Wednesday, April 30, 2014

International Workers' Day

The condition of workers as we approach International Workers' Day is seen in many articles in our papers and magazines. The Peace Weekly in one of the columns by a university professor recounts the story of a  woman who was the cleaning lady in a  university dormitory.  She had to travel one hour and a half to get to work. Her husband was seriously ill, and she  became the bread winner for the family. There was little  she had not done to sustain the family, and hearing about the need of a cleaning lady  at the university, she applied, and received the job. It would be a secure position, with medical insurance and  a lunch supplied, which she considered an answer to her prayers.

Happiness lasted only a short time. She had to take the first bus in the early morning to be at work by 7:30 am  and  finish at 4:30 pm. It was a 9 hour day and far from  easy. When she received her pay in her  bank book it was not what she expected. She was told by the person in charge that the time of lunch and rest was deducted for a 6 and a half hour day of work. Her lunch depended on left over food, and often she would be without a lunch. She was faced with a disappointing situation.

She was told by her friends that she should join the labor union. "This unreasonable situation has to be given voice and to search for the rights of the workers." For her this was not a possibility. She had a sick husband, a mother- in- law, and three children. Her eldest daughter, because of a lack of education,  worked as a nurse's aid in an oriental medical hospital, her son worked part  time in a market to earn his college tuition fees, and thinking of her youngest child who was preparing for college, she was frightened that she would lose even this job.

Her religion gave her hope in overcoming the difficulties she faced in eking out a living for the family. She wants to  receive a just wage for her labor. The irony of the situation, the professor reminds us, is  a  center for the education of our students in human studies, does not see those who are working in their buildings without the basic human needs, filled. She wonders how many would know about the situation, she  doesn't  think there are many.

She selects Pope Francis as one of those who has shown where his heart is; both in what he has done and what he says. His care and love for those most in need, she says, is the reason  he is so well thought of among the world's citizens. This was true of those in China's history.The concern for the least in society was always a sign of a wise ruler and one who won the respect of the people.  She also brings to our attention the president emeritus of Brazil, Lula. During his time in the presidency, he worked first of all for the lowest on the social scale and won great respect for his position not only in Brazil, but throughout the world. He  solved the countries debt and made Brazil into a strong economic country in the process.

This is what the world is looking for now in its leaders.  She hopes the teachers in our colleges and universities will be forming these kind of leaders for the future. Both Pope Francis and Lula were leaders who have shown us the preciousness of those who are poor and alienated. This concern is not to the columnist's way of thinking a difficult task. It is the way to win the  hearts of the people and a short cut in winning the trust of the citizens.

She concludes the column by saying that those who want to be considered capable in our society need to open their eyes and look  around. If one has the desire they will find the way to become a person respected by the citizens; the opportunities are all around us.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Environmentaly Friendly Life Style

'Wellbeing' is the English word used  in Korean society, and it would be a surprise to hear that  someone didn't understand its meaning. A desire for fitness of body and mind is a culturally nurtured desire. Good food, exercise, no stress programs and a desire for healing, are all commercially successful marketing ploys.

The farmer poet in his column in the Catholic Times says that the word organic farming is part of the way we think. We see it on labels and signs. In the past, environmentally friendly farm products, those that were produced using organic farming methods, existed but were not an attractive possibility to most  consumers, but this has all changed. Organic food stores continue to increase in the cities. The Catholic 'Our Farm' movement and  many other organic movements are popular.

Environmentally friendly products for health, that  become popular are desirable, says the poet. When all under the sun is gained, he says, and we lose our health it is of no use, is it? Vegetables, powdered milk, juice, rice, fruits, and the like all being sold with the words: organically farmed. Is this not a sign that our citizens are in need of health of both mind and body? To have a healthy body and mind in a  healthy society  requires that we listen to the need that we have for organic foods.

Those who farm know this to be true. The older farmers who spray with weed killers, pesticides, and use chemical fertilizers, are making the earth, the under-ground water, the rivers, lakes and the oceans, sick.

