Monday, October 31, 2011

Culture Helped Catholicism to Grow

At the beginning of Catholicism in Korea, with the many difficulties that the new religion encountered and with the lack of leaders, it is surprising to learn that it was able to grow and spread throughout the country as quickly as it did. One important reason why this happened was given by the Peace Weekly, in its latest article in their series on Catholicism and other religions, as it discussed the relationship of 'Jeonggamrok' and Catholicism.

Jeonggamrok, a book of prophecy, whose author and date of publication are unknown, is a mixture of divination, including geomancy, Chinese Philosophy and Taoism. It has come down from the past in many versions, and has had many followers, exerting an immense influence on the intelligentsia, who were disillusioned with the ruling elite, as well as on the lower classes. During the  last years of the Jeosun Dynasty, the Jeonggamrok was studied and debated often by the anti-establishment movement.

These prophecies also continued to influence society at the end of the Jeoson Dynasty, during the Japanese occupation, the independence movement, and into modern times. There were  ten places in Korea, named in the prophetic writings, that were considered safe havens from hunger and wars; and not a few people would  migrate to these areas, an indication of how influential the book had become.

Comparing the Jeonggamrok and Catholicism, the Peace Weekly notes huge differences. Jeonggamrok is  fragmentary, non-systematic and desultory, and yet it had a big influence on religion and politics, and prompted many to band together in secret societies that often planned insurrections.

During the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, the Jeonggamrok prophecies for the future began spreading throughout the country. At the same time Catholicism was also reaching a wide audience so they couldn't help  but influence each other. There are many within the Church who see this mixing of two ways of seeing the future as helping to spread Catholicism, even during the times of persecution. When one remembers that Catholicism was an import from outside the country, it helps to explain how it was able to put down roots so quickly in the  culture.

Why this book led to the acceptance of Catholicism in the country is not difficult to understand. We know that for many years Catholicism had no priests to lead the Christians. Their  introduction to Catholicism was not systematically possible, and those that entered were helped  by the hope that they found in the Jeonggamrok, even though much of this would be contrary to Catholic teaching.

Also helpful in the spread of Catholicism was the Nipokjeun, a book of prophecies similar to the Jeonggamrok, that circulated among members of the Catholic Church. Written in 1846, the book is believed to be the words of Yi Byok, John the Baptist, (1754-1785) who appeared in a dream to the author of the book. Yi Byok was a  leader in  the early church, and in the book he explains the principles of creation, why the first parents were expelled from paradise, and the basic Catholic teaching. He also points  out what he considers to be the errors of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism; and criticizes idolatry and the rites for parents, and directs us to  the future world. The  writer concludes that  the Nipokjeun was  the Catholic Jeonggamrok.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unauthorized life" of many Foreign Workers

Few are the ways we have of appreciating the difficulties of those who are marginalized in our society. One good way, outside of being in their shoes, is to work with them to ameliorate their situation. Writing for the Bible and Life magazine, a priest who works as director of the office for foreign workers in his diocese gives us a brief vignette about a worker who was looking for help.

Chartan arrived in Korea in 2009. After working for two years in a factory, he left before the termination of the work contract. He called to ask the priest if he will now be considered an illegal worker. He left, he said, because of the discrimination at the factory against the foreign workers. Although Korean workers were given 3-4-day vacations, foreign workers had to work, and when they on their own took a day off, 40 dollars of their pay was deducted for each day, even though they were only paid about 30 dollars a day. When Chartan complained to the owner, he angrily told him  to leave and not come back.

The priest told him to report to the employment center to find out what could be done. An employee at the center called the factory and was told that Chartan left on his own. "Why would they send him away when there was so much work to be done?" they were told.  The immigration bureau was notified of his situation. Chartan kept repeating he didn't want to be an illegal.

The priest says it's difficult to believe either the owners or the workers, but he believes the workers to be more trustworthy because of their urgent conditions. He recommended that Chartan become an illegal like many others. He would then have the freedom to look for another job provided he was not taken into custody. This did not appeal to Chardan so he called the owner and asked to be taken back.

We have a society, the priest says, where many are doing things illegally. He quotes a poet who lived for some time doing what was not legally permitted, protesting what he considered violations of human rights.

The priest ends his article by noting that many with money and high positions do many things that are illegal--and get away with it--believing these things are necessary to succeed in our society. However, the foreign worker is required to do everything according to law. He wonders when the day will come when those without money and power will be able to live well.               

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Maryknoll Korea's 100th Anniversary Celebration

On  Oct. 25th the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of Maryknoll, the foreign Mission Society of the Catholic Church in the United States, in the diocese of Cheongju, thanks to the kind invitation of the bishop. The celebration took place in the cathedral parish with Cardinal Chong, the main celebrant, the Maryknoll Vicar General, the Asian Regional Superior, the apostolic delegate, 15 bishops, many priests and sisters, and over 800 lay people.  They were there to give thanks and offer congratulations to the Society.

The Cardinal, in his sermon, recounted the history of the Korean Maryknoll presence from its time in North Korea to the present--a total of 88 years, with 15 Maryknollers remaining in the country. Two priests of the Brothers of St. Luke Hwang Sok-tu Mission Society were present and  said they will be following the spirit of the Maryknoll Society and the zeal shown by the missioners. 

Bishop Chang Gabriel gave a plaque thanking the Society to the Maryknoll Vicar General and a candle to our local superior commemorating the 100th anniversary celebration.

The editorial in the Peace Weekly mentioned that in comparison to the Jesuits and the Paris Foreign Mission Society,  Maryknoll has a brief but unique history. It was established to work in Asia and went through the trying times of the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and the control of China by the Communists: a time of persecutions and martyrs.

Maryknoll founded the dioceses of Pyongyang, Cheongju, and Incheon, and also was present in other parts of the country. The editorial mentions that the society worked in Korea under the occupation  of the Japanese and the Communists, which made for a very difficult working environment.

