Amen."               

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Problems with the Naval Base in Jeju-do

Bishop Kang U-il of Jeju-do  has sent an open letter to the Korean media in support of the opposition to the naval base being built on the island of Jeju-do. Considered to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the island, because of its idyllic, peaceful environment, has been affectionately dubbed the island of peace  The bishop's letter explaining the Christian opposition to the naval base was an unprecedented  act by the bishop, who is also the president of the Bishops Conference.

The Catholic Times discusses the controversial issue on its editorial page. The villagers of Gangeong, where the naval base is being built, and many others who have enjoyed the peaceful ambiance of the island, are opposed to the project.  The government has boasted of the  beauty of the island, and now that same government is dealing it, say the opponents to the project, a deadly blow.  Even on this beautiful island the ocean bottom of Gangeong is known for its  natural beauty,  turning the harbor into  concrete is hard to understand.                   

The bishop also mentions another problem: the way the site was selected.  It did not take into account the people who would be affected; there was no  consultation with the people of the island, and there was also, he said, evasion of the law. It was a top-down  decision.

Having a naval base on the island will provide an additional reason for conflict among  the  countries in the Far East. The bishop goes on to tell us the history of Jeju-do and the emotional scars that have been left on the hearts of its people.  The editorial chose not to mention this painful history, but the bishop went into great detail to explain what he meant. The revolt in Jeju-do in 1948, against the plans for elections in the South, was so intense and frightening that many chose to go to Japan. It is a history few Koreans are familiar with because of the  efforts of the government. Even today one does not find it easy to bring up the matter in conversation. History, our history, the bishop says, has to be remembered when the naval base is considered.

The Catholic Church has been opposed to the naval base since July of 2007. The Bishops Committee of Justice and Peace issued at that time a public declaration of opposition. In an urgent meeting of all the diocesan Justice and Peace committees, the dioceses agreed to be united with the diocese of Jeju-do in its opposition, indicating that they were determined to keeping the island the island of peace.

All Koreans are interested, as are all people everywhere, in the security and peace of their country. But the competition in amassing armaments is not the way to avoid war; instead, it makes the possibilities for war even greater. Pope Paul II in the encyclical  Centesimus Annus (The 100th Year) #18, said, "An insane arm's race swallowed up the resources needed for the development of national economies and for assistance to the less-developed nations. Scientific and technological progress, which should have contributed to man's well-being, was transformed into an instrument of war: science and technology were directed to the production of ever more efficient and destructive weapons. Meanwhile, an ideology, a perversion of authentic philosophy, was called upon to provide doctrinal justification for the new war."

The editorial ends by proposing that the conflict and confusion in Jeju-do be resolved by the decision of the government to stop the project, returning the island to its naturally peaceful ways. It is hoped, the editorial goes on to say, that the incident will allow us to reflect on what true peace requires, and that all our citizens will learn to appreciate the preciousness of our environment.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Call for Social Justice and the Common Good

Call for Social Justice, a group of concerned Catholics, was formed to make us more aware of Catholic social principles and to help put them into practice in society. What we read in the papers, they say, is just the tip of the iceberg; what is out of sight--the lack of concern of many of our representatives for the common good--nobody seems to care to bring to light; Call for Social Justice intends to change this oversight. Though its history is short, it has already done much. Important as it is to work within the Church, the group stresses that it is also necessary to get these social principles accepted by society.

To change society is no easy task but to change ourselves, they believe, is not that difficult.  When we change, our community changes, and eventually our society changes. But it has to start with ourselves.

The editorial in the Peace Weekly reports that Call for Social Justice has given awards to three members of the Assembly for their work in advancing the common good. They  were selected for the awards for being on the side of the  poor and alienated.

The editorial stresses that, theoretically, all members of the Assembly, since they are representatives of the people, should have the accomplishments to receive the award. Whether we are rich or poor, capable or incapable, "we are today witnessing," states Gaudium and Spes # 26. "an extension of the role of the common good, the sum total of social conditions that allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily." This common good should be understood as being on the same level as our human dignity.

Members of the National Assembly have the duty to help all our people find their fulfillment. However, in many cases, the members are more interested in their political party and vested interests than in helping the powerless, who all too often are demoralized, feeling their concerns are being overlooked. And the reason, the editorial suggests, is the failure to consider the common good.
Catholics should not only be critical of the faults of our Assembly members but be quick to praise those working for justice, in order to encourage and promote what they are trying to do.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Prayer Meeting at Assisi

On Oct. 27 there will be a meeting of many religions at Assisi for a day of prayer and dialogue.  Koreans have little difficulty understanding the importance of what is being attempted at Assisi, but this is not true in some parts of the Catholic world. Korea, however, has been a good model for others to follow in learning how religions can succeed in living together in harmony.

