Sunday, November 23, 2014

57th Trip to North Korea

Maryknoll Local Superior, Fr. Gerard Hammond,  was recently  interviewed by Catholic News (Here and Now). He has made 57 trips to North Korea and considers them as pilgrimages, for Bishop Hong and many Christians from the Pyongyang Diocese, and the Benedictine Religious, died a martyr's death in the North.

He  is secretary of the Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for National Reconciliation. The interviewer asked him what he  thought about the UN resolution on Human Rights in the North. Father considers his work with the TB patients in the North as work to extend  human rights. Need is for more humanitarian aid to the North. Sickness is prevalent and infectious diseases continue to spread.

Father has been working as a trustee in the Eugene Bell Foundation since 2003. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis has developed a resistance to the antimicrobial drugs used to cure the disease. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is TB that  doesn't respond to the drugs of the  the past and the foundation is working together with the public health programs of the North to eradicate TB with a new series of drugs. In many areas of the North the Eugene Bell Foundation is bringing in new medicines and medical equipment  to  help in the fight against TB.  Referring to the TB patients: Fr. Hammond says, "Jesus worked among the suffering of his time and we want to be among the suffering of today."

When those who are suffering are at their lowest, the Church should be with them. Conversing with them in a peaceful way, the encounter and the interest we show is naturally helping to reconcile the North and South.

Fr. Hammond mentions that one of the  most fearful things we face in life is the  lack of interest--apathy. We in the South have to show more interest in the North. We have to pray and act, not only with  material help, but to  search for ways to communicate with the North.

One of the big problems is the inability of the South to travel to the North. He knows that prayer is not sufficient: we need acts of reconciliation and ways of directly showing interest in the North.

Bishop members of the committee for reconciliation have shown a desire to visit the North. Fr. Hammond and the the Benedictine Abbot of Waegwon, before the division of the country are members of communities that worked in the North.

Every six months the  committee meets to discuss and examine the new information that has been  gathered about the North and decides what the South can do to help the North. Although the bishops may not be able to go they hope someone will go in their place.

Fr. Hammond has a special affection for the Catholic Church of Repentance and Atonement in Paju, Gyeonggi-do. For those that can't go to North Korea he would like them to make a trip to the Church to  pray, reflect on the fratricidal war between the North and South, and  determine how we can  help to bring about reconciliation and  renewal.

Although he is an American with  permanent residence in the South, he has no difficulty getting a visa to go to the North. He hopes to grow in humility and poverty and to work as a missioner in Korea until he dies. He has great sadness that those in the South are not able to meet those of the North. He is only acting as a  temporary bridge for those in the South, hoping the day will come soon when they will meet as brothers and sisters. 


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