In the Peace Weekly interview with Fr. Hammond, the Maryknoll local superior, he recalls an incident while he was a student in the seminary. " Maryknollers have a feeling of sorrow and regret," he said, "when we think of Pyongyang. Monsignor George Carroll, who had spent years there before being forced out, later during a talk to his seminary students  broke down crying. I remember it still very clearly," he said. "When we think of the division of the country and the war our hearts become heavy."

Maryknollers would like to see, as would all Koreans, a unified Korea again. The feelings of sorrow and anger continue to show in the different attitudes toward the North when it comes to dialoguing with the North and giving aid. What can we, who are not directly involved, do to bring about better relations with the North?  We can pray and make efforts to heal some of our own mental and emotional scars that remain since the partition of the country.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Turtle and Learning

Once frightened by a turtle you will be frightened by the lid of a kettle. What we feared in the past, the look-alike will do the same in the present. With these words, the desk columnist of the Catholic Times introduces what he calls the learning syndrome: what has been learned in the past, if similar to what is being learned in the present and the connections and differences are not noted will greatly influence our present actions.

For example, learning to operate a machine will facilitate the use of another machine later on, each learning experience bringing about a change that prepares us to respond more efficiently for the next learning experience. Even the most primitive of people when seeing a recurring natural event such as black clouds have learned to 'read' the signs and go to high ground.

A recurring modern example, and a chronic problem in developed societies, is speculating in real estate. We have learned that the price of real estate in our country does not decline but steadily moves up, which encourages even more speculation.

As members of the Church we have learned many things about the disciples of Jesus. The columnist wants us to focus on the rich young man mentioned in Scripture. According to the standards of today, he would be an outstanding example of youth. However, he is shown to be one who missed the central teaching of life. He lacked love. He was like the farmer who never harvests.

In our society, we have an excess of those Christians who have more than what the rich young man enjoyed. They fear that giving up material possessions will result in losing everything worth having. What makes matters worse is that they think they are in the right, even though they are doing the opposite of what Jesus taught.

We have heard that a little learning is a dangerous thing, a reminder that we often deceive ourselves by thinking we know more than we know. The columnist finds fault even with the leaders of opinion in the Church for making it difficult to go deeper into what we believe. Without the necessary correct  learning, it will be difficult to live the true Christian life.

However, even correct teaching from experience is not always followed by correct learning and living. This has too often been seen. Not learning to be vulnerable and surrendering to God prevents us from accepting all that God wants us to learn.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Peters" in Our Classrooms

Attending a program for leaders in nursing, a religious sister, president of the Catholic Nurses Association, reflects on the words of a middle school teacher who was present, and whose words made a lasting impression on her.

The teacher mentioned the difficulty of keeping order in the classrooms; students show no interest in learning and reprimands are as useless as is punishment. "There are now in our classrooms," he went on to say, "many students who are like the protagonist Peter in the novel 19 Minutes. The Peter in my classroom, after continual bullying by his classmates, stabbed one of them with a mechanical pencil, making him cry. He never considered what he was doing to Peter, but during lunch break threw a chair at Peter and beat him."

(19 Minutes is an American novel that recounts the events leading up to a high school shooting and its aftermath. The killer is one of the students with the name Peter. The novel shows his deepening alienation from his family, his neighborhood, and his classmates because of the bullying, until his feeling of being an outsider causes him to snap and he begins his killing rampage.)

The sister recalls a newspaper story about high school students who, without being provoked, routinely interact by using abusive language, a practice also common among students in grammar and middle school. She  tells us about a father's violence and abusive  language that caused a mother to come to her for advice; her child had stopped speaking and his behavior was becoming belligerent. The sister also mentioned that her own niece, when in grammar school, had dreamed of being a singer but now in middle school has lost that dream. She hears this often. Who is at fault? she asks. Who should take responsibility? Will anyone acknowledge the anger in our children, help them to clean up their speech, heal their wounds, sooth their crying, and give them something to dream about?

It all begins in the family, she emphasizes. That is where character is formed.  What they receive from the family will determine their future. Just because the family next door is sending their child for extra studies does not mean that is necessary for their child. Many times it's not the child who is being considered when these decisions are being made, but the desires of the parents, whose desires have become more important than the desires of the child.

Parents and teachers should work together, she believes, teaching the student what is proper and improper action. It's not punishment but the 'rod of love' that is needed. Fear, insecurity and violence, as well as the abusive language directed at the Peters of the world can be eliminated or reduced if parents, teachers and other adults showed our youngsters more understanding, respect and love. She ends her column by reminding us that Jesus hugged the children and put his hand on their heads and blessed them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Social Gospel in Korea

How do we respond in a Christian way to troubling situations in society with a Gospel understanding?   The response of the bishops, when they convened for their autumn general meeting, was to establish Social Gospel Week, following Human Rights Sunday, on the second Sunday of Advent.

By formally proclaiming this special week and by observing this week each year, the bishops intend that the Social Gospel will find its rightful place in the essential teachings of the Church. They hope that by applying the teachings of the gospels to social behavior, we will begin to change how we look on disturbing social issues we have come to accept as normal, and begin to practice what we believe in our daily lives, becoming what we have been asked to become: the salt and light in society.
The bishops will publish a text book on the Social Gospel that will be a help to the catechumens and to all parishioners. As well as presenting the core teachings in one place, it will undoubtedly sensitize our awareness of the injustices in society, and to the fact that they are an offense against God as much as are the sins of an individual.

The president of the Bishops' Conference hopes that each diocese will use the Social Gospel Week to educate the Catholics on how we should respond to current social issues, and to continue to do so. This teaching, he goes on to say, was thought by many to be a matter of choice, that you could choose to follow or not follow the social gospel. By setting aside one week of the year to remind us of the importance of the 'social message' of the gospels, the bishops intend to correct this misunderstanding. The message that needs to be realized can be summed up by a few words from the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done on earth...."
The editorial in the Catholic Times praised the bishops' decision to set aside one week to bring more attention to the social teachings of the gospels. Discussed for many years, the need for more emphasis on the ethical teachings concerning social behavior has finally been addressed, and will be welcomed by many. Also needed to help undo the misunderstanding of many is a clear description of what constitutes a just society and what role religion should take in helping to develop such a society.

