Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Unselfish Life of Service

Some years ago two nuns, Marianne and Margaret, left Korea to return to their home country of Austria. A bulletin for priests wrote up the story in the recent issue, perhaps to give us an example of service without seeking any return.

The nuns were asked in 1962 to come to Korea to serve leprosy patients on the island of Sorok. When they arrived, there were 6,000 patients and 200 children, and little in the way of medicines or persons to help them in their work. It wasn't long before they realized that their work on the island would be a lifetime task.

They arranged to take care of the infants, treated untold numbers, gave medicines even when the patients were uncooperative, treated wounds without gloves, and when surgery was needed they would call the necessary medical teams; they even prepared gruel for some of the patients and baked cookies. There were countless things to do for so many in need.

When Marianne and Margaret left, after forty years of service, the number of patients in the sanatorium was reduced to 600. The nuns came to Korea in their twenties and left as grandmotherly elders. They refused, during their many years of service, to be interviewed, to talk about their work, or to accept celebrations in their honor, following the instructions of their Lord and master. They were, however, recognized by their own Austrian government and by the Korean government.

The money they received from the Austrian Sisters Association was used to help those who, when cured, would be leaving for a new life outside the sanatorium.

When it came time for the nuns to leave the island they refused all farewell parties and took with them the single bag they came with 40 years before.They left early in the morning and,from a distance. seeing many of their patients on the shore waving farewell, they were overcome with emotion. They left because, being now old, they did not want to be a burden on anybody so they thanked all those who helped them over the years and all the members of the island community; and asked for forgiveness for any hurts they may have given anyone.

The Koreans are very thankful for kindnesses shown and when a priest, religious sister or brother leaves for another assignment, it usually is an elaborate send off, with gifts and nothing left undone. When one demurs, you hear the often-used proverb that even the guests and those who play the flute eat well at a farewell. It is difficult to refuse the many kind acts of those who were served. But the  two nuns knew what they wanted: an understanding of service that did not allow for these external demonstrations of love.

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