Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spring 2012 Visit to North Korea

 A partial report of Father Gerard E Hammond's  visit to North Korea is printed below with his account of the Holy Mass for the Foreign Community in Pyongyang DPR of Korea.

As has been my usual custom for more  than ten years, this spring I traveled to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with the Eugene Bell Foundation. Other members of the delegation included Dr. Stephen Linton and his wife Hyuna Linton, Dr. K Justin Seung from Harvard University, Professor Teresa Moriss-Suzuki from Australia National University, and Father Berard Christophe of the Paris Foreign Mission.

This spring's visit was scheduled for April 16th through May 1st but a Maryknoll Asia Regional conference in Hong Kong meant I had to leave North Korea on April 26th. Gratefully, I was able to celebrate Holy Mass at the Polish embassy for the foreign community in Pyongyang as usual.

North Korean authorities limit the number of delegations permitted per year as well as the number of days a delegation can stay in their country. Consequently, much must be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. On most days our delegation leaves the hotel no later than 6:30 am and returns long after dark. Because multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is such a dangerously contagious disease, most of our work takes place outside. For this reason, our visits are scheduled for the spring and fall; when the  weather is most agreeable. Despite these precautions, however, we sometimes have to spend wet, cold days out of doors, and this spring was no exception.

Occasional discomforts notwithstanding, I really enjoy these trips and this spring was not exception. As each group is different, usually two or three members on our delegations are complete strangers. I serve as the official delegation chaplain. Despite our busy schedule, the absence of cell phones, internet connections and other engagements provides many opportunities  to discuss issues related to faith, particularly around the supper table on days we do not make site visits. For some who are not used to seeing so much suffering, these visits can trigger a spiritual re-awakening. Those who have a Catholic background often attend their first Mass in years in North Korea....

For the past few years, it has become a tradition for the Polish Embassy in Pyongyang to invite the foreign community to a celebration of the Holy Mass when I visit North Korea. This  spring the Mass took place on April 22nd.

Celebrating Mass for Pyongyang's foreign community by visiting priests has now become an accepted custom. While it is still too early to expect that North Korean authorities will permit regular visits by priests, they have  no objection to my ministering to foreigners when I am there to engage in humanitarian work with the Eugene Bell Foundation.

On Sunday April 22nd, Ambassador Edward Pietrzyk opened his  mission and home to  Pyongyang's foreign community and sent First Secretary Michaal Skotnicki to our hotel to conduct us to the Polish Embassy for the Mass. During the service, I was assisted by Father Berard Christophe of the Paris Foreign Mission. Approximately, fifty people attended from more than a dozen nations.

After, we were invited to a dinner prepared by Madame Anna Pietrzyk. I was deeply moved when the Ambassador and his dear wife got up from the table and served us themselves. On this and other occasions, by word and action, Ambassador Pietrsyk gives  amble evidence of his deep reverence for the Church and the priesthood. My prayer is that God will expand this small beginning into a regular Mass for Pyongyang's foreign community.

Father Gerard E. Hammond

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Media Literacy and Sex

"The distorted understanding of sex the culture portrays is a massacre of life. We have to make efforts to redesign the environment of this erroneous culture." These are the words of a researcher of culture writing in the Catholic Times. He continues: "Culture is a strong tool that subtly internalizes the prevailing values of a society, which then becomes, unconsciously for most of us, the foundation for our actions."

Our children and teenagers are being bombarded with sexual stimulants, giving them a distorted understanding of sex, crammed indiscriminately into the heads of our children by the culture we have made. An example: the 'literary youth' is now referred to as the 'erotic youth'; our culture is internalizing sex to the point where sexual relations have reached the threshold of normal behavior for the young. Even though they understand, he says, how wrong this emphasis on sex is, unconsciously they tolerate it.

As a professor in a university who heard stories of students who had abortions, he decided to devote full time to the study of the culture of life. These students were not juvenile delinquents or raised in families with problems, so why, he wondered, was it so easy for them to talk about their abortions?

To answer the question, he gave up his professorship, and without  permanent job security decided to devote himself to this work, researching and lecturing. Listening to his lectures enthusiastically, he noted, were mostly those in their 20s and 30s, who were having their eyes opened to another facet of sex that was being ignored by society and unfamiliar to many of them.

The professor does not talk only about the preciousness of life and what should be our attitude about life, but he wants his listeners to see what the media is doing by fantasizing sex and how this approach inculcates the culture of death.

He urges us to become media literate and be able to see what this unhealthy approach is doing to our society. We have to learn to see how cleverly and systematically the media has influenced the popular culture by using sex to sensationalize the way we see life.  Our efforts have to be directed to show, he says, the results of this sex culture on our society. One way of resisting this dangerous trend, he suggests, is by creating programs in the schools and churches that focus on improving our media literacy and raising our maturity in judging more effectively.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hope in the New National Assembly

Korea had a recent election for the National Assembly. 246 members where elected and 54 members were allocated by proportional representation. Guest columnist writing in the Catholic Times is hoping for a change  in the 19th National Assembly from that of the 18th.

He lists the many problems the 18th National Assembly had with scandals, violence, dereliction of duty, failure to agree on the national budget. They have squandered the hard earned money the citizens have paid in taxes. They failed to take into account the living conditions of the citizens but rather the needs and tactics of their political parties.  It goes into history as one of the worst and hopes the next assembly will be different.

The legislative measures brought before them only 43 percent were passed.Those that had to do with systematic change and the needs of the citizens were abandoned. This will now mean the 19th assembly will have the task to  bring these before the floor with much time and money involved. The 18th assembly have left an embarrassing record.

The citizens with their one vote were expressing their desire for the future in electing the new assembly, but the columnist seeing the talk after the election wonders if this hope can realistically be entertained. Regulations for the assembly state that the new session of the National Assembly should meet before June 5th but each party fighting for its turf it doesn't appear this will happen. The 18th was 42 days late.  Since at the end of the year we  have the national elections for the president the prospects are not bright.

Of the 300 members of the assembly 74 are Catholics.  The columnist is hoping that this will make a difference but the last assembly had even more Catholics. He wonders if this trust on  the Catholic members  is not too naive. They know they should  put the needs of the people ahead of the needs of their respective parties.

He prays that the persons of faith in their work as legislators will remember their Gospel mission  and be true to their calling and serve the people as parliamentarians.  He hopes  we will see a change from the politics of an underdeveloped country and for the members of faith to be an example.            