A priest-professor at Sogang University, writing in a Catholic magazine, expressed dismay at some of the problems we have had between religions in recent years. Korea, he says, is a museum of religions. In our history Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and  many other religions peculiar to Korea  have lived together in harmony. To have this religious harmony, he says it's necessary for them to be independent of the government and that the dignity of the individual be respected, since it forms the foundation allowing for our freedom of choice and the practice of religion.

The professor gives us a little history of how the Church in the past has understood freedom of religion. It was thought that in the presence of truth, there is no reasonable choice possible but to choose the truth. That by not choosing truth a person is choosing error. And that this freedom of not choosing the truth results in propagating indifference and relativism, and as opening the way to acknowledging the truth of other religions, diminishing the importance of belief in Jesus. It was thought to be destructive of the Church and, ultimately, of the individual since the truths of the Church were considered crucial to living the good life. To safeguard these truths, and the welfare of the individual, it was thought necessary to stress the error of other religions.

Many years later, the Church found that the best possible solution to adopt in religious matters was to tolerate other religions. This tolerance was not based on human dignity or rights but based on politics and the necessity of having stable societies.  In other words, to prevent greater social evil the Church accepted lesser evil. After much discussion at the Second Vatican Council, the Church fully accepted the right of all people to have freedom of religion, which was promulgated in the  Declaration of Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae--#1): "A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man. And the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty." This was a positive acceptance of freedom of religion as a fundamental right of  all. In the long history of the Church this was a new understanding. The Church was now acknowledging that the freedom that she had been working for in human dignity and fundamental rights includes freedom of religion.

The Church, in accepting this freedom of religion, is not relativizing the truth it teaches, but now sees that God's word can be expressed through other religions. The many beautiful and good things in other religions, the Church acknowledges. God's word makes us free. And it is God's word in all religions that is working, in its various ways, to make us free. Humans who are seeking  freedom should have the freedom to choose their religion. A religion that does not allow this freedom cannot talk about freedom.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Benedictine Monks Protesting with Area Residents

Some months ago, the burial of  Agent Orange containers in a US military  base  here in Korea was brought  to the attention of the Koreans.  From the time of hearing the news reports the residents around Camp Carroll, an American military camp in the southeast of Korea, have  been living with anxiety.

The Catholic Times has reported that the Benedictine monks at Waegwan Monastery, located close to Camp Carol, sent a letter of protest to the Environment and Labor Committee of the Government. Former U.S. servicemen  said they buried the toxic chemicals in 1978. However, an American and Korean team of investigators announced they had found no traces of Agent Orange. The American military now admits that barrels of toxic material were buried at Camp Carroll, but were later dug up and removed.

Letters of protest from residents of the area make clear that they are not  relieved by the report of the joint investigation team, which satisfied neither the residents nor the monks, especially when the Catholic Times reported that the American servicemen  have said that the place where they buried the containers was near a helicopter landing area, and the investigating team did not go to that area. The residents also want the SOFA (status of forces agreement)  amended to avoid similar occurrences in the future.

In recent years there has  been a lack of trust in the way the American military has conducted itself in Korea. It is not only the residents of Waegwan that the the monks are concerned about;  news reports indicate that many of the other American military bases have underground water pollution much higher than government standards allow. To deal with all these revelations and the anxiety of the residents, the monks are asking the government to begin an independent investigation that will be transparent and put to rest the worries of the residents.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Educational System to Emulate

After seeing a video on Finland's schools, a priest working with the youth in the diocese, in an article for priests, compares the school system of Finland with the one we have here in Korea.  Finland 60 years ago was, he says, very similar to Korea, but since then both countries have gone in different directions.

"Since we have nothing, nothing is to be thrown away" sums up the Finnish approach to any issue or problem. Being a small powerless country, it  considers their people its greatest resource, and believes any society formed by those that have been brought up to compete with others is not healthy, and that all of a student's strong points have to be developed to have a healthy country. These were the thoughts of the priest as he watched the video.

For the first nine years of schooling in Finland, there are no exams and no grades. You compete with yourself and not with others. After 9 years, there is a national exam that determines what schools and  students are doing well and not so well. What the priest found significant and different were the efforts being made to help the students and schools that are not doing well.  Finland's educational policy is designed to help raise the level of all the students and all the schools, with the goal of producing better students and schools. No one in this educational agenda is to be left out, and it's all free until the master's degree in college.