These questions and others that the Social Gospel Week will undoubtedly generate will be discussed by special programs during the week and follow-up programs in the future.  Everyone will not only be informed about the teachings of the Social Gospel but have a better understanding of why the Church becomes involved in social issues.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NGOs In Korea

Korea has more than 10,000 NGOs (non-governmental organizations ) influencing our society. The director of the Seoul Caritas Volunteer Center writes about NGOs in the opinion column of the Catholic Times.

A member of the Korean Non-Profit Institute and busy with her own work at the Seoul Caritas Volunteer Center, the writer was intent on resigning from the Institute but the chairperson, during the last meeting, upset at the poor attendance of the trustees and the non-payment of dues, reduced the number of the trustees and selected her as one of the new trustees. She decided to accept and then reflected on why she has continued as a member of the Institute for the last ten years.

In her column, she mentions that she wrote her doctoral dissertation on the  Korean NGOs and their importance in society. What do the NGOs actually do in society? she asked herself. Several answers came to mind: there is nothing that they are not able to do; they search for what the body politic is not doing; they advocate for what the body politic doesn't want to do; they reform what the body politic is doing wrong, and they lend support to the body politic when it doesn't have the ability to do what needs to be done. In short, the non-profits intend to uncover the problems that accumulate in society and to alert our citizens to the problems and help solve them.

With the advance of democracy in the 20th century, the limitation of market capabilities, the spread of pluralism and the change of the government's role in society, many areas of concern  have  come to the attention of the  non-profit groups. In the West, the role of the non-profits has done much to advance society.  England has a history of charitable institutions. France  is known for its cooperatives. In South-East Asia, Thailand and the Philippines are far ahead of Japan and Korea in their development of non-profits. Korea has only recently realized their potential in humanizing our society.  In Korea, different names are used to identify the non-profits. Besides the NGO, there is the NPO (non-profit organization) and the NVO (private voluntary organization)--perhaps a sign, there is a difficulty in coming to an understanding  of the work.

Authorities in the field say non-profits are helping to make a better society; that without them, we would have a less humane society. They also believe there should be more effort made to improve the capabilities of these non-profits.However, we should not rely on a few non-profits to supply the necessary know-how and do what we have always done. A broader outreach of many non-profits is needed, each developing its own special area of concern within the constraints of available funding. Also needed is for more of society to acknowledge the importance of these non-profit groups, and to help them continue to do their much-needed  work by contributing financial aid. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Serious Concern of the Korean Catholic Church

Recently, meetings were held to discuss the best ways of dealing with the growing number of fallen away Catholics. The enthusiastic response to the meetings was beyond expectations. More than 430 from 10 dioceses attended the bishops' evangelical seminar, and more than 1500, the Suwon diocese symposium. Both meetings revealed how seriously the Church considers the problem of the tepids. Both priests and lay people were looking for help to stop so  many Catholics from leaving the Church, and also in finding the best methods to convince those who have left to return.

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times, reporting on the meetings, begins by noting that the increase in the number of Catholics has also increased the number of those leaving the Church. A
2007 survey by the Catholic Times found numerous reasons given for leaving. The reason most often cited was work and studies (42.4%); religious doubt (12.1%); the burden of confession (7.4%);  conflict over religion (5.8%); disappointment with clergy and religious, and time-consuming hobbies, both (4.7%); the burden of educating children (4.3%); discord between husband and wife, and with parishioners, both (3.5%); financial burden of Church attendance (2.7%); and a miscellany of other reasons (8.9%). 

The columnist mentions that three out of four Catholics who stopped  going to church had no one they considered a spiritual guardian. They also said they had plans to return to the community. Outside  of problems with confession and with the clergy and religious, most of the reasons given were not connected with their feelings about Church matters.
The remedy for reversing the trend, the columnist says, referring to those who have studied the issue, is  more pastoral care of the parishioners, especially of the newly baptized. She  also noted that failure to go to confession should not be the only criterion in determining a tepid; there should also be concern for those who are weak in the faith. This could be addressed, she  suggests, with renewal programs. However, even before tending to our  concern for the  tepid, she  believes there should be an in-depth look at the way the Church functions.
She wants those in positions of authority to take a long look at the results of the  two meetings and come up with concrete proposals on how to move forward on this critical issue. Otherwise  we will have these topics coming up for discussion repeatedly in the future, without any real results.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mission Sunday 2011

Evangelization is the reason for the Church's existence. It was the last message of Jesus to the community he formed and a mandate which has from the beginning been  primary. The Church is always in mission. Especially today, when as the Pope says, it seems we have lost the sense of ultimate realities and even the meaning of existence itself.

Oct. 23 is Mission Sunday throughout the Catholic World. All of us will hear the Pope's message on this day, and our Catholic papers are devoting space announcing the importance of mission, the sharing of our gift of faith with others. The Catholics of Korea understand this mission, and many are  not embarrassed  to convey this message to others. 

Many parishes take this mandate seriously, providing programs to educate the community, praying for the success of their efforts, printing leaflets to distribute, and even going into the streets to introduce Jesus to those interested. Programs are often set up twice a year to invite candidates to come to a Sunday Mass where the community will acquaint the candidates on what to expect, assigning them to different catechetical classes.                                             

Korean statistics show that about half of the population consider themselves without a religion so the possibilities to evangelize are bright.

There were a number of examples in this week's Catholic papers  on  what was accomplished by parishes and mission stations. In one of the mission stations, 170 people showed an interest in joining the  community. When we consider that it was a small mission station, it is a reason to marvel.

One pastor stressed that in the education of the Christians, it is not the words that are important but our lives; mission is best done by the wordless examples of our lives. A journalist from the paper wanted to visit a parish to write an article for this recent issue but was told not to come. The process of evangelization is not an event to be observed and written about but an inner relationship with those who are intending to join the community. 