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Buddha's Birthday

Both Catholic papers had editorials on Buddha's  birthday, celebrated on May 28th this year. Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk  delivered a congratulatory message to all the Buddhists: "May the  mercy of Buddha spread to all the world, especially the poor and suffering. For those that can't find meaning in life, we hope that Buddha's teachings will enable them to find true joy and happiness."

This is the 2556 year of the Buddha's appearance on the world stage, 500 years before Christ. Buddhism has been in Korea 1400 years before Christianity came to the country. For most Koreans, Buddhism is more than just a religion, it is part of their religious culture. For them, Buddha's birthday is what Christmas is to Christians.

The relationship between Buddhists and Catholics has been close. In addition to the congratulatory message from the Vatican, many churches have a placard over the entrance to the church grounds celebrating his birthday.  

Because relations among religions have not always been peaceful, there is a greater need to try to achieve it in the present. The world has come closer together, which often accentuates our differences but fortunately also our similarities; respect for each other' differences in a world increasingly polarized is becoming more necessary than ever before. Without this respect, we will all suffer the consequences. 

If one simply takes the numbers of religious adherents in Korea, they would be greater than the total population of the country. In this "museum of religions," as the editorial described it, how open are we to the different religions, the editorial wondered, and will we be able to hand on this understanding to the younger generation?

Christianity and Buddhism have two world views and two different  starting points; they are two very different religions. It is an impossibility to see them united in doctrine, but in the understanding of mercy and love and going out to the poor and alienated, we are of the same mind. The world is ardently in search of peace and love. The editorial, expressing what all Christians should hope for, wishes to see Buddha's peace and mercy spread throughout the world.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


In the readings for the  liturgy of the Mass in  preparation for Pentecost, we are at the table talk at the last supper. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends us. Just as God loves Jesus, Jesus loves us. And just as Jesus is one with the Father, he wants us to be one with him; by sharing this love and oneness we are sharing in his joy. Jesus prays for us and leaves us with a message of love and unity, the Eucharistic Mission.

This is clearly the message of John's Gospel. It is easy to relegate it to the literary form of poetry and to forget it. The message of Pentecost is: yes impossible, but God can make it possible with the  message of this feast.

The word liturgy comes from a  word meaning 'public work'. In Korea, during the years of economic difficulty, the government would require citizens to lend a hand in building roads, helping in flood relief and doing whatever else was necessary for the  public good. This is the origin of the word in Greek: 'public doing'. In the same manner, at each Mass liturgy we are being sent out to do the public work Jesus has given us.

During this week of preparation for the feast of Pentecost, the Mass leaflet the Catholics use at Mass has a meditation on one of the readings that tells the tale of the frog in the pot of hot water. The frog can't stand heat, but the water is heated gradually over a long period of time so the frog doesn't realize the change in temperature, gets accustomed to the heat, but finally dies because of the heat.

In the readings at the last supper,  we are told that the world we are in is not going to be happy with the message we have received, and we will not be liked because of it. The meditation tells us  we should not get accustomed to what is happening in the society that makes us  forget the message we have received from Jesus.

Jesus calls us to his public work at each Sunday Mass.  He gives us our orders and message, sending us into the world to spread his message, armed with his promise of help.    

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Power of Blessings

In the  seminary during vacation time, we went to different areas of the country for on-the-spot mission experience. During that time one of the priests we worked with urged parents to bless their children and one another with the laying on of hands, a practice we were all familiar with. To bless is a way of sharing in a loving way with another, and we should probably be receiving and giving blessings more than we are accustomed to do. A priest-columnist of the Catholic Times recounts his experience in receiving  a blessing. 

When blessing, we have the  opportunity to humble ourselves, to trust and to rid ourselves of negativity, believing that we can be better than we are, a conduit of God's many gifts, and thankful for the opportunity to receive what we are about to bestow.           

On entering his favorite coffee shop recently, the columnist saw the owner on his knees before a woman who was giving him a blessing. He was interested in what was going on and asked the owner, who he knows well, what prompted the blessing.  It was a blessing for purification, the owner said, and introduced the woman, a Catholic, who told him she wanted to impart to the owner her feelings of sincerity and desired by her blessing to unleash the same feelings that were now hidden within the owner.

Moved by what she said, the columnist asked for a similar blessing.  The woman felt that the priest was not in need of such purification and courteously refused, but with the continual importuning of the columnist, telling her of his difficult personality, which made life difficult for those he lived with, she gave her blessing. From that day on, he felt changed and gave several examples.  

He took time from his work schedule to clean the corridors of the monastery where he lives. At the request of one of his fellow priests, without a word of displeasure, he went into the kitchen to prepare noodles and later, while washing the dishes, was aware that he washed them differently than he would have before the time of the blessing; it was, he felt, a small step toward holiness.

Striving for sincerity in all his actions had triggered a purification that affected how he behaved with others. There were fewer concerns about himself and more about the needs of others.  He urges his readers, and hopefully all of us, to bless and be blessed.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Growing in Spirituality

Spirituality is approached in a variety of ways and thus can be defined in a number of ways. For those who believe in God, it can be defined as maturity of life, the reason for existence, and the goal of life. Jesus is the model of how we should approach this goal. The columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times delves into the hidden dimensions of the self to reveal what must be uncovered to attain spiritual maturity.

He uses the example of bricks used in construction work. Though all are all well made, in themselves they have little meaning. It is their relationship with other bricks  that gives them meaning.  A church building built with bricks is not just a gathering and piling up of bricks every which way, but its construction follows certain rules, especially at the corners; a skilled hand working with those bricks and following a plan can construct a beautiful building.

This is also true in life. We all have a multitude of memories, experiences, life fragments that can help us build our own internal temple. We have had many experiences in life from the time of infancy: failures, scars, joys and successes, and in the midst of all this there is the seed of God's grace, which is there to help us grow. Even when we do something wrong, the grace of God wants to move us to a new life. Unfortunately, we often forget this seed that is in us, opening our eyes to another reality.

Israel's history is an example of how difficult it is to discover this seed within us. The exodus from Egypt was not seen as freedom by the Jews. During the  later history of exile, slavery, the division of the country they sensed the presence of God but went back to their old ways.