Both Finland and Korea score very high in the international tests, but the priest notes that in Finland, they have no private programs of study; they are interested in all the students, not only the good students. In Korea, however, the students have no time to play but are always at the books, preparing for exams.  He asks, whimsically, why is it that Korean students have the world's greatest amount of private study, studying from morning until night, and yet don't do any better than students from a country without private study and with concern for helping the poorer student?

The priest recalls a meeting of all those in the diocese who work with students. They went to where a priest  had a shelter for young people. The priest at the shelter shocked the group by recounting that in the past those who had difficulty fitting in at school were disciplined or suspended for a short period of time but now  told not to come back to school. Many of them wander the streets, receive food aid, and are involved  with drugs.He laments that the  present situation with our young people is troubling.

Our society finds it easy to see and reward the attractive,  bright and accomplished young people but not so keen in helping the unattractive, slow-to-learn and less accomplished. Finland has made an important discovery that Korea, and the rest of the world would do well to acknowledge and emulate.  Incorporating the best features of the Finnish school system means less emphasis on  the economics of the  country and  more interest  on its greatest resource people.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Korean College Entrance Exams

One of the trials high school students face in Korea is their college entrance exams. It has turned into an ordeal because of how important passing the exams has become in the culture. Whether it deserves to be so important is another question, but the extraordinary effort often made to pass the exams makes the life of the students and parents difficult.

The president of a girl's Catholic high school in Seoul writes a letter of encouragement  to those who, in about 100 days, will be taking those dreaded exams. The sister- president begins by mentioning the weather, the damage and even deaths caused  by the rains, and during this time, she feels sure they have been at their desks preparing for the exams.

"All of you in 3rd year high school and those taking the exam again are in my heart," she tells them, "and I want to show you my concern. You have worked hard at your studies and have overcome the temptation to play. You have nurtured your dream and have sweated much. Your parents and teachers have encouraged you, but you have no peace and are fretful."

She continues by telling the students that they will feel unprepared for the exams, that the time is short and that they will be comparing themselves with others and come up short.  That one day of exams, she says, will be a judgement not only on their high school years but on their whole 12 years of schooling. She, as a predecessor and one who spends time with them in school, wants to say something that she hopes will give them some peace.

"First of all, the exam is not determining your individual value or capabilities," she reminds them,  "but your faithfulness to the study program; it will give you a chance to look at your attitude to life and to examine it. Of course, you can see what your objectives were and can determine whether your efforts were satisfying and sufficient. It is the first serious exam you will be taking  but it is not everything." She prays that they do not drink the bitter cup of defeat from the exams.

She goes on to say that she has met many who, by experiencing the anguish of defeat, have grown strong and mature. In life, there are many exams and trials, failing some and succeeding with others, but what is necessary is to do your best and leave the rest up to God.

She wants them to consider, above all else, their health and what would be a fitting way for them to spend this last period of study. 100 days is still a good period of time, but if they face it as in a sprint, the chances are they will tire out quickly. She also hopes they will have the peace of mind to see the other students not only as competitors but as deserving of the same victorious results as they hope for themselves.

She ends her words of encouragement with the following prayer: "Lord, may our students receive the results that their efforts merit. May they have a clear mind enabling them to display what they have learned. And if by chance they don't do well may they not become dejected but give them patience and strength. Amen."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Korean Catholic Church Efforts in Mission Overseas

At the Suwon Cathedral, the diocese will be ordaining 17 deacons to the priesthood on August 19th. With this class of newly ordained, we will have 417 priests in the diocese, and, as Korea continues to be blessed with vocations, 4,490 priests in the country, for about 5 million Catholics, which makes it  relatively easy for our bishops to plan and develop programs for the dioceses.

Interviewed by the Catholic Times, Auxiliary Bishop Jung of Inchon, on returning from a meeting of Korean missioners in Panama working in Latin America, knows that Korea by sending missioners to countries in need of them, will be  blessed. Korea will be returning to other countries what Korea has received from foreign missioners.

Bishop Jung, president of the  Committee for Pastoral Care of Koreans Living Abroad, carefully expressed in the interview his feelings on a name change for the committee. "It is not the overseas Koreans but evangelization overseas that should be the focus of our work, " he said. "Consequently it is time to change the name of the committee to the more appropriate title of  Evangelization in Overseas Missions." He feels that the committee should have its primary interest in missions overseas to the non-Christian. "Water that stays put putrefies," he said. "The Church's involvement in mission work will make us break out of our stagnate situation."