The lack of concern for the tepid and the diminishing zeal for evangelizing  in many parts of the world are regrettable facts. The reason for not desiring to  share the gift is possibly a loss of the joy we should  have as followers of Jesus or when the  experience of Jesus is not an important part of who we are. Whatever the reasons, lack of interest, one writer concluded, is the biggest obstacle to mission in the world today and when lost, is  not easily regained.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Words Often Say More Than We Want

The blind in Korean society have a history of  working in massage parlors, work  as acupuncturists and fortune tellers. Massage parlors  in Korea do not have a  good reputation. It is often a place of decadent behavior, one of the shady spots of our society.
Writing in the Catholic Times a columnist who has been working with the handicapped for many years mentions the effort that was made to change the image of the massage parlors. A massage center was established to educate the public to the  value of massages, making it easier for them to accept its healthful benefits, and gradually the image began to change.

The columnist points out that the words we use for the handicapped are very telling. Before 1981 the handicapped were described as 'deformed for life'. Over time the words 'handicapped' or 'handicapped person' came into use. Some of the words were extremely sensitive to those with handicaps but were not thought to be grammatically appropriate. The writer feels that addressing the handicapped as 'persons with a handicap' or the blind as 'persons with a sight problem' would be more helpful.
The writer has no expectations that changing the words we use is going to help the handicapped in any measurable way. But we are sending a message by the words we use. When we use positive words we are helping to influence a change to a more positive appreciation of the handicapped.
The importance of the words we use in our speech and writing is often forgotten. It is not difficult to know where anyone stands on any issue by the words used to describe those we disagree with; words are loaded with meanings and emotions. It is not easy to use neutral words when writing or speaking, and often the words we use communicate more about ourselves than about the subject we are addressing. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Confucianism and Catholicism

Confucian values permeate most of  Korean society. And Catholicism, before it became an object of belief, was an object of study for Confucian scholars. When Catholicism finally took root in Korea, it was not merely a transplant of a foreign culture to Korea that was to influence the culture of the country but was in turn influenced by the Confucian culture.

Confucianism is covered by the 3rd article in a series on Catholicism and  Other Religions, appearing in the Peace Weekly. The Jinsan incident in 1791 resulted from a refusal of the Korean Catholics to follow the Confucian mourning rituals, worsening the dispute between Catholics and Confucians.  
There have been two approaches suggested to deal with the dispute: accommodation with Confucianism, the Jesuit approach in China, or respond to the difficulties by a strict adherence to traditional Catholic teachings. The difficulties between the two religions are briefly noted in the article. The Confucian idea of heaven would be similar to the Christian understanding of the God of the Old Testament; it's both a transcendent and immanent idea of heaven. In early Confucian writings, a word meaning the king of heaven was used, with some implication of the existence of a supreme personal God. 
There is a difference in the way Confucians see the creation; it is not a creation from nothing, everything begins with the human and ends with the human. Everything is subjective, positive and optimistic. We are given, they believe, a mandate from heaven that can be attained by the practice of virtue.
The ultimate virtue for the Confucian is benevolence (note its Chinese character above left), that quality of goodwill toward others that can and should exist in any personal relationship. This understanding is similar to 'love' in Christianity. However, the  approach to fulfillment in life in each religion is different; in Confucianism, fulfillment is self-achieved while in Christianity, fulfillment, that is, sanctification, can't be achieved only by personal effort.

For a Confucian, there is not much interest in creation apart from humanity. Their interest is in living a life of natural goodness that can be expanded by self-actualization; that is their aim in life, their salvation. The Confucian wants to cultivate his moral sensitivity so that he will be able to act correctly and bring peace to others. All that the Confucian aims for, the Christian finds in Christ.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Humanism and Catholic Family LIfe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It is Difficult to be Naive

Chinese characters are seen on the walls of many houses and public buildings. They say much in few words. On the opinion page of the Catholic Times, the writer introduces us to the Chinese characters that mean: "It's difficult to be naive."

In this phrase the Chinese word used for naive or fool would mean in Korean "to gloss over." In the past when a Korean would apply the word intelligent to another, this person would usually refuse to accept the compliment by some appropriate response. For, as the writer states, if this person had not responded and refused the compliment, the gloss over, he would be seen as naive or a fool. But if we were to call someone a fool and the person does not respond, refusing to defend himself, who would think such a person a fool?  No one would be able to determine the depth of his or her thought. This is the reason, he believes, for preferring the saying: "Those who appear naive are the wise."

Relying on his own experience, he believes that when we speak we should reduce by half the number of words we habitually use. This would also reduce the number of mistakes we make in speaking. He believes this way of behaving has its roots in silence, and refers to the book "The World of Silence," by the Swiss philosopher Max Picard, who has written insightfully and lyrically about silence. He quotes  from the book:

Man is not even aware of the loss of silence: so much is the space formerly occupied by the silence so full of things that nothing seems to be missing.But where formerly the silence lay on a thing, now one thing lies on another. Where formerly an idea was covered by the silence, now a thousand associations speed along to it and bury it. In this world of today in which everything is reckoned in terms of immediate profit, there is no place for silence. Silence was expelled because it was unproductive, because it merely existed and seemed to have no purpose. Almost the only kind of silence that there is today is due to the loss of the faculty of speech. It is purely negative: the absence of speech. It is merely like a technical hitch in the continuous flow of noise."

There is also a worldly-wise way of being silent, an aggressive play acting of what is thought to be humility.  Why does one act in this way? It is seen as a way of disarming another so that a more devastating tactical offense can be applied. According to this thinking, to show our true self, jealousy or deference would likely be the expected response, thus removing the possibility of controlling the  situation and moving it in a direction more favorable to the individual.

Humility was  an unknown virtue in the cultures of Greece and Rome, and today possibly has a  meaning far removed from that  understood by Christians. Humility has nothing to do  with not appearing as proud in the presence of others, which some find attractive, but has everything to do with seeing oneself as nothing, but for the grace of God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Age is What We Make of It.

"If study is not part of today don't say you have a tomorrow....Take advantage of today for time quickly passes"--two sayings of the well-known Chinese Philosopher Zhu Wen Kung, which appeared in a Peace Weekly article praising the work ethic of the man profiled in the article, a doctor of  nuclear medicine.