Jesus came to teach us the harmony that exists between heaven and earth and to discover the hidden seed within that will enable us to live this harmony, while still dealing with the many fragments that have to find their rightful place in our lives. In doing so, we are building the internal temple, the home of the Holy Spirit.This spiritual life is not  destroyed by external misfortunes.  Even though we are weak human beings, we can be strengthened by looking for and finding the hidden seed within that will light our troubled ways. That seed does not bloom all at once but requires our constant care to nourish it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Adversity Quotient

A series of articles in the magazine "Bible and Life"  are on the Adversity Quotient. We have all been exposed to the Intelligence Quotient, the Emotional Quotient, and the Moral Quotient, and now we have this latest measurement of personal functioning, the brain-child of Dr. Paul Stoltz, to tell us where we stand in terms of how we are likely to deal with, and hopefully overcome, adversity in our lives. 

The lead article reminds us of an obvious fact, that life is full of obstacles: accidents, sickness, deaths in the family, divorce, financial problems; these are among the major catastrophes but almost as troubling at times are the small things that pester us daily.

Using Dr. Stoltz's example of mountain climbing, the article divides the type of climber into three groups. The Quitter, who finds the climbing too difficult and can't wait to get to the bottom of the mountain, The Camper, who does not act like the quitter but is comfortable with setting up a tent when he sees the difficulty of the climb. The Climber, who overcomes all the obstacles to reach the top of the mountain.

In the Scriptures, it is not difficult to find the Climbers. Among them, the son of Jacob, who wanted to monopolize the love of his father and being hated in the process by his brothers. He overcame all his difficulties and saved the family. Moses, Job, and many others, especially Paul the apostle, can be mentioned. However, not only in our own Christian and Jewish history but in the history of the world, there are numerous examples of those who have overcame great obstacles to help many, and Korea has her own many examples.

All of us are faced with these obstacles and trials of life. Adversity can be the stepping stone to change in our lives, either for something better or for something worse. Whether we succumb to the difficulties or use the difficulties to overcome and go on will depend on us.

This e-mail was sent to this blog  for help in selling a DVD.  I am happy to reprint the request.

My name is John Martoccia, an independent filmmaker based in Utica, NY. In May of 2011, I released a film theatrically I produced/wrote/directed called "Vito Bonafacci" ( So far, it has been shown in theaters in New York City, Cincinnati, and St. Paul, MN.  We are now proud to announce that it is  available on DVD. 

The film chronicles a man named Vito through a spiritual crisis where he comes to realize that his materialistic life is an illusion, and what is important in life is what he doesn't have. Thus leading him on a soul searching journey to understand life's purpose and a renewal of his Catholic faith. The film features a strong emphasis on the sacraments and what it really means to be Catholic in a corrupt world. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Communication is Difficult

Communication is an area of life that gets a great deal of theoretical discussion. How do we communicate our ideas so they will be understood? A columnist in the Catholic Times reminds us how those who appear for the first time on a radio program have to be told to express their emotions by words and not by bodily gestures.

In order to express our feelings and our intentions when talking to others, there are many things that have to be remembered. In radio what is important is the spoken word, but visual media has another dimension besides the ears. With a smile, a great deal may be conveyed, and actions of course can also 'say' a great deal; with the proper action, one can convey what a thousand words cannot.

The viewer and listener's situation has to be considered when deciding what is appropriate communication. Some see all with a biased view, waiting for something that from their point of view is wrong, and can be condemned. With that kind of person one never knows if one has communicated with him or not, and in return, he may be perplexed by not being understood.

It seems, the columnist says, that it is getting harder to communicate with the passage of time. He laments that it has not been just a few times he has failed to communicate what he wanted to say.  The I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong type of attitude should give way to the attitude that we have different ideas on the subject.  He wonders if it is not unlike showing something to a blind person and talking to a person with a hearing difficulty.

Dishonesty, prejudice, lack of knowledge, wanting to be accepted by others, our own history, among many other distorting conditions are often responsible for our failure to communicate clearly. It would be helpful if all of us had the humility to admit this, and try, without condemning or ignoring  another's position, to search for a better understanding of what we hold to be true in order to communicate more effectively.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Marriage Requires More than Love

Statistics show that among OECD countries Korea has the highest number of  divorces, but this may mean less than it seems since we do have so many forgetting about marriage in the first place. Writing a column in the Catholic Times, a diocesan priest working pastorally with families gives us his understanding of the problem.

He has asked young people what they consider the most important qualities for a partner in marriage. A typical female response would be: "First of all, one has to make a good choice; one who is tall, good looking, capable, with a good personality is the  kind of  man I want to marry." A typical male response would be: "I want a girl who is thin, beautiful, good natured, cheerful, and cultured."

After these basic and mostly unrealistic expectations,  there is the interest in the mate's finances, the house, the place of  marriage, dress, and the other factors considered essential for marriage. It is understood that not having money problems will make for a happy marriage. But is that the case? the priest asks.

Love is not enough, he says, and notes that his maternal grandfather, who very much loved the priest's mother, did not allow her to do what she wanted. Do you think that his mother appreciated this great love of his grandfather? he asks. The grandfather did not consider his daughter's needs but only his own love. What one person thinks is love is often seen by the other as discomfort and pain.

The priest refers to Genesis 2:24: "This is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." God does not ask for love, he says, but that they be one. The partners to be married are brought up in different environments, circumstances, educational backgrounds, and understanding each other will require much effort. Questions that are helpful in reaching this understanding would be: Am I a suitable match for my mate? Can I make the effort to bring harmony and unity to the marriage? Can I overcome my own faults, and at the same time am I mature enough to accept the faults of my mate that I may see later in life? Otherwise, he counsels his young people, the unity will not be achieved.

The priest reminds Catholics that the Sacrament of Matrimony allows one to be open to the graces of God, for what is demanded is not easily achieved without  grace. We have to know what we lack and ask this from God. The priest laments that many young Catholics opt for marriage in a wedding hall instead of the church, which is a sign that the desire for the spiritual help necessary to make their marriage a holy union is missing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fair Play In Life

A Religious Sister writes about fair play in the column "'Window from the Ark" in the Catholic Times. Although she has little ability in sports, walking being her only exercise, she enjoys watching athletic events and sees them as miniature portrayals of life.

No one plays any sport with the intention to lose, winning is usually the primary goal. Tenacity and challenge are also incentives motivating those who pick up a sport, along with the desire to win. However, it is necessary that the winning comes with nobility. We are all moved by seeing a sporting event played properly following the rules. When this is the case, the winners and losers all receive a fitting round of applause. In life this is also true. Sister does not see sports separated from life.

She brings to our attention the news story of a gold medalist who was thought to have plagiarized in getting his doctorate. An editorial wanted the readers to understand that he wasn't a scholar, and to understand with magnanimity his position as an athlete. Sister was not happy with this attempt to understand what was done, and says that when we sympathize without objectivity we are not doing anyone any favor.