The bishop concludes the interview by saying, "The missioners overseas need your financial aid but more so your interest and  prayers.  I hope all  understand that  missions  overseas are not the work of others; there are many places that we can be of help. The Committee for Pastoral Care of Koreans Living Abroad will form a network for missioners abroad, supporting and publicizing their efforts; to this task, I will zealously devote myself."

Hearing what the bishop had to say brought to mind our own Catholic Mission Society of America (Maryknoll) that will be celebrating this year our centennial year. Sadly, we are not doing well in recruiting vocations to the missionary life, as once was the case. I received a few days ago a video, another attempt to  move  the hearts of our young people to consider the work of mission. The efforts  of those assigned to this very important work are great, but the results are few. For those interested, the video can be seen at:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Building a Culture of Life

The Peace Weekly, in efforts to strengthen the culture of life movement, is spreading the word in its weekly column and  news dispatches. In a recent issue a professor emeritus of the Catholic University reports that the birthrate in Korea is the lowest in the world. Theoretically, to maintain the present population each couple has to give birth to one daughter who in turn gives birth to another daughter. In Korea this is not happening.

What makes the  situation worse is that women in larger numbers than in the past  are avoiding marriage. And those who do marry but don't want children is increasing. In  2005, the number of women who said it was of little concern to them whether they married or not was 44.9 percent. 35 percent said it made no difference whether they had children or not; in 1997, it was only 9.7 percent, a colossal change.

This change began in 1961 with the government's efforts to lower the birthrate. Their approach was to dispense family planning advice in public health centers, with personnel having little sensitivity to the circumstances of the expectant mother, recommending to all the use of artificial means of birth control. Another means to lower the birthrate was to curtail health insurance for giving birth to a third child. In addition, those who were sterilized were given preference for apartments. During this time, there was a climate of not respecting the human rights of citizens in these matters, and abortion became the accepted method of reducing births.  

Other countries are showing more anxiety  with our reduced birthrate than we are, the professor laments.  David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford, said that if Korea continues in its present direction, it will be the first nation to disappear from the earth. The UN Future Forum also said that if the birthrate in Korea continues to decrease, by 2305, it will be a country with a population of 50,000, 20,000 men and 30,000 women. This should make us think seriously about our present policies.

Our government, however, is now working to bring about a change, to alleviate the most pressing problems. With many avoiding giving birth because of the expense of raising and educating the children, the government is offering help to lessen the financial burden.  Many local governments are giving about $10,000 for any 3rd child, but this is not having much of an  effect because of the persuasive policies of the recent past to lower birthrates.

In 1980,  one of the slogans was "Even one is many."  And the government set up the Family Planning Association to decrease the number of births. In 1999, this group became the Family Welfare Association, and in 2005, the name was again changed to the Public Health and Welfare Association, whose goal was now "Making a world fit for  children to be born." It soon became a movement to help raise and educate  children and to help sterile couples.  Looking back, the professor says it is laughable to see how exaggerated were the threats to the country of an increasing birthrate.

The Church from the beginning made clear its position on this issue, but was reviled by the government for not going along with their policy. It is important to do all that is possible to raise the birthrate but also to keep in mind the importance of bringing about a culture that sees the preciousness of life and the family.      

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Experiencing the Religious Life

For more than ten years Buddhists in Korea have conducted temple-stay programs, providing an opportunity for both Koreans and foreigners to experience  the life of a Buddhist monk or nun  by living like they do for a few days.

One write-up on the temple-stay program quoted a monk, "Everyone has  the potential to be enlightened, but they have to overcome the greedy mind, the angry mind and the foolish mind." To quiet this 3-fold mind, time is spent in chanting, partaking in the tea ceremony and monastic formal meals, doing 108 prostrations, and practicing zen meditation. The experience is not easily forgotten.

Catholicism  has been influenced  by the success of these programs and now has similar programs in  many of their convents and monasteries, which will acquaint the young people during their vacation time on what the life of a Catholic religious is like. These programs did not start with the temple-stay programs but were given impetus by what they were able to achieve.

The Benedictines have had programs for all ages for a long time, and during student  vacation time, programs are aimed at the young men to help them experience the life of a Benedictine religious.  They live, eat, pray and work with the monks, reflect on their life, and work at developing a mature spiritual life. It gives them an opportunity to find vitality in the life of the spirit. Other Religious orders--Augustinian, Salesian, Jesuit, Dominican, and many others--have their own programs to introduce their particular spirituality to those who are interested.

The number attending these programs and the number of different religious groups that have developed programs continue to increase each year.  Both the sisters and monks have programs that help give the young an idea of what the religious life is, but at the same time help  to see themselves  on a deeper level.