Retired from his position  as professor at the  Catholic University after 37 years, he has continued to work in medicine for the last 16 years. He thanks God for the good health that enables him to keep working, and is happy  to be able to help those who need his care. Age is not a problem, he says, when it comes to his research studies; when he's involved in study, it feels like he's meeting his sweet heart, because of all the joy that it gives him.

He has been working in PET-CT (Positron emission tomography-computed tomography). the field of nuclear medicine, a branch of medical imaging, that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases or abnormalities in the body.

"Humanity is a mystery," he says.  Are we able to make hair or fingernails? We are God's masterpieces, made with delicacy and exquisiteness that only we humans can understand."

A recent study of his that culminated in attaching a gamma camera to the eye of a needle to search for fractures appeared in his dissertation published last year in a medical journal. "When one continues to do research these moments of discovery come. It may seem that the discovery was by accident, but it was not."

He has published over 380 treatises, and of this number over 40 are listed in the Science Citation Index. And since  retirement he continues to write, publishing two treatises each year. But even a cart, he says, can go on moving for a 100 years if the chassis is strong and the wheels are in good shape. What is important is where is it  going and the  reason.

His occupation, he makes clear, is his vocation to help people according to God's wishes.  Since it is a vocation for the welfare of others it is a life of study, even into old age, which draws all of us to admire not only this remarkable doctor but all those who keep mentally active and  concerned for others. The Prophet Micah said it beautifully: "You have been told, Oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Living Without Pretense

Some 30 years ago when China was beginning to open up to foreign influence, a group of Koreans visited China. Their guide was an ethnic Korean living in China. One day the ethnic Koreans serving as guides to visiting Koreans met and discussed what they found interesting about their work. They talked about three tendencies they observed in Koreans visiting the country: pretending to be all knowing, pretending to be wealthy, pretending to be important. In the beginning there had been great curiosity in guiding the Koreans, but gradually, as they got to know them better, this interest turned into disdain. Such was the way a Korean priest in a recent bulletin for the clergy summed up the feelings of the Korean guides.

He gives another example of how certain nationalities are often distinguished. The Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists who climb the Eiffel tower in Paris all have similar facial features, so it is difficult to distinguish one nationality from another, but it is said that from their actions it is easy to know who is visiting the tower. Those who are busy eating and talking are the Chinese. Those who are taking notes, listening to the guide, and looking over the structure of the tower are the Japanese. Those who are busy taking pictures to show on their return home are the Koreans.

The writer acknowledges that we all have an innate desire  to be recognized but wonders if Koreans have more of this desire than most. They like, he says, big and expensive cars, big apartments and lavish material goods, and wonders if this is not an effort to raise themselves in the estimation of others by what they have.

Most people, he reminds us, usually like those who are humble, and care little for the proud who  push themselves forward. He believes that if we do want to draw attention to ourselves the best way is to not make much of ourselves.

We Christians know that humility is the  DNA of a Christian; it was Jesus' repeated theme in the Gospels. Koreans, despite the perception of many, are probably no different than others in wanting attention. Italians are considered by many to be more interested in making a good impression than other nationalities, which amounts to the same thing. Sometimes the desire to make a good impression, or to gain attention, is subtle and less immediately obvious, but this again comes down to the same thing: being too concerned with oneself and how we relate to others. Effort may not be the only thing that is needed to change this natural trait. Sometimes what happens to us, perhaps in a moment of grace, reveals the foolishness of this kind of behavior. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Buddhism and Catholicism in Korea

Religion deals with  conscience. Each has to follow the dictates of conscience. However, when religion is an external and public reality, it becomes a matter also for the nation. Buddhism is the second article in the series on Religions and Catholicism in the Peace Weekly.  The writer  quotes Robespierre, a Deist, prominent leader of the French Revolution showing the necessity of Religion for the health of a nation.

Buddhism in Korea helped to legitimize the rule of the king. Lee Chadon was martyred because of his Buddhist beliefs but was the door by which Buddhism entered the Silla Kingdom and spread to the rest of the country. Buddhism united the aristocrats and gradually spread to the people. With the downfall of Goguryeo and  Baekje kingdoms,  the Silla Kingdom ascended and became the United Silla Kingdom. The King used Buddhism to unite all the beliefs into Buddhism, and the king became the Buddha King. The teaching was the unification  and harmony of all things. The universe is in the one, and the one is in the universe. Uisang was one of the illustrious monks of the Silla period his teachings  had more to do with the whole than with the individual.

The Silla dynasty lasted for almost 1000 years one of the longest in Asia. With the downfall of Silla, we have the Koryo dynasty  in which Buddhism turned to asking for help from the Buddha.  It was during the Koryo years that the Buddhist's monks would take national exams,  work in the royal house and in running the government.

The Joseon followed the Koryo which began with the policy of restraining Buddhism and giving the ascendency to Confucianism.This period showed great  disdain for  Buddhism. With the Japanese colonial rule the Confucian control disappeared and Buddhism was given freedom.

After the defeat of Japan and Independence, conflict arose between the traditionalists  and the independent Korean Buddhists. The problem with the married and celibate monks also surfaced. The government gave preference to the celibate monks.

 How does the Catholic Church look upon the Buddhists? In the Declaration on non-Christians, it says:   "Buddhism in its multiple forms acknowledges the radical insufficiency of this  shifting world. It teaches a path by which men, in a devout and confident spirit can either  reach a state of absolute freedom or attain supreme enlightenment by their own efforts or by higher assistance."  And continuing: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing, which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless, often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men."

Pope Paul VI made it clear that we respect these religions, but it doesn't mean we refrain from pronouncing the teachings of Jesus. There was a warning to the bishops of the world that the meditations of the Christians and non-Christians should not be seen as the same. The Korea Catholic Church mentioned the dangers of pluralism, syncreticism and a failure to analyze the different religious approaches.