It is understood that we make mistakes but when we do, it is necessary that we face what was done, feel sorrow, and face the morrow with hope. When a serious mistake is made, and the embarrassment is so great that to say I am sorry is difficult, then at least it should be acknowledged in the person's deportment, in his eyes and attitude. This will be seen by others and forgiven. However, we don't often see this fair play attitude of sports in the game of life.

She sees lack of fair play permeating a great deal of society.  A few years ago when we  had an irregularity that some considered a blotch on the  reputation of the country, some thought it was a sign of patriotism to overlook what was done for the good of the country.  Sister sees this as a strange way of behaving; does this really benefit the country? she asks. Can this lying continue for long?  Thinking that it's good to hide from other countries our disgraces and embarrassments is rather to retreat into exclusiveness, nationalism and inferiority.

Sister concludes that plagiarism or other irregularities are not the big issue. The effort to hide what was done, she believes, is the bigger problem. That the young people are influenced by this way of acting is regrettable, she says; we will never accomplish anything by trying to cover darkness with more darkness. The pain and embarrassment that come from mistakes, when acknowledged, can often lead to a better tomorrow.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

46th World Communication Day

"Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves." These are the words used in Pope Benedict's message to us on World Communication Day, the Feast of the Ascension.

The editorial in the Catholic Times reminds us that this day was created 46 years ago to show the importance of the mass media and to foster its use in spreading the good news. We are told of the Pope's concern and the importance of silence in communication. He points out the many sites  across the internet that can help us grow in our spiritual life, and he urges the Church to become interested in the possibilities of evangelization using the mass media.

We live in a world flooded with information, and the quality of life we experience is mostly influenced by how much of this information from the mass media is used to form and guide our lives. The extent of mass media communication is so pervasive today that we have christened it the information age. Understanding its potential to shape our lives through the power of satellite broadcasting and the internet will help us see how revolutionary this new network encircling the world has become.

The Church needs to put this technology to use in spreading the good news. Granted, the editorial states, the Church cannot  compete with the commercial efforts of big business; however, in her  own way the Church has the mission of spreading the truth that she  has received. This will require all who are working in the media to expend their energies in achieving this goal, if we are to follow the example of Jesus, who was the communicator par excellence. Churches have to make efforts to spread his love to all;  this is the  vocation we all have. Use of the mass media has to grow if the Church's future is to be bright. 

In the same issue, a  journalist comments that the Church's message of truth is just one of the messages among countless others around the world. We can think it is only a question of speaking about Jesus, but this is not what moves hearts. It is the experience of Jesus in our lives that is the message that we need to give.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Silent scream

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times focuses on a troubling societal problem that has been much discussed but without finding a satisfactory solution. The large number of youthful suicides in Korea leads the developed world, and the number contemplating  suicide is one out of ten. Obviously, a serious issue for Korea.

What do the adults see as the reason? he asks. Is it the 'body' getting larger and the spirit getting weaker? Are parents telling children we are doing everything for your future but endure present difficulties? In the past, the young only had to worry about the last years of high school to prepare for college, but now it begins in kindergarten, where the competition and specialization begin. Those who have the means can accept what comes but those who do not, blame their parents and envy the more fortunate, which tends to create many other problems.

Efficiency and ability are the measuring sticks used to judge the worth of our young. Violence and bullying in school are ignored, and students with the poor marks lose the sympathy of teachers and adults, and become the object of ridicule.

The children understand the thinking of the adults on this matter, the columnist explains. They know their parents want them to succeed, have a good job, meet a good mate and live a decent middle-class lifestyle. If it wasn't necessary to go to the best schools to achieve this ideal, their battle to succeed in a highly competitive society would not need to be waged.

These are the reasons parents put pressure on the children; those who can't take the pressure often end up as suicides. The parents realize the risk but think their child is different, and will not be affected. And when these incidents do happen to their child, the parents find it difficult to understand. Obviously, it is not only a problem of parents but of society as well. It is a chronic, silent malady within our society, and he wonders how long it will continue.

Although he sees no easy solution, he would be happy with a makeshift solution. Isn't there some way of discovering the children who are hurting and do something about it? he asks. He believes there must be ways of reading the mind and heart of these children before they end their lives.  Isn't there, he pleads, at least one person out there, somewhere, who can read the silent screams of  agony of these young people?

Friday, May 18, 2012

New Archbishop of Seoul

On May 10, 2012,  Bishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung was appointed the new archbishop of Seoul. Bishop Yeom replaces Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk who resigned when he reached 75, but  not accepted at that time. Both Catholic Papers, of course, carried the news and had editorials on  the change of leadership in the Seoul Diocese. June 15th  will be the farewell Mass for Cardinal Cheong; the installation Mass for Archbishop Yeom will be on June 25, 2012.

Archbishop Yeom was born in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province in 1943 and ordained a priest in 1970. In 2002 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Seoul. He has served as vicar general of the diocese for the last 10 years. Few would know the diocese as well.

On receiving the announcement  he said, "I am so overwhelmed that I will have this  tremendous responsibility succeeding Cardinal Cheong. I will always try to listen to the opinions of diocesan priests and the faithful with open mind. I will also pay more attention to work for the Pro-life and the  evangelization ministry, the pastoral aims of Cardinal Cheong."

The reason all have been concerned  on the new appointment was because of Seoul's position in the country. Seoul is the capital and  Catholicism has its roots in Seoul. 27 percent of the total number of  Catholics live in the archdiocese of Seoul. Many see the Catholicism of Korea through the eyes of Seoul.

The problems that the Catholic Church has to face are many. The large increase in the number of Catholics requires concern for the inner maturity of these new Christians. There is also the decrease in the numbers entering, the exodus of many of the young, many leaving behind the traditional spirituality of the past, and the importance of sacramental life is fading. Serious problems that the new archbishop will encounter.

The editorial goes on to mention the problems of the larger society that  will impinge on the Church: gap between the rich and poor, the economic recession, the pervasiveness of the culture of death, and environmental problems. The  Church can't only be  concerned  with  its own  internal Church problems, but has to go out into society to be the salt and light. 

We all congratulate the new ordinary and are happy but at the same time as the bishop said: "afraid and with a trembling heart" he begins his new work. We will remember him and the diocese in our prayers.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Interfaith Harmony

The United Nations in October of 2010,  proclaimed World Interfaith Harmony Week an  annual event to be observed the first week of February starting in 2011. The Korean religious communities have been coming closer together in inter-religious dialogue and a search for understanding,  but this year have  taken seriously the invitation to participate in the World Interfaith Harmony Week which they did during the month of May.