Similar to these programs, and a quick way to learn, are the immersion programs that are available today, such as the language immersion programs and, offered by Maryknoll, mission immersion programs for those wanting to learn about mission life. It is a way of activating more than the head in the process of learning. The popularity of these retreats is a good sign of the desire of our young people to deepen their spiritual life. Hopefully, it will continue to develop. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Focolare's Economy of Communion

During the last days of July over 3000 persons attended the city of Mary (Mariapolis) in Korea for 4 days. It is a 'temporary city' where everybody practices the teaching in Christ's prayer: "May they all be one." Those that attend forget their place in society, their age, occupation and religion, and become brothers and sisters to those present.  This year the theme was "Our Yes to God." These temporary cities have been set up in over 180  places in the world where the Focolare Movement has members.

An article in the Peace Weekly introduces us to the "Korean Mariapolis 2011," where time was set aside for meditation, workshops, faith-sharing sessions, Mass each day, and living as Jesus would like us to live.

During the 4 days they had the opportunity to see, among other things, a video of the life of Chiara Luce Badano, who died at 18, and was recently beatified. She was a Focolarista who lived an exemplary life. facing her death from sickness with great peace. There was also time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Economy of Communion, which was started in Brazil in 1991 by the founder of the Focolare Movement Chiara Lubich.

This movement is also active in over 60 countries, with about 750 businesses participating. As explained in an interview with Focalare's Economy of Communion, the focus of the movement is centered on: 

Helping people in need, creating new jobs and intervening to meet their immediate needs, beginning with those who share in the spirit that animates the Economy of Communion;

Spreading the "Culture of Giving and of Loving," indispensable and necessary values for an Economy of Communion;

Growing the business,  remaining efficient while remaining open to giving.

They quoted in the article the words of a few of the participants. One woman said, "My life is on the fast lane: eating quickly, driving fast, always in competition with a feeling of being  pursued. Here, when I am alone someone with a smile always comes along and starts a conversation. And at the table or at the bathroom there is always someone telling you to go first. This I have not found in my 50 years of life."

Another man who considered himself a good father and husband, fulfilling his duties faithfully, realized that this was not always the case because of the habits he acquired over the years. He resolved to be a better husband and father.

At the Mass on July 27th, during the sermon, the priest said, "We are well aware, theoretically, what it means to love but there  are all kind of obstacles to living this in daily life. It is in relationships that we are continually being tuned to allow God's light of love to enter in."

The Focolare Movement has its social and economic counterpart in the Economy of Communion, which now has about 750 businesses involved world-wide. It is an attempt to reverse in our economic pursuits the dominant emphasis on money instead of where it belongs, on the human person. Their recent meeting in Brazil, which drew 650 participants from 37 countries, was intended to provide alternative ways of looking at the economic systems that have controlled the world for so long, with the long term goals of offering more sustainable and humane methods for achieving economic progress.


    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Foreign Workers In Korea

    Those who work with foreign workers in many countries of the world are familiar not only with their dreams of finding a better life in the new country but with the frustrations they encounter: delayed payment of salaries, the temporary nature of the jobs, unfair treatment, lawsuits, and the difficulties that often arise when they marry and need help to get settled. Koreans who have worked in other countries in the past have also experienced the same difficulties.

    "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Mat. 25:35) is cited by a priest writing in the Peace Weekly to preface his remarks on the foreign worker issue. He is the priest  responsible for caring for foreign workers in his diocese. He has an International  Mass for them each Sunday and works as their pastor.

    His desire is that they will have a good recollection of  Korea when they return to their countries. It is because Koreans are unwilling to do the jobs that are dirty, dangerous and difficult that we have the need for foreigner workers, a need greatly expanded when the country prepared itself for the '88 Olympics.

    The priest recounts the story  of a worker who wanted to change his place of work.  He asked the owner of the factory for the opportunity to go to Mass on Sunday and  sing in the choir. The owner got angry and told him that if it was that important to him, he should get another job.  The priest helped him get a new job where he could attend Mass, and the worker is now happy with the situation.

    He mentions another man whose contract expired and refused to return home.  The  priest and Sister tried to change his mind but failed.  Upset and drinking too much, he had an accident while riding his motorcycle.  It was then the priest heard that the money he had carefully saved and sent home to his wife had been squandered; nothing was left of his five years of work. The priest had nothing to say but did what he could to help him.

    Many of the foreign workers experience depression, conflicting emotions and worry because of the often hostile working conditions. Many factory owners have no thought of the emotional needs of these workers  but only see them as bodies for doing work. Those who work to improve conditions within this foreign community are many, and they are doing an important job. But the work will become even more difficult as the  number of foreign workers coming to Korea continues to increase. With about one in four becoming illegal, the total number having overstayed their allotted time is now estimated to be about 27,000. This is a problem for the country and for those that work with the foreign community.