How can we get healthy food from the earth that is sick?  How can we have healthy children from  bodies that are not healthy? For every three children born, he says, he heard that one child has atopy (a tendency to be allergic). Sad, he says, to hear of the many who suffer from these allergies. 

We have to find ways for nature and humanity to live. We have to find a way of doing this not by using  the word organic farming, but being concerned for this alternative way of farming to take hold in our society. Do you know what is meant by organic farming? This is his question to his readers.

The way we eat, drink, use and dispose of our possessions is the reason for the acid rain. We are poisoning  the earth and bringing death. The gardens of our country and the  mother of our people,  the farm lands are collapsing. Global warming and the change in the weather will not only harm the farms  but make life more difficult.

We hear many of the Korean saying that our spring and autumn seasons are disappearing. Diseases because of the global warming are more prevalent,  and the farming production has decreased. These are the signs that we see. Korea has had the yellow dust problem from China, but now we hear about the metallic dust that is coming in from China because of China's rapid industrialization and their use of coal. This is an area in which the countries of the world  have to begin working together to solve  problems that come with 'progress'. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Great Human Tragedy

The Desk Columnist of  the Catholic Times introduces us to the  very popular cable Home Box Office television drama:  Game of Thrones which has just finished its 3rd year and began its 10th segment, 4th year series.  Game of Thrones is a fantasy drama, adapted from a novel which, he says, in most cases is more elaborate and impressive then most or our ordinary movies.

In one of the last segments of the 3rd year series, there was a massacre of the guests who attended a wedding at which most of the main characters were killed.  However, in a recent program the cruel killing in the 3rd year  segment  was not addressed directly and seen for what it was, but considered a breach of etiquette for killing the invited guests at a wedding.

In war to save oneself, killing one or ten, doing it respectively or frivolously, is considered self-defense. The killing of those at the wedding was an  act that demeaned trust, dignity, and  honor. One is not able to accept this shameless act of immorality.

Each society, East or West ancient or present has a moral code which they follow: which includes manners and propriety. At times, this includes an Absolute Being and  respect for life. In all the different  philosophies and religions and in the many varied societies and traditions, he says,  we have never seen undisguised disregard for the nobility and  dignity of life. The life of an individual was seen as a great value.  There were times that slaves were treated like flies, but the columnist says, it was always with the understanding that the person was not a part of the human race.

The columnist presents us now with the Sewol tragedy which occurred on April 16,  and the way it was handled. Over 300 drowned  or are missing. The students were on a four day field trip to the island of Jeju. The ferry was carrying 476 people mostly high school students. The news has been very negative on the way the rescue was carried out. The captain ordered  the students to stay in their bunks and when the order finally came to evacuate it was said the vessel was listing too severely for the passengers to leave. Investigation has shown the ferry may have been overloaded and under the command of an inexperienced officer. Many of the crew have  been arrested, a vice principal committed suicide and another crew member attempted suicide and even the prime minster of Korea has offered to take responsibility for the disaster and retire.

The columnist says the way the tragedy occurred and the response showed a lack of basic human etiquette. The parents of these children are angry for the lack of concern  for the life of these children whom they would not have exchanged for the whole world. They feel betrayed. There was according to the columnist a lack of sensitivity to the feeling of those who suffered this great tragedy. The captain left the ship before the passengers. Was the inspection of the ship done properly? It remains a question.  The rescue efforts were seen to be  poorly done. The way the news media reported the tragedy left a lot of questions; the way pictures were taken as a remembrance of the tragedy and the way it was treated on the Internet by some of the netizens  leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of many.

The tragedy has been big news in Korea, and the alarm that it has caused  will hopefully bring a change to not only the way this tragedy could occur, but help us to see the lack of sensitivity and simple etiquette and manners that we are often oblivious.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Farmers' Way of Looking at Life

The farmers' way of looking at life is different than dwellers of our cities. With this as his subject matter, a priest writing in the Seoul Diocesan Bulletin, reflects on the Sunday Gospel and Doubting Thomas.