Editorials in the Catholic press have noted that there  are few countries in the world that have progressed as far as Korea has in inter-religious dialogue and  searching for understanding among the different religions in the country. Seven Religious Communities have come together seeking reconciliation and unity not brawling  and feuding  but respecting one another, sharing their common elements,  and working to be at peace with each other. Instead of looking for what divides them looking for what unites them.

There are many areas in which they work together  to  foster understanding, reconciliation and the welfare of the citizens. Rather than seeing what separates  seeing the oneness in the variety. This is not only a motto or theory; the editorial reminds us, but the present reality.

 We Catholics meet together as one in the Trinity, but  we also understand what St. Luke says  in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 10 verse 35: "anybody of any nationality  who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him." The editorial also quotes from the Pastoral Constitution: "It offers to mankind the honest assistance of the Church in fostering that brotherhood of all men which corresponds to this destiny of theirs. Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ Himself under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to  be served" (#3).

Editorial in the Peace Weekly wonders in preparation for  the general elections at the end of the year how much disagreement and  division we will have to experience.  Selection connotes exclusion, and this allows for the seeds of disunion to grow. The Peace Weekly is celebrating its 24 year of foundation, and the director wonders how much they have contributed to unity.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Contemplative Life

Living an integrated life in harmony with  God's will is the topic for the spirituality column in the Catholic Times. The columnist starts with the words of Mencius telling us to develop  the original nature that we have been given by God. He calls this  the integrated life; the opposite would be a fragmented or broken life. It is impossible to have an integrated life, he says, if meeting others, talking,  and  our actions during the day are done without  meaning.  We have to be integrated  with all of God's creation. Most live a fragmented life: meeting with a few people and tied up with a few activities  and  lacking  confidence.

As babies, when hungry we cried; when we wanted a special toy, we pestered our parents; we were concerned only with ourselves. This is an example of the fragmented life. As grownups, even if hungry we knew how to take what we have and share with another. This is a life that has integrated God and others into our vision.

The community of the Church also is infected with self-serving  selfishness: the "doing it my way" approach to everything. We realize the presence of God, but it is still my will. We should not say only that it's my fault but cry out in a louder voice you desire to do  God's will.

The columnist recommends that we examine our fractured life and look for the problems, committing oneself to working for a renewed integration and  formation.  He suggests that we go back to the past and give a new interpretation to what has happened,  and make it fit into the mental, spiritual and physical person that we are at present, related with others at home, school, and at work.  If our lives are fragmented, it is difficult to say that we lived in congruity and in harmony with God's will. When we live in harmony with God' will we can say it is a contemplative life, an integrated life.

Some see the contemplative life as concerned only with the head: intellectual and logical, involving the mental faculties. Many want to relate with God, intellectually.  People of faith have to take another step; we  have a  desire for God and want to receive his inspiration. We can't explain this with the head. One can go far with the head but for a person of faith, we know there is a limit to this and wait for the inspiration of God to renew us.

The mental and physical aspects of life can do much for us but without the spiritual dimension we can not have integration in life. This is the contemplative way of seeing life and it is this life that we are continually being  tempted to neglect by the worldly distractions surrounding us. The search for God's will is this integrated life. To do it by reason and with techniques is to do it my way.

Persons of faith should be in a higher dimension than those without faith because they are open to another aspect of life, which is the  reason for our life of gratitude.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Understanding Ceremony and Ritual in Confucianism

Ceremony and ritual are concepts in Confucianism that are at the center of any discussion of its moral code.  The columnist in the Cultural of Life column in the Peace Weekly introduces us to the Confucian view of life. The aspect of ritual or ceremony so  intimately connected with Confucianism has a relationship with society that we  may tend to disregard and see only ceremony and ritual. It is a relationship with others and with heaven.

The character for ritual in Chinese is 禮, which can be explained simply. On  the left is  the icon for heaven--the stars, moon and sun hanging from the heavens; on the right-side top, a dish filled with food, bottom right the stand on which it is placed.  

 All of life has a connection with natural life. Humans are dependent on other forms of life for existence. The columnist writes that human life is not satisfied with just life but wants to go out to other life in search of nobility. Human life shows us that societal life is an important dimension of our humanity. Accordingly, the individual finds meaning in life especially in ritual, that is, in relationship with others in ceremonial encounters.

Ritual is connected with sacrifice and with social life. When we are not engaging with others in society, we are thought not to be living an authentic life, and are barely escaping death. Society asks us to live authentically. When we don't know the meaning of life, we are just existing. The meaning of human life is concretely shown by our living in society. This understanding, the columnist says, is not easy to realize. Confucius said he didn't know the will of God until he was 50 years old.

Humans are questioning people. Questions about life and death are always with us.  Confucius received a question about death and answered: "If we don't understand life, how can we understand death?"Questions about death are all contained in life. When we are dead to others, life is not worth living. There is no meaning to life and, according to Confucianism, we are a 'dead person' in society.

Confucius wanted his disciples to move into the life of society and not to remain in an individual life. To live with others he considered the just way to act. We can only understand the meaning of our own life when that life is lived among others. Individual life is given its generative meaning by life in society. The columnist concludes that the Confucian traditional societal vision of life is that our lives are given meaning by our life in society. And that this vision, because it is in harmony with  justice, will teach us what an ideal society should look like.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What One Individual Can Do

A Korean bishop has consistently shown the readers of his column in the Catholic Times how to select the moral and Christian values that will ultimately change the world into a more beautiful and healthier place.

We have, the bishop said, seen persons who have given their life savings to help the poor, those who take care of their health by a new way of living, those who are helping the marginalized of  society, those who are more interested in being of service to others than in making money. This attitude, he says, is spreading in society.

It is easy to think there is little that can be done by a single individual in our consumerist society, he said. Yet there are many who are living the resurrected life of Jesus in our world. The bishop tells us about a woman in her late 60s who went to the home office of Goldman Sachs, one of the most powerful investment banks in the world, to offer some advice.  Three of the officials greeted her politely. She had three requests: executive salaries should be controlled; there should be transparency in the running of the company; and the poor should be remembered. This woman is Sister Nora Nash, a religious sister belonging to the Franciscan order.