    There is a need on the part of the underdeveloped countries to find work for their young people  if not at home, then in other countries. Korea continues to need workers to fill the jobs Koreans don't want. Last year, more than 10 billion dollars was sent back to the home countries of the workers. And in the process, everyone benefits. Korea is especially conscious of the bad publicity that is being exported along with the workers on  returning to their homelands. This awareness is sure to bring changes in the  treatment of  foreign workers.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Coffee Culture in Korea

    Coffee, a newcomer to Korea, and the culture it has developed are now very much at home here. Koreans love coffee and the social ambiance it generates. What better way is there, many are now thinking, than to spend time relaxing and drinking coffee while working, talking to a friend, sitting at the computer or just getting away from the crowd.  Responding to the demand, specialty coffee shops in the cities are opening practically next door to each other. But more than just enjoying the coffee, customers are looking for a quiet space, to rest alone or with others, for as long as they care to stay.

    The Peace Weekly thinks this coffee culture is important enough to discuss in an article in this week's edition and also in its editorial, headlined "Moral of the Parish Cafe," which comments on this trend in society and the decision of many parishes to join the coffee culture by opening their own cafes. Parishes that have the cafe are more than satisfied with the results. It is usually difficult to get volunteers to do service in the parish, but getting volunteers to help in the cafes has not been a problem; they are vying with each other to volunteer. Those who become baristas (those who make the coffee) have much to do, as do the other volunteers. Price is cheaper than in the ordinary coffee shops, and the profits go back to the community; this makes it worthwhile not only for the Christians but to all the residents in the neighborhood. Those who would usually come to Church only for Mass now come because of the cafe, which has helped  to make for fellowship among the Christians.

    The opportunity these cafes present for evangelization cannot  be ignored.  Residents living near the parish also visit them, and it is not  difficult to see how this enables many of them to become interested in the Church. These cafes may well represent the next important direction to be taken by the Church in promoting its pastoral and evangelization programs.  Strengthening  the community and evangelization are two important goals the Church is currently seeking to implement. Getting involved with the cultural aspects of Korean life, as the Church is now doing by opening parish cafes, is a need that has been felt by many in the Church.

    The Cafe is just one example of this acculturation. There are many other areas in which the Church can approach the larger community. Finding ways to be the yeast, salt and light to those we live with will always be the work of the Christian community.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Moving from Analog to Digital in the Church

    A priest writing for other priests recounts his early life on a small farm, helping his parents. Paddy field farming requires many hands at the time of  planting and again at the time of harvesting. Dry field farming, however, requires continual labor throughout the growing season, and without such help it was difficult to make a living farming. Compared with preparing the crops of beans and sesame for market, cucumbers and potatoes required another step: selecting and grading the products for market.  The price is determined by size. While the parents were picking the cucumbers, he would be in the house determining, by size, which were superior, best, good, or inferior. Digital scales now make it  easy to do this, but in the old days it required judging with the eyes. And when in doubt about which grade to give, the farmer would most likely convince himself to give a higher rather than a lower grade.

    "'Each time is different" is a phrase that was often used back then; judging was done according to  circumstances. The persons, the time, the situations are all different, so  are the results. What is the standard that we use to make our judgements? It is easy to say that if we make our judgements on greed, it is wrong. And if we make our judgments without regard for personal benefit, it  can be good.  When something is important to another, we should not consider it unimportant. How many, without concern for their personal  benefit, live freely? How many politicians have forgotten the will of the people and decide on the benefits to the party? And how often do those in industry not think of the welfare of the workers? Another example of not seeing the greater good because of deriving personal benefits would be the Four River Project.

    In all our actions, we are to desire the common good in our action; that is what we mean by living the Gospel. When we live according to Gospel values, our behavior will seem ridiculous by the world's standard, but that is the only way we can live. If we're interested only in having more Christians and larger collections, we then become accustomed to the ways of the world and in the process destroy the Church and lose our strength. If we just work according to worldly values and forget Jesus and what he  taught, we  lose our way.

    The writer concludes that the change from analog to digital scales brought a big change in the selection of vegetables. It is time for all of us to switch from analog to digital.  But we are still living according to our feelings, going in the direction of personal benefits and comfort. It is time to leave all this behind us, as we are doing with our analog devices, and begin to think like the Lord for whom we work.   

