Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cassock no Longer Awkward

Priests in Korea are not opposed to wearing the cassock in their parishes but seldom do so when outside the parish. A prison chaplain writing in the Pastoral Diary of  the Peace Weekly explores the benefits of wearing it while working in correctional institutions.

In the beginning it was awkward, he said, since most inmates were not sympathetic to religion, but with the passage of time he felt more comfortable, and experienced much that was new.

Now when he enters the prison wearing his cassock he's immediately recognized as being a Catholic priest, which was not the case when he wore only the roman collar.  There are ministers who wear roman collars, but with the cassock all know who he is and many more  greet him than in the past. Buddhists also find it easier to greet him when he wears the cassock.

A prison officer seeing him in a cassock came up to him and said she is not a Catholic but has seen priests in cassocks in movies and wanted to introduce herself. On one occasion a foreigner, who saw him dressed in a cassock at a restaurant near one of the prisons, found it strange to see a priest in a cassock and came up to greet him.

In one of the correctional institutes for the young, some of the Catholics asked him a number of questions:  "What is that black dress called....Why do you wear it....Can we also wear it....Why are there so many buttons?" The cassock brings out questions of this type.

Wearing the cassock has many benefits, he said. Most importantly, "I become more faithful."  It takes more effort than wearing the roman collar and makes for more earnestness in my work, he added. The inmates at first found it strange but in time it became something very natural. The Catholics, especially, liked to see him in a cassock. "It has been a long time since I have seen a priest in a cassock" is a common response of the inmates.

Even nonbelievers, when they see the priest dressed in a long black dress, find it strange and look at him curiously. The prison chaplain does not go only to the prison to say Mass but also to introduce the Catholic Church to the prisoners. Everything the priest says and does has the possibility of bringing the prisoners closer to a better understanding of the Church.

In the summer, wearing the cassock can be uncomfortably warm and in the winter somewhat cold, but it makes the Catholics happy, introduces others to Catholicism, and helps the priest to examine himself as he makes the rounds of the prisons: three favorable results with one effort. He plans to continue this approach in the future.

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