Sister has been watch-dogging  the corporate world since 1974, when she became interested in the by-products of world investment: polluting of the environment, and the low salary of workers. Deciding to do something about the situation, she took some of the money from the sisters' severance pay plan to buy shares in different companies, so she would  have  the right to speak at the meeting of the shareholders.  By doing this, she wielded an extraordinary amount of power. When the companies realized who she represented they had to be concerned.

In 1981, when she attended the general meeting of the  General Electric Company, the president of the company at that time was so impressed by Sister Nora that he went by helicopter to meet her at her convent.  There are CEOs that continue to consult with Sister on her ideas. Sister's movement, in 1979, joined the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), whose principles are based on the teachings of Christianity.

The bishop concludes the column by telling us that it is not only in the United States, but other countries are also spreading the values of Christianity; changing how these enterprises operate will help change the world, he said. The sisters' severance pay was a way of being salt and light to the world.  This is a good example, the bishop reminds us, of an answer to the challenges the world is giving us, and how answers to similar problems in the future should be discovered and implemented by first discerning the underlying moral values of Christianity as they apply to any troubling situation. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Catholic Church of Asia

This past month was a busy time for discussions on  evangelization. Both Catholic papers devoted space to the meetings on this issue. The Missionary Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life (MISAL)  met in Korea to discuss common issues. They meet every two years, and this year the Korean Foreign Mission Society were the sponsors. This is the second time the meeting was held in Asia. In the past it was only the MISAL societies of Europe and the States that would meet, but since 1998 it has included all the societies in the Catholic world. Every other year, the missionary societies of the three continents of Europe, America and Asia meet to exchange information on mission.

Another meeting was under the sponsorship of the Federation of the Asian Bishops Conference. It was a workshop of the Institute of Theological Animation (BITA IV), held in Thailand. The topic was, "Youth in Asia: Challenges of Fundamentalism and Relativism."

The Peace Weekly and Catholic Times both commented on the workshop, stressing  that fundamentalism is not only a problem in Islam but also within Christianity.  Atheists are also pushing scientific fundamentalism, which has reached a level that can't be ignored. Both of these position need to have a pastoral response.

This type of workshop is conducted every 5 years in Asia, with a special topic selected and researched for the meeting. This year 30 bishops from 8 countries and 50 theologians attended.

Fr. Park, a theologian from Korea, spelled out in his talk the negative effect scientific fundamentalism and relativism is having on  youth. He said, "My happiness, my fulfillment is what the young are searching for; the absolutes of  religion no longer interest the young. To follow the teaching of Catholicism and endure  uncomfortableness and sacrifice is no longer of concern. The conflict that scientific fundamentalism is having with religion is causing the young to have an aversion to religion."

Religious fundamentalism with it it confrontational, narrow and cliquish understanding of what truth is and the fundamentalism of the  scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking are very similar. This attack on  religious fundamentalism has great attraction, says Fr. Park,  for the young.

He emphasized that the "Apologetics of the past no longer serves its purpose; the Church is going to have to be a living example of authenticity. "The solution will require, he said, the faith of the martyrs and convincing arguments showing that theology and science need not be incompatible but can be companions in the search for truth.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Brothers and Sisters in Prison

A journalist of the Catholic Times recalls Jean Valjean of Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables and the many other ex-convicts in our society. After 19 years at hard labor, he was returned to society with a criminal record and a yellow passport that recorded his past prison life. This made  life difficult, eating places and inns  would refuse  entrance. It was a bishop who went out to Valjean, "I am already familiar with your name you are my brother."

The journalist  reminds us that the United States is an example of a politically mature society. However, when we study the right to vote given to women and the blacks, we uncover something different.

It was only in 1920 that women received the right to vote, and the blacks did not receive the full right to vote until 1965. It was much later than our own country, which gave the right to vote to all in 1948. In the States, the  prevalent thinking was it was not  proper to give the vote to women and blacks. At this time, in history, it is  hard for us to believe.

Last month, the Catholic Committee for human rights petitioned a change to the voting  law which they say is in violation of the constitution in disfranchising those who are in prison, given a  suspended sentence or on parole. The committee showed from the constitution itself that  present voting laws were in violation of the constitution.

More than finding reasons to change the law from the law itself, we forget that the prisoners are our brothers and sisters, and the present law is a relic from the past.  Pope John 23rd in his encyclical  of  1963 ' Peace on Earth' said that the right to vote is one of our basic rights, and related to  loving our neighbor. The columnist ends the article  reflecting that one day in the future  we will look back on the present and be surprised in  the way we saw those in prison.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Friday, May 11, 2012

'Home Sweet Home'

Random thoughts on the month of May is the topic for the desk column of the Catholic Times. During the month, we have special days for children, parents, and teachers. It is the month for families. In these days of bleakness as we move ever closer to an individualistic society, it is necessary, he says, to have the experience of things as they should be.
Last year on parents' day, many Koreans were buying carnations sold on the streets to give to parents,  happy and thankful for the opportunity to show love for their parents.The ability of giving thanks and experiencing joy comes from families, says the columnist. Those who did not have that experience growing up will find it difficult to trust and love others.
From the moment of birth, we are all members of a family community. We are not able to live alone in society. We need a place like the bosoms of our mothers as a place of refuge. This place of refuge is the family. It is the place where we see love, trust and sacrifice in the beginning of the drama of life. It is a place where we should not be seeing 'the everyone  for himself hardheartedness'  we now find in life. It is not a place where we should find jealously, envy, and competition.
What is the reality in our families? Those who are putting up walls between families are not an uncommon sight. In a fit of anger, we often have words and acts that result in a situation that is difficult to remedy. Some think that because it is a family, one can vent anger, and it will be understood, acting in the company of others by following all the rules of politeness but in the family acting like an unruly child. 

What is the reality in our families? Those who are putting up walls between families are not an uncommon sight. In a fit of anger, we often have words and acts that result in a situation that is difficult to remedy. Some think that because it is a family, one can vent anger, and it will be understood, acting in the company of others by following all the rules of politeness but in the family acting like an unruly child. 

There are many that forget the importance of family; it is taken for granted. We are too busy to spend time in conversation with family members.  Even though this is an essential element in families, it is put on the back burner thinking we know each other well enough so communicating is considered unnecessary.

The columnist introduces us to the song 'Home Sweet Home' written by John Howard Payne.  "Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." Strangely, the columnist reflects, Payne never had a wife or family, which is the very reason he felt this yearning. Many who have a family do not know how precious the family community is. 