As Catholic we continue to try to understand the other religions  and have a deeper understanding of our own. Our interest and concern with the other religions should grow.  Without  knowledge of their  teachings, in  dialogue we will have more confusion. We have to know our own teachings and those of the other religions if the dialogue is to be profitable.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Role of Religion in Society

The movie, The  Crucible, based on a novel of a true incident, was the recent topic of an opinion piece in the Catholic Times. It is the story of a school for the deaf and mute whose students suffer physical and sexual abuse at the hands  of their teachers. (It was the blog on this site for Sept, 12, 2009--"Whistleblower in Korea: 'The Crucible.'")
The writer of the opinion piece, after seeing the movie, was embarrassed, knowing that the hypocrisy and evil depicted in the movie occurred in a  school  affiliated with Christianity, and that what should have been a place for hope and salvation for disadvantaged children had become a crucible for disruption and evil.

Our writer now wonders whether a recently formed Christian political party, which will run a candidate for  president next year, will develop its own crucible and be found wanting. He has found the words and slogans used by the new party upsetting. They are attempting, he believes, to raise the Christian influence in society by this political effort, but similar efforts in the past have always failed. Although religion should be interested in the well-being of society, when it attempts to use earthly power to achieve its ends, it loses, he maintains, its spiritual power and often opens itself to ridicule.

Recently a Protestant minister was quoted as saying, "Religions can't take up the role of government, and the government can't take up the role of religion. Each has its own role." What the minister is saying is correct, as long as we understand that he does not mean to say that religion should not get involved with societal problems.

All believers, as members of society, have the duty to work for achieving justice in society. They also have the right to express their personal and religious views, as well as their political views, publicly.

These two domains should not be confused; each should be respected. Religion has to fight against becoming secularized, but knowing just where the dividing line exists between religion and our secular society is sometimes not easily discerned. To what extent should religion speak out against problems in society and how does she wield political influence when protesting a political decision deemed inappropriate or unjust? At all times she has to keep in mind what she would be contributing to society by intervening in the political arena, and whether these interventions are based on truth. When religion doesn't work for justice, it's like salt losing its flavor. Its very reason for being is gone.

Some say that religion has become secularized and corrupted, but we should never forget there are many--in and out of the religious sphere--who are very quietly bringing light and salt to the shadowy places. When society becomes confused, that is when the role of religion also becomes important. We should never forget that the knowledge of truth is our foundation and that the values of religion will always exceed the values of the world.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What is a True Believer?

What is a true believer? There are many Christians but how many are mature  believers? A professor at the Taegu Catholic University searches for answers in his article in the Bible & Life magazine. Why do we modify the word believer, he wants to know, with adjectives like true and mature? Is it because there are few who actually are true believers, mature believers?

What does it mean to be a believer? The word means one who believes, but what is important is 'what' and 'how' one believes. Many understand belief too narrowly, as meaning the acceptance of certain propositions. However, the professor says that is not what it means to a Christian. Christian belief is a personal acceptance of Jesus not only intellectually but with the whole person, with the emotions, with the will, and with our actions. It is believing in Jesus, imitating Jesus, and living the Jesus life. Believing certain propositions is the foundation, but it doesn't stop there.

What we believe should be affirmed by the life we live. Believers should be reliving the life of Jesus, and when this is not understood, it makes for a narrow, intolerant Christian. One can't judge another person's internal spiritual life, but we can make judgements on how this belief is manifested in life.

Our writer feels that a major stumbling block keeping us from true belief can be found in our all-consuming concerns for personal and family well-being, concerns that can turn our belief into an egotistical, self-serving belief. The traditional Christianity is concerned for the welfare of others, and places a high value on sacrifice and service. Concern for the self is of course not excluded. However, many fall away from their faith life  by too exclusive an interest in self and secular matters.
Ideology is the other problem he deals with. Following the downfall of Communism, many other beliefs, religious and non-religious, have appeared on the social horizon. Sound ideologies are necessary if there is to be a vibrant society; they help us go in the right direction. But in our society, the values of community and sacrifice are disappearing, replaced by an overly aggressive competitive spirit in many areas of life; by the search for ever greater profits, without concern for the welfare of the consumer; and by a world-wide financial system that has become more interested in its casino-like potential for making huge personal and corporate profits than in facilitating the efficient operation of the marketplace. Only religion, the writer feels, will weaken this tendency. However, religious fundamentalists, in trying to protect religion from an increasingly secularized society have come up with their own ideology. Using rationalization as a tool to protect what they feel is their possession, they are degrading religion.

A person of belief, says the writer, is not one who speaks loudly about what he believes, nor one who has merely the external ways of a Christian. A person of belief is one who can  face the difficulties of life serenely, strengthened by the love that animates her life. She  doesn't fuss about her own pain but  can  commiserate with the pain of others. Isn't that what a true believing Christian is?                                                               


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Words Without Deeds...

"Words without deeds are like a garden full of weeds." These words, and similar sentiments, are often heard, and the desk columnist  of the Catholic Times reflects on their usefulness in living a fulfilling life. No matter how acquainted we are with the words of Scripture, he believes that when they are not lived  they are of little use. They are not the way we move God or even ourselves. 

Those who live the words of Scripture live their lives truthfully and serenely. The words bring repentance, and help others to repent, and those who pray inspire others to pray. Living by  the Word means to carry out what we believe. Our columnist gives us the example of Mahatma Gandhi who lived what he preached and received respect and  acclaim from all. 

The columnist presents us with three self-reflections: When we approach the Scriptures do we do it with humility and respect for the Word? Do we use God like a tool to attain what we want? When the Word does not match our desires do we discard it?

What effort is necessary on our part to make the Word effective in our lives?  It starts, he says, by becoming familiar with the Word, not only having knowledge of the Word but having the experience of the Word in our lives. Knowledge and experiencing the  truth of the knowledge are two different realities.  Knowledge, understanding, practicing  and experiencing the Word may be our desire, but it is only in experiencing the truth of the Word that changes us.  That's God's gift to us. That is the life of Faith.

We all desire to have our requests answered but how faithful are we in listening to God in the many ways he speaks to us. We are too busy and miss much of the happiness and grace that we should have in life. 