    Monday, August 8, 2011


    A columnist in our Catholic newspaper, writing about spirituality, reminds us that we are all unique,  one of a kind, all in some way different. Uniqueness, putting aside the philosophical meanings of the word, is the basis, he says, for our spirituality. Each of us can rightfully assert that there never was anyone like me before or will be like me in the future.

    When a married couple who are supposed to be one fight, it is because they are not one. You are you, and I am I. In the convents and monasteries, there are many who live in discord. Priests with their communities are often in conflict because of each one's  uniqueness.  Because of  uniqueness, it is not surprising to have dissension.  It is the natural results of living with others.

    It is natural that each one expresses his spirituality uniquely. Each one lives his faith, his love, his prayer life, the experience of grace in many ways.The prayer of a grandfather and a young  theologian are different. A person can have satisfaction in prayer by reciting the 'Our Father,'  while another may meet God in contemplation.There are those that find inspiration on visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and those that are fascinated by spiritual reading, and those that find their satisfaction by going on a meditative mountain-climb.

    Consequently, a parish of 4000 can have 4000 different ways of expressing spirituality. Just looking at the virtue of poverty we see what this may mean. It  doesn't make any difference how much money one has; the one with money may have a greater sense of the virtue of poverty than the one with no money.

    God is leading us as individuals and we try to be open to the movements of the Spirit. But it should be clear that no  individual  should attempt to make his or her  spirituality substitute  for the individual spirituality of those in the   community.

    We cannot then speak about the collective spirituality of a community. No director should move the community in this or that way. The director tries to give the Church's teachings on the basics of spirituality to the community, which then waits for the Spirit to move each one uniquely. It does not mean that the community is unimportant, but that the community is to help the individual grow in spirituality and not interfere with the growth. The columnist reminds us that when we forget this principle, we become 'secularized,' forgetting the will of God and making our own will supreme.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Korean Example to the Catholic World

    In the world of cyberspace the Seoul diocese  has been an innovative force since 1998, when it began the Yang-op system that united all the parishes in the diocese by facilitating the exchange of information. In 2008 this became the integrated information network that included all the dioceses and parishes in the country. Recently, the diocese has made access to Catholic information available to mobile phones users. And the diocese is now beginning its standard administration with a GIS (geographic information system) to unify all 225 parishes in the diocese in a network that will help make pastoral work more efficient. 

    GIS works with hardware and software in order to manage and analyze data, which is then shown on a digital map. One can then quickly interpret the data to reveal patterns, relationships and trends in the form of maps, reports, graphs and charts. In the parishes, it will quickly show the number of Catholics in relation to the total  population, the number going to the sacraments, the number of Catholics in each age group, the number of  tepid in any one area of the diocese, and many more possibilities. It will enable the pastoral workers to customize the work to the needs of different parishes.

    In the future it will help make parish lines clear and also help determine the location of future parishes and where they should be divided. The vicar of the diocese said that the system will not  only give us information on a map but help in many other ways. He hopes that it will also allow our Catholics, and all who are interested, to have easy access to the program.

    The editorial in the Peace Weekly reports that there is great significance that a diocese, in our information age, is taking advantage of this fact, and is looking forward to the future in its policies and strategies. The capability  of customizing the work will insure that the GIS system will be very much utilized. 

    Cardinal Cheong, in his  remarks at the inauguration of the new system, said, "Our diocese can take great pride in beginning this new standard of administrating, for there is no parallel of this being done elsewhere in the Church. The priests will be given a tool to help them do the pastoral work more efficiently, and it will also help the Christians in their faith life."

    The Catholic Church benefits greatly because of the quality of internet access in the country. Korea leads the world in  broadband access and in comparison to the States, the monthly cost is much cheaper. Korean technology and  the high quality of internet use have facilitated greatly the interest and desire of the Church to be out in front in cyberspace.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Owner's Manuel for Life,

    Mr. Kim Hong-sin, a popular novelist, politician, lecturer, and professor, is the first Korean author to sell more than a million books. Interviewed by a journalist of the Catholic Times this past week, he prefaced his remarks by saying, "I have in my lifetime killed many trees. I have used much paper in my writing...reflecting on this fact, I try to use every inch of paper when I write." Writers, he says, are all faced with this same problem, a problem that affects him deeply. 

    During his eight years as a congressman, he was seen as a man of honesty and integrity and received high marks from his constituents. He was a strong voice for democracy and human rights during the 1980s. After retiring  from politics and for three years living like a recluse, he started writing again and now has about 300 books published. He also returned as a popular professor to the college classroom.