He recounts the story of a woman reporter for a TV program that went out with a crew of fishermen for squid. The fishermen worked  hard but caught only 10 squids. The reporter was disappointed,  after all the work, and her pictures, they were going back to land with a very poor catch. The fishermen made light of what happened with laughter, and tried to console the reporter saying that what happened is not uncommon. At times, they don't make enough to pay for the gas they use. However, tomorrow will be a new day, and we have hopes of a good catch: the fishermen's way of consoling the reporter.

Those who go out to fish or seed their fields are reckless, he says, they are dealing with uncertainty. Farming has advanced greatly with scientific methods, as has fishing with their ability to discover schools of fish, but despite it all, they have to hope in an uncertain future. Hope is always a part of their lives. For a believer, it is not my will but the will of God that is part of their thinking.

Those in the city, as the saying goes, even the stone bridge has to be touched to determine if it is reliable. Without that certainty, they are reluctant to spend their money or time. However, the farmer is different; they have a hope and a trust in the future that their labor in planting the seed will see it sprout and give a yield of 100, and even a thousand fold. Isn't this the  heart of a farmer, the kind of heart that a religious person has?

We have the eyes to ascertain the facts with which we are faced in life. We also have the internal eye that allows us to believe in what can't be proved, but we can't help  but to believe, this is faith. To such a person the most important issue is not is it a fact or not, but whether to believe or not, to believe is to  trust. There are many who mix up what is  fact and and what is belief. They want proof for  everything. They want to see to believe.

This is a problem that requires deep thought. Necessary is the need to verify  our facts to determine if they are sufficient to elicit our approval. When it comes to belief we are required to give our trust to something we don't see, and it can be considered as reckless, and we are asked to  become adventurous and courageous.

Thomas asked for a certainty that comes with sight. Jesus answered: "Blest are they who have not seen and have believed"(John 20:29). We need to keep in mind the difference between fact and belief. Like the farmer, it is necessary to keep in focus the will of God more than our own wills; this is having the heart of a farmer. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Preparing for the Visit of Pope Francis

From Buddhist lore, we have a story that comes to Korea from China. At one of the temples when the monks were at their services a cat was out in front of the main hall with its noisy cries. The chief priest of the Buddhist Temple found it difficult to present his teaching, which prompted the monks to take the cat to the back of the temple and tie it to a post during  the services. 

In time, the monks and the cat died, but the tradition  continued. Even when they could not find their cat, they would go to a neighboring village and borrow a cat for the service. The columnist in the Peace Weekly uses this story to show us how powerful an established practice can be. Once that takes hold it is  difficult to discard. Not infrequently convention is followed  more so then the truth, and  the truth is damaged by convention; it is difficult to notice, and it becomes an idol.
Cardinal Yeom when appointed as cardinal, there was a movement among the lay people to prepare an entourage to accompany the cardinal to Rome. There was nothing strange, for this was a custom from the past and a very admirable custom. However, this time the custom was discontinued, because of Pope Francis. An immemorial custom ceased to exist.

Easy to see the power that a leader  has to change the status quo. Destiny makes clear that we can't remain in the past. A good  leader is  one who   leads us  into the future.

Forbes magazine of the United States chose Pope Francis as the world leader with the most influence. The columnist says, however, he is not only a good leader but has transcended the factionalism that we have  and received love and respect far beyond  his own community. In Korea, we say a good medicine is bitter to the lips, and an honest  word hurts the ear. The pope is not always pleasing the populace. He speaks the truth, and still receives the respect of many.

The pope is not changing any of the truths of Catholicism but making a break with the customs that have accrued that are far from the truth. He is making the truths of Jesus appear without our  additions,   fostering  renewal and reformation.

The Pope will be coming to Korea to beatify 124 martyrs. The columnist hopes that we will  in the presence of the other religions  be more humble, and to the whole of society more merciful and just, reconciling and magnanimous. Furthermore, go beyond the boundaries of our community of faith to the poor and the alienated  of society.  Hopefully, not to take the hands of the powerful and the rich, or be concerned with only the inner workings of the Church. He hopes the clergy  will be less authoritarian, and  clericalism will diminish, and they will be less worldly. And gradually he hopes the  Church will be able to weaken the polarization within the Church of the different ideologies that breed conflict....