How precious do we consider the words of Scripture? Do they touch the heart? The columnist tells us that if we have read the Scriptures with the head, we should make a change and read them with our heart and and put them  into practice in our daily lives. Where the Word  exists  there is life. We should  yearn to make it a part of our life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Our Heart is Where our Treasure is

The vocation director of the Incheon diocese, Fr. Matthew Cho Myeong-yeon, has just written his seventh  book which many received in the mail a few days ago. Fr. Matthew has a very popular blog at, which he keeps updating. He is kept busy with his vocation work, the blog (nicknamed Butter King), and his writing.

In one of the essays in the recent book, he recounts clicking on the TV to see the rebroadcast of a popular drama, wanting to find out what people liked about it. The drama dealt with overcoming the difficulties that surrounded the main characters and the tender love they had for each other. The viewers were captivated by  the story, he believes, because they longed for the same love and happiness they found depicted in the drama.

Most of us do not appreciate the love and happiness that is present in our own lives, most often thinking it less than ideal. Fr. Matthew feels this way of thinking is an illusion. The love that we see dramatized is always seen as greater than the love we experience, and yet our love can be deeper and more beautiful.  As our proverb teaches, "Anothers  rice cake seems bigger than our own." To be truly happy, he says, we have to jettison the misunderstanding and illusion that others have a more beautiful happiness and greater love than we have.

As Jesus said, "Remember where your treasure is, there your heart is also." What we think is important is where our heart will  be.  If we consider God our treasure that is where our heart will be. This is also true with love and happiness. If we think that love and happiness is somewhere  other than in us,  then we will never have it.

What and where is our treasure? If we look for our treasure in the world and in material things, we will not find love and happiness in ourselves. We can  never find satisfaction in things outside of ourselves. When our treasure is in God, it is then that we become acquainted with love, and we learn that  giving, more than receiving, brings greater happiness. And in every situation we will  know that we can find satisfaction and have the opportunity to give thanks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Do the Good and Avoid What is Bad

 An opinion piece in the Catholic Times introduces us to a learned gentleman from the past who placed first  in the state exams, and was appointed a county magistrate. Wanting to govern the county the best possible way, he went in search of some wise counsel. 
He found a celebrated scholar he trusted, who told him, "Just do the good and avoid the bad, that's all."The magistrate answered that a mere child knows this and wanted something more rewarding. The scholar repeated the same words.

The magistrate, disappointed, was about to leave when the scholar invited him for a cup of tea. The scholar poured the water into the magistrate's cup until it began to overflow. The magistrate yelled, " Master, the  water is overflowing! The scholar replied, "You know that  the water is overflowing the cup because you see it with your eyes. Why don't you know that knowledge can at times surpass wisdom?"
The magistrate understood immediately what was meant and, embarrassed, left the room and hit his head on the door frame. The scholar told him if he had bowed his head, he wouldn't have hit his head.

This is an anecdote that is often used, our columnist says, when lecturing  to those involved in welfare work. Do the good and avoid the bad is easily said but in practice, it is not  always easy to determine the good from the improper. In our society, the judgement on what is good and what is not  is hard to make, and our columnist would  like more clarification from our master scholar.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shamanism in Korea

"All Koreans when they mingle in  society are Confucian; when they deal with philosophical questions they are Buddhist; when they come up against difficulties in life they are shamanistic." This was the way a  Protestant missionary described the Koreans back before the colonial rule of the Japanese, as reported in a Peace Weekly Series on different religious groups in Korea, the first article beginning with Shamanism. The writer agrees that there is much truth in the description: Those who go to a shaman when faced with life problems, no matter their alleged affiliations, belong to Shamanism; those who go to the Catholic Church are Catholics.

Korea has  over  300,000  shamans. They are, for the most part, not registered and are spread out into all areas of society. In the past, they were mostly found in certain sections of a city. Today they can be seen in market areas and wherever people congregate; they have become fashionable.
Although some consider Shamanism a religion, with  rituals to drive out evil spirits; others say it has only the appearance of a religion. They have no systematic teachings and have no ultimate concerns with life or death, good and evil, and have no world vision. Much of their ritual is focused on the shaman achieving an ecstatic state, which at times is also experienced by those participating in the ritual.
The history of Shamanism has little to do with the myth of Tan-gun, which deals with the history of Korea, says the writer. The shamans of the past were called to the royal court in the early kingdoms of Korea to offer sacrifices for rain, and other sacrifices similar to the rituals of Confucianism.
Some see Shamanism as rooted in the indigenous culture of Korea and for that reason should be preserved. Buddhism and Confucianism, and now Christianity with its 200-year history in Korea, have to be considered the religions of the Korean people. Those who consider Shamanism the native religion of the country want to see it develop and thrive. The writer agrees that preserving its contribution to Korean cultural history makes sense but to see that it develops is another completely different question. 
Concluding  her article  she  gives us the words of Pope Paul VI, taken from his apostolic exhortation, "Evangelization in the Modern World," as a guideline on how to communicate with Shamanism:
Here we touch upon an aspect of evangelization which cannot leave us insensitive. We wish to speak about what today is often called popular religiosity.

One finds among the people particular expressions of the search for God and for faith, both in the regions where the Church has been established for centuries and where she is in the course of becoming established. These expressions were for a long time regarded as less pure and were sometimes despised, but today they are almost everywhere being rediscovered. During the last Synod the bishops studied their significance with remarkable pastoral realism and zeal.

Popular religiosity, of course, certainly has its limits. It is often subject to penetration by many distortions of religion and even superstitions. It frequently remains at the level of forms of worship not involving a true acceptance by faith. It can even lead to the creation of sects and endanger the true ecclesial community.