    After many years of receiving questions such as, Why live? How are we to live? Why does love change?, he went in search of the answers. And found some. "The reason people are not happy, he says, is because they confuse happiness with pleasure. We are always comparing ourselves with  others, which usually results in making us feel inferior. However, we know what is necessary to be happy and should bring this knowledge to mind more often, but we have a tendency to forget.

    He makes clear that this is also true of himself. As an example, he mentions how over 10,000 books in the cellar were spoiled with rainwater, and how he could not deal with the anger he felt at what had happened. He finally succeeded in putting himself at peace but the anger did not disappear. What changed was his ability to deal with the disaster. Such problems will always occur, he says, until the time he goes to meet God.

    When people see him, they say he has all that is necessary for happiness but he disagrees, saying he continues to fret and get irritated, driven by a desire to do and accomplish more. When feeling driven this way, he likes to remind himself of advice given to him by his teacher: "Look at the mouse, he doesn't know the bait is poison and eats the bait; we know our baits are poison and yet still eat them...When a glass is full of hot liquid, why not put it down instead of grasping it even tighter with both hands." "Remembering this advice from my teacher," he said, "from that moment on, I gave up smoking, which I had been doing for 37 years and 9 months."             

    He became a writer, he explains, because as a child he used to get from the French priest of the parish comic books he had received from France, which he would then translate into Korean for the children to read. It was from that time on that he became familiar with  books.  Even now, when he has a weighty problem on his mind and no desire to read, he will pick up a comic book.

    His latest book, Owner's Manuel for Life, is advice on how to live well, using his own life experiences. He wants each young person to know how important he or she is and to acknowledge their dignity. And he cries out to the  older generation to feel the pain in the hearts of the young and to try to make this world a better place to live in. The young, when they make mistakes and fail, have the special privilege to be forgiven; they should never give up but face bravely the challenges of life. The have the duty, he says, to never give up on hope.

    "The pine needle, when it  is scared, gives off," he says, "a fragrant scent.   We are the same. Those who have not been scared will not give off a fragrance. Don't be afraid of  hate, anger, frustration, pain. They should simply be thrown off. True, it is not easily done.  However, they have to be discarded.  Why?  We only have one life to live. We  can rid ourselves of the waste of the body, why can't we  rid ourselves of the waste of the heart and the head? We work at doing this with prayer, meditation and thoughtful reading.  Getting rid of things we don't want, we have to change our way of thinking to make room for the things we do want. Moreover, it's all free."

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Defamation Laws in Korea

    A broadcasting company producer writing for the Catholic Times, in  the "View from the Ark" column, comments on the present defamation laws in Korea. Many of the libel cases reported by the press, he says, usually involve, as the ones most likely to instigate the lawsuit: politicians and cabinet members, celebrities,  members of a government organization or those  managing members of some press group that instigates the lawsuit. Those  being  sued are the media those working in the media or private individuals.

    When the media criticizes some policy or makes known some unsavory fact or shows some skepticism, those involved will often respond with a lawsuit, contending that such revelations slander them and they will seek redress under the law. Individuals who write or otherwise express themselves on the internet, radio or television are always vulnerable to defamation suits; there will always be some who will look for any excuse to lodge a lawsuit. The examples are many and are familiar to all.

    Regardless of the result of these cases, the stress incurred by those who are accused of libel is great and generally increases while the case is being tried. The typical scenario pits a relatively powerless individual against powerful individuals or organizations. As an unintended consequence, the ease of pressing a libel suit places the  right to free speech in jeopardy.

    The columnist then tells us what the penalties are for libelous speech. Whether the charges are true or not is immaterial if the person has suffered some damage; that alone is a sufficient reason for the suit, and if the charge is true, the penalty is less. There are conditions that must be met if the charge is found to be true, but these conditions, he says, are not easily fulfilled.

    He mentions that the defamation laws have been criticized for years. The report to the UN, from the office of Frank La Rue, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the right of freedom of opinions and expression, was critical of the situation in Korea.  There were 8 areas in which he expressed reservations on the way Korea has handled human rights issues. Many of these involve the freedom of the press, the freedom to create, and the freedom to speak freely in cyberspace; these form the foundation on which a democratic  society is built. The present defamation laws in Korea, our columnist says, are shaking this foundation and threatening our democratic society.  He asks if the the report of Frank La Rue will have any results in Korea. The answer, he says, will have to come from those in the media, our artists, and the citizens of cyberspace.

    The Catholic Press is not  happy with the  current defamation laws that curtail freedom of speech, and have expressed this on a number of occasions. However, because of the security laws of the Country and the  situation in the North, the efforts to make changes have been slow in coming. The hope is that with enough dissatisfaction with the defamation laws, the necessary changes will eventually be made.