This was the aim, 50 years ago  at the Second Vatican Council and the meeting 30 years ago of the clergy, religious and the lay people in their pastoral meeting, also the intention of Pope Francis. When this  becomes the  common intention of all, we will be showing our love for the pope.                                                                                                                                                                                    

Friday, April 25, 2014

Forgotten 24 Questions

The Seoul Diocese started recently a program in which they invite well known teachers to give a  talk and at the finish open up the floor to questions. The first presentation was from the vicar general of the diocese. His topic was the 24 questions that a famous industrialist, the founder of Samsung, the wealthiest man in Korea, sent to a priest friend. He was not a believer. He died about a month later from lung cancer without ever hearing the answers. They were answered  24 years later by  Father Cha Dong-yeop in his book: Forgotten Questions.

The bishop said that on his bucket list, he had two wishes he would like to accomplish before he dies, and one is to start a school for prayer, and the other is to answer the 24 questions that were left by the industrialist. Below is the list of the 24 questions, freely translated from the written list that he sent the priest. Others have put their hand to answering the questions; not only, Catholics, but other  religious groups and even atheists have given answers.

1) How can you prove the existence of God? Why didn't he make his existence clearer?

2) How can you prove that God made everything?

3) Biologists say that humanity is the product of evolution. What does creation of humanity mean? Isn't humanity and all living things the product of evolution?

4) With the continual  advancement of science and the conquering of disease and long life, won't  the belief in God  disappear?

5) If God loves us, why do we have pain, unhappiness and death?

6) Why did God make evil people? Examples: Hitler, Stalin, and permit  the horrendous crimes that we see?

7) Jesus is said to have died for our sins, what are our sins? Why did God leave us with these sins?

8) How were the Scriptures made? How can we prove they are the words of God?

9) What is Religion? Why is it necessary?

10) What is the soul?

11) What are the different types of religions and their characteristics?

12) Can we go to heaven if we don't believe in Catholicism? There are unbelievers, atheists and followers of other religions, and among them many good people. Where do  they go after death?

13) All religions preach how to  live a good life. Why do Catholics say they are the best and all the other religions are heretical?

14) After death we say the soul doesn't die. How can we believe that it  goes either to  heaven or hell?

15) There are many  people with no religion, and they enjoy riches and honors, and evil people who have comfort and ease.  What is the lesson that God is teaching us with this reality?

16) In the Scriptures we are told  the rich man to get into heaven is like having a camel pass through the eye of a  needle. Is being rich, evil?

17) Italy and similar countries are 99 percent Catholic. Why do they have so many social problems and so many crimes? Why are they not a good example of what a Catholic country should be?

18) Religious people are at times fanatics.  What is the difference between a fanatical communist and a fanatical religious person?

19) Communists and Catholics are opposites. Why did so many Catholic countries become communist? Example: Poland, East Europe and Nicaragua?

20) In Korea we have churches spread throughout  the country, there are many believers, why do we have so much  crime and suffering?

21) They say the  pope can't make a wrong decision. He is a man, how can that kind of self-righteousness be possible?

22) What are priests and religious sisters? Why don't they marry?

23) There are groups in the Catholic Church who consider that industry is exploiting the workers; they are promoting  divisions and harm in society. Do they not see any good in capitalism?

24) Will the world come to an end?

There are many different answers to these questions.  Fr. Cha has given us his answers in his book. The vicar general  would like to give his answers to the questions. The article mentions that he already has answered six of them. In his retirement, he plans to give these questions a great deal of thought. One of the participants asked: If a person lives a good life, and he doesn't believe in God will he be saved?  The bishop answered: eternal life is God's gift; it is not for us to judge whether one person enters or not, the Church is teaching us the way.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stereotypes and Fixed Ideas Prevent Change

When religion does cause a change in the life of a person, there is joy for often we see little that differentiates us from  those without a religion. Korea because of the suicide rate being so high  is doing everything possible to determine the causes and to find remedies. In the recent study by the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare,  reported on the front page of the Catholic Times, those with a religion had a lower rate of suicides than those without a religion, and Catholics were the lowest of all those with a religion.