He concludes that Christians should make efforts to make the family a place of faith: the basic community church.  We should  search for ways to foster trust, communication,  forgiveness, reconciliation,  understanding, gratitude, laughter, and fullness of love within families. This is what God would want from us, he tells us, and he himself will begin to do so today by returning early from work to spend precious time with his family.                                                                                                                                                              


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Helping Others to Grow Old Gracefully

In his Sunday chat column, the Catholic Times' writer recounts how his mother at the age of 70, after the death of his father, was baptized. They lived in a small village on the outskirts of Seoul. Together with the neighboring women, she was happy doing volunteer work for the church. One day, desiring something more important to do, she asked if she could become a member of the Legion of Mary. She was turned down.

Her son doesn't know for sure, but suspects his mother was deeply saddened when she was not accepted. But she soon became active in the Purgatorial Society. It was at that time that they moved from their village and circumstances changed. The women were extremely kind to the mother. When the bus going to the cemetery had many who were going, she was kindly told she need not go.  When she heard there was a need for someone to clean the toilets at the church, she happily prepared all that was necessary. But when she went to the church, she was told: "Granny  there is no need for you to work, go home and rest,"  Disheartened, she returned home.

On reaching her 80th year, she lamented that "Others can work as volunteers, but they want me to stay home and do the house work." At ninety, she works around the house  after hurting her back, she is not able to stand up, but crawls around the house, cleaning and doing her work.

To make his mother happy, the writer became a member of the Legion of Mary.  On the  day of the Legion meeting, if he complains about having to attend, his mother is always ready with her unfailing question: "Aren't you going to the meeting?" The mother's devotion has been a great assist in his own spiritual life, he says.

Age in Korea is an issue that will not disappear easily. Workers are asked to retire at an early age. Respect for the elderly is an important part of  the culture, but at the same time the aging process is quickened by the hands-off policy of parents who turn everything over to the children.  How many grow old gracefully and find great joy in old age even when they enjoy fairly good health?  It is not a difficult question to answer. The elderly are put on a pedestal, respected and loved, but not always seen as a person having an important place in society.  When one feels of little use, something happens, to that person's morale.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

New Vision for Pastoral Work in Korea

Looking over the recent statistical report for the year 2011, the editorial in the Catholic Times mentions areas of serious concern. The numbers of those not coming out to church and those not frequenting the Sacraments present serious problems, but just as serious is the ebb and flow of Christians: the continuing loss of the young, and in the opposite direction the increase of the elderly membership.

Comparing last years statistics with 2001, very conspicuously there is a decrease in attendance of 24.4 percent of those under the age of 19, but an increase of over 127.5 percent for those more than 70 years old.  Even compared with the whole of society this is a very serious gap between these two groups in the Korean Catholic community. The loss of the young and the aging of the Christians is a serious problem confronting the Church. The effort and money expended in these two areas is also seen, regrettably, as insignificant.

The editorial sees a need for an order of preference in the pastoral work of the future. There are mountains of concerns but the young and the old are two problem areas which will escalate, according to the editorial, to more serious problems if efforts are not made now to remedy the situation. 

The recent issue of the Kyeongyang magazine profiles a diocese that is doing something about the youth problem.  Bishop Chang of Cheongju has always considered the young in his pastoral message each year, and just recently built a youth center in the oldest parish of the diocese. The diocesan center, an expensive piece of property will also be used for youth activities. This in itself is a sign of where the bishop wants the  diocese to go. There is a room where the tabernacle and altar of the first bishop of Cheongju, Maryknoll Bishop James Pardy, is kept, showing the connection with the past, the present and future.

The Center is still not operating according to plans but this will soon change.  Before programs can be effective, however, the priest responsible for the youth work in the diocese feels there has to be a change of attitude among those working with the youth.  Our youth are not only the future but they are now making the future, he emphasized. The Center is not only for the young but will be run by them, he said. The young will make the Center the vibrant environment he hopes it will become.

Communication with the youth is the starting point, and from there everything else will develop naturally.  He hopes that it will be a stimulus for the young and a bridge to working with all the youth of the diocese.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Comunication in the Nuclear Family

A professor of sociology in a Catholic University discusses the modern Korean family in a recent  article titled:  "Communication is Necessary in the Korean Family."

Women's role in society, she said, has changed greatly in modern times.  In the past, family relationships, including the ancestors, was strong.  Family was the extended family and not the  nuclear family most of us are familiar with today.  Traditional families were to raise a son to be a success in life.  A  woman's future was not to marry and raise a family with her husband but to join the husband's family.  As a young daughter-in-law she was to be the worker of the family and would continue to do so until she in turn would have another woman, married to her son, enter the family circle. This would give her power she did not have before. 

In modern society, women are educated for their future role more by what they learned in school, from specialists and from books, than by receiving help from the family members. The traditional extended family has changed into the nuclear family, popular in the West. The influence of the extended family system, the professor believes, has been weakened, and the wife's family has become more important than it was in the past. She reveals, after showing us many of the problems that have to be faced as a result of the new understanding of family life, how communication can be improved by returning to more traditional ways.

There is a lack of communication in the nuclear family that was not the case with the extended family, she said. The effort of the nuclear family was to better itself and to work to develop as a family. And they became very good at this. They have contributed many talented people to help develop Korean society. However, the emotional life of the family suffered. Each member was a tool in the developing of the family but in the process, emotional harm could be inflicted on some of the individual members, and of course it did not always lead to the happiness of the family, either.

The professor feels that the acceptance of the nuclear family model left much to be desired. She feels that it inflicted much pain, but that the interchange among members of the extended family and neighbors enabled the family members to rid themselves of pent-up  frustrations.  Divorce and violence in families, she wonders,if it is not a breakdown of the opportunity  to express one's  emotions.

Women, traditionally, have been the primary impetus in forming stable families, she said. She wants women to continue this practice by expressing what they feel  and what they like to the members of their family. She believes that we all can join together to help in restoring the positive aspects of the traditional family system as the common stabilizing element in our society.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Korea and Music

Confucius gave music a prominent place in the field of study. Koreans within this culture have shown a  great love for music and many have been blessed with talent. There were times when some parents were not happy when their children played a musical instrument because of the pressure of studies, but that has changed. Today we have many famous Korean musicians on the world stage.

“To educate somebody, you should start with poems, go on to ceremonies, and finish with music.” These are the words of Confucius that are often heard. He considered music, after ceremonies, a very important part of life. Koreans have shown this in the easy way they take to music. They sing with ease and do it in their daily life, in the fields and in their fishing boats. They  enjoy watching and listening to  any type of musical program.