But if it is well oriented, above all by a pedagogy of evangelization, it is rich in values. It manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know. It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of manifesting belief. It involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence. It engenders interior attitudes rarely observed to the same degree elsewhere: patience, the sense of the cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion. By reason of these aspects, we readily call it "popular piety," that is, religion of the people, rather than religiosity.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Young Catholic Workers Movement of Korea

From 1970 to 1980, the JOC movement in Korea was very active. (JOC stands for Jeunesse Ouvrières Catholiques in French and Young Catholic Workers in English.) Founded by Cardinal Cardijn in 1958, the movement spread from France to many other countries of the world. Its mission, as set forth by JOC's international chaplain, is "to form a just society, raise the level of our appreciation of our human dignity, and promote fraternal love. To change the world is the work we have been given." He added that he hopes the movement will never forget this.
The JOC conducts its meetings by focusing on a three-prong approach of "seeing, judging, and acting."  First, a member examines a situation that needs to be confronted; second, forms a judgement with the light of Catholic social principles; and third, decides what to do in the concrete situation to implement these principles. In the 1990s it lost its vitality here in Korea primarily because of the change in the workers' environment. But, according to an article on the visit of the international chaplain that appeared in the Catholic Times, we are now seeing a change in the fortunes of the movement. 

 The bishops decided in 1999 to no longer have oversight of the movement, abrogated the national office, and returned the oversight to the individual dioceses, hoping to see some growth in the movement. But even in Inchon, where it was very active, it gradually disappeared. In Seoul it continued to thrive but the article mentions that there was a change there to a more spiritual approach, with the recognition that changing society begins with changing oneself.

The problems we had in society during the 70s and 80s have been remedied to a great extent so the ideals and expectations of the young have to be reconsidered with the eyes of the young workers.The chaplain, when talking to a group in Seoul, quoted the words of founder Cardinal Cardijn: "Young people are worth more than all the gold in the world because they are sons and daughters of God. All actions start from this premise." 
Since we are concerned with the young people in our society and their alienation from the Church, it is sad to hear that one of the great movements in the Church, which has inspired many other groups in the Church, was itself not helped to continue its work. 

The efforts of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn have not been appreciated by many in the Church. In his own time he ran into difficulty in having his concern for the workers brought more directly into the evangelizing life of the Church. He appreciated the role of the laity like few did in his day: "The lay apostolate is a necessity that does not have ecclesiastical origin but is of the divine order, willed by God himself." His most famous quote: "We are always at the beginning."  

The Cardinal had much to do with the ideas that formed the basis of Pope John's encyclical Mater and Magistra. His insights also appeared in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World and the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. There are those who would like to see him declared a Doctor of the Church so his words and life would reach more of the Catholic World.                                                                                                                                                                 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Education May not be able to Give

It's not uncommon in Korean society to hear discussions on the merits of standard educational methods compared to alternative methods. A writer with a doctoral degree in literature was asked by a friend to share his thoughts on education. He sympathized with his friend for not wanting his child studying only for exams and facing the constant pressure to excel in school in order to succeed in our competitive society. And while appreciating an educational approach that focused on having a student discover their gifts and developing  them; he didn't think the  alternative method would be successful in accomplishing this objective. His views on the subject appeared in a recent Catholic magazine.

He mentions that a graduate from an alternative school, in a public forum, said that what he had learned about college was completely different from his  experience of  college. A teacher in an alternative school said that they had succeeded in reducing the level of anxiety concerning studies and grades but are far from educating  for creativity.

The writer feels we have to find a way of  uniting  the desire we have for producing better students and the methods to realize that goal. What do we hope for our students? He asks. The answer, he says, should determine our methods.

One of the goals of education is to help the student become a person of character by nurturing the resolve to reach this goal.  The person of character is one who can have rapport with his times and can sympathize with the marginalized in our society, see the injustice of divisions and the tragedy of war, can inspire others with an empathy for all those facing difficulties, and all those who are different from themselves. In short: to be able to see others with a moral perspective.

He concludes his article by noting two understandings for the word 'sympathy'.  The example he uses is seeing a beggar with whom  he becomes one. It is only the beggar who exists, and he gives alms. 

The other understanding of sympathy is  different. Seeing the beggar he intuitively sees his own future related to the beggar. The  beggar is not just one person but a sign of God showing us the darkness and reality of the present times. A  person with this common sympathy  will have this  important spiritual capability. Why are there people who are hungry and need food? This is moving from the autonomous individual to one who has a  sympathy for others that is not just personal.

The adage "It is better to give a hungry man a fishhook  than to give him a fish" may be an easier way of understanding what is meant. Seeing the beggar we do what we need to help, but at the same time we work to change society, so we do not have those who have to beg for food.  Hopefully, we do  not see these positions as either-or but rather as both-and. To educate a person with this understanding of life is possibly beyond the capability of any type of education.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Leaving the City for the Farm

Because of  the foreign exchange crisis during the last years of the 1990s, many city families decided to go to the quiet of the country and take up farming. Although many were returning to a life they had known before, few knew anything about farming. So with failure following failure, many returned to the city.

This trend continued for about two years after the foreign exchange difficulties, but  gradually the numbers began to decrease. In 2004 it increased again, with about 1000 families moving each year to the country. The Kyeongyang magazine gives us a look at some of these families in the Andong diocese.

For the last eight years the diocese has had a get-together for those who decided to go to the country to farm the land in an effort to help them meet others with the same problems, and to help them in their faith life in their new surroundings. They may all be planting  different crops, but they are all facing similar difficulties.

One of the difficulties is the tendency to worry about what the established farm neighbors may be thinking about their neophyte farming neighbors: are they wondering how long we will be able to endure this new life?  When they do ask for help from the more experienced farmers, they are likely to hear: " It's just a matter of doing what  you are doing."--farmers  are not going to go into  details.

There are those who go to the country not to farm but to prepare for retirement. Others go to leave behind working by the clock and  quarreling about nothing, preferring to come to the country to live more peacefully, surrounded by clean air and water.

Whether returning to farm or for other reasons--it is a return to nature. Even if nothing is done, returning to the country, especially when farming the land, is important. In the words of one who made the return to the  farm 13 years ago: "Before, my priorities were 'me' and the competition to earn money. Here on the  farm it is 'we' and the peaceful life that concern us."

At the Mass for those who returned to the farm, the bishop said, "The primary reason for farming is to produce healthful food. It nurtures life and is holy work, purifying those who farm with proper intentions. Environmentally friendly farming, organic and  life-giving, is not easy. However, with effort you will find satisfaction, nothing will be beyond your capabilities. You have experienced this and will continue to experience it. Although farming is a difficult life, you are living the life of the beatitudes."