The Catholic Times has an article on seven priests from Incheon, who from the time they were in the seminary enjoyed coming together to play their instruments: guitar, drum, piano, clarinet, cello. They are now priests with different pastoral obligations but they still have the same love for music.

They will have a concert this month which will be called "Different But the Same," appropriately named since each of them will be playing their different instruments, while presenting a unified harmony.  A disk of their music was made when they were in the seminary.

Music, they say, helps them to feel the presence of God. They received the support of the seminary and now meet once a week for practice. They are all busy in their different pastoral works but have not been able to set aside their passion for music, wanting others to enjoy the music as much as they do. 

Music is one of the best ways to open up our hearts, one of the young priests said. This love for music is seen even in mission stations when the Christians get together for a big feast or a celebration, with individuals standing up before the group singing favorite songs. The Karaoke craze is not as popular as it was a few years ago, but Norebangs, which is the Korean word for 'rooms for song,' are still seen in many parts of Korea: a visible sign of the place of music in Korean society.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Not the Common Vision of a Book Publisher

Although few publishers will  bother to print a book that has little chance of making money, that has not been the concern of the Bundo (Benedictine) Publishing Company of Korea. They may not have many best sellers, but they have steady sellers, books the president of Bundo Publishing believes will continue to sell a hundred years from now. This year is their 50th year of their formal registration as a publisher, but they go back to 1909 as publishers. The Peace Weekly recently interviewed the president, Fr. Seon.

Each year for the past 12 years Fr. Seon has attended the International Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany to see what is being published in the world of books and to decide what books not known in Korea would be good to introduce here.

When it comes to books on theology, spirituality or the arts, there is little competition among the publishers to gain the copyrights for most of these books. He has no desire to enter that contest; books that are easily read, brilliantly written, and give consolation he knows are popular but that is not the Bundo publishing's vision.  The intention from the beginning, and continues today, is to publish books that the Church and society needs.

He mentioned that occasionally they have published books critical of Church teaching, and have been criticized for doing so. However, Fr. Seon feels that it is the duty of a publisher to make their readers aware of issues and diversity within the Church so that they will be able to have a healthy discussion of these issues.

In order not to be left behind it's necessary to keep up with the different developments in the publishing world. The number of those searching for E-books  is increasing and the Bundo publishers are preparing for this eventuality. But for the most part the books published by Bundo, Fr. Seon said, are the kind you put on your desk, underline and write in the margins, so this new technology will take time to introduce.

Many publishers have had to close their doors in recent years, and others are becoming smaller but Bundo is still operating, thanks, he said, to all their readers.  He thanks them for their love and concern; even thanking those who have on occasion scolded them. He asks us not to turn quickly away from difficult books that Bundo publishes, wanting us to go deeper into the teachings of Jesus, and into all books that can help us change the way we live. Books that will lead us to the good life will continue, he said, to be the intent of Bundo in the future.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Giving the Refugees a Chance to Dream

 The Peace Weekly  has an article about a young man, Mr. Kim, 36 years old, unmarried, who is the head of a family of 10 middle and high-school students. It all started when he met a grammar school student while working as a volunteer helping refugees from North Korea. The student, Ha Ryong, left North Korea with his mother because of the difficulties of life there and made it to South Korea. Seeing the boy living with his mother, who was  without work, with not enough to eat, Mr. Kim found a  job for the mother and took the boy to live with him. That was the beginning of the family of displaced North Koreans.

Working with a group of religious brothers, who were preparing a camp experience in 2005 for 30 young men who had left North Korea for the South, he was moved by seeing their service to the young men, and decided to devote himself to helping the displaced North Koreans.

At that time, he was not a Catholic and asked the Sisters what was a religious brother and the answer he got, he told the journalist, laughing, was "a male sister." He was impressed by the way the brothers reacted with the young men. He was working as a volunteer with the Perpetual Help Sisters, who were responsible for the "Becoming One Group." Not once during the years as a volunteer did the sisters ask him to come out to the church or become a Catholic.  They saw his willingness to serve and gave him responsibility; he even became the group's leader. Eventually, moved by what he experienced, he became a Catholic.

It was this experience that prompted him to start the group home for 10 displaced North Korean children. Official approval was necessary and is the reason it became a  group home. The first boy, Ha Ryong, introduced him to other young boys with similar difficulties, who had left North Korea because of hunger, swimming the Tumen river between North Korea and China. They were among the fortunate ones, for there were many who drowned because of the swift currents or were shot by the border patrol.

Mr. Kim finally gave up his job and devoted himself full-time to the group house. He majored in art while in college, and in an effort to have the children search for their dream he began teaching  art and music. He wants each child to have a specialty. The fruit of the effort was an exhibition of the works of the students in 2010; last year, he had a concert. He also  takes an interest in their religious life.

His own future work and marriage are important but right now his first mission is to raise these children well. Living with the children, and seeing the new opportunities that are now available to them, he has come to a new understanding of the preciousness of life, and takes satisfaction in sharing the joy which the boys in the home are now able to experience.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Friday, May 4, 2012

Korea and abortions

The Window from the Ark column in the Catholic Times visits again the issue of abortions in Korea. Still the leader in the number of abortions in the developed countries, Korea, the columnist reminds us, has done little to change this reality.   

The Church has been clear in its opposition to the Mother-Child Health Act, promulgated 40 years ago. In one way abortions are illegal in Korea but when continuation of a pregnancy can cause serious health problems to a woman, abortions are easily accessible and has been allowed as a means of population control.             

Before 1960 it was clearly illegal, a crime with prison as a penalty.  The martial law government changed this at a time when public discussion was not easily expressed. The bishops have always been clear in their opposition and have also opposed experiments  with embryonic stem cells.  

Forty years ago, because of the economic difficulties of life it was permitted, today, when Korea is 13th on the list of developed countries, economics is again the motivation. 

In 2005 the government published the figure of 350,000 abortions yearly. The columnist notes that abortions are generally considered to be over a million, and since we have 450,000 births each year, the number of abortions are a staggering figure.

Deciding whether to have an abortion is considered by many as falling within the legitimate right of a woman to choose what happens to her body. This is the position, says the columnist, of the radical women feminists, but it ignores the right to life of the embryo. The columnist sums up the problem as a  lack of an understanding of life and and of economics. The Movement of Life, including doctors, teachers, the young and lawyers, are working for a change. 

On June 16th there will be a march for life in Seoul.  It will be the first time that Korea will participate in such a movement, following the example from the States.  It will be composed of women and the young under 25 years old. The slogan they intend to use: "No Longer the World's Capital for Abortions."