Besides the many reasons, we have for suicides; suicides because of honor and  feelings of guilt are often seen in Asia.  The recent suicide of the vice principal of the high school  who was rescued from the sinking ferry that was carrying students from his high school, was found dead  two days later hanging from a tree with a belt. He expressed regret  having  survived while so many died. Suicides are motivated by many different reasons and are often, not like the vice principal, contemplated for  long periods of time.

Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare  in 2013 reported that those  who attempted suicide 65.5 percent had no religion. The experts in the field  say that the spirituality of the religious person helps them to overcome the hardships and hopelessness they encounter in  life. The numbers of those who attempted suicide, 3.5 percent were Catholic; Buddhists were 9.4 percent, and Protestants were 16 percent.

The article mentions  the reasons the Catholics had  a low rate of suicide were the small  parish groups, the work of the Legion of Mary and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and  the constant teaching on the respect for life that has influenced our Catholics to avoid suicide as a solution to their problems. Since the study showed a correlation of the number of suicides with the religious belief, there are those who think the Church should make efforts to spread the strong points of their teaching on the respect of life.

The investigation by the ministry was an attempt to decrease the number of suicides. This is the first study that was national in scope to study the mental state  of those who killed themselves. Interviews with those who attempted suicide and their families determined the ways they killed themselves and the dangers that prepared one for such an extreme solution to their problems.

One  religious sister at the 'One Heart and One Body  Movement Suicide Center' in Seoul said:  "Each one of us  needs to be filled with the joy of the Gospel, each of us to be interested in our neighbors, to extend our hand to others, to approach others and listen to them. This will help decrease the numbers of suicides and to do this we have to change our vision and our way of thinking." In order to do this many say that the Church has to become interested and invest more in this movement.

In the study,  73.9 percent of the respondents said we cannot  in any way justify the killing of oneself, but 25.6 percent said once a person decides on suicide, there is nothing that can be done to prevent the suicide. Here it will be necessary to work to change this type of thinking. Efforts also necessary to find those who are in hopeless  situations and do what we can to give hope. The campaign, said a priest involved in the welfare work of the diocese, will need a network to identify those living in situations that pose a danger for suicide and encourage people to become involved.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Many Benefits of Faith Sharing

During Lent, we had the three Scrutinies for the catechumens before  baptism on Easter. The Gospels used for these rites have  deep conversations of Jesus with those who appear in these incidents. In our lives we rarely have conversations with others at this level. For Christians sharing our faith experiences and the meaning we give to life  with others is one of the deepest levels of interchange: a way of participating in group spiritual direction. 

An article in a pastoral review speaks about this faith sharing: the experience of our relationship with God and the awareness of his presence in our lives. Jesus selected his disciples to be with him and to listen and share with him.  He sent the disciples out two by two, and in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: "Two are better than one; they get a good wage for their labor. If one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man!"   A maverick is not the way of a Christian, who  believes in the natural synergistic effects of relating with others.

Society more and more is becoming individualistic, rather than discuss issues with another it is easier to do it alone,  faster, and less of a bother. We are not concerned  in looking for  opportunities to hear about other possibilities, analyze and  purify our motives.

Consequently, to find others who would be interested in joining a faith sharing group is not easy. 'Cor  ad cor loquitur' is a Latin phrase we hear often: heart speaks to heart. Most of our conversations are small talk; little time is expended  in serious, meaningful and for a Christian, talk that deepens our spiritual  development and helps to mature us to face the difficulties that invariable will come.

The writer mentions a missionary society of  priests that had a workshop some thirty years ago  that began this faith sharing among the members of the society. The workshop was conducted by a group of  Camaldolese monks for five days, after which the group committed themselves to meet once a month with 5-8 in a group for a period of six months.

They took the example of Jesus with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, Luke 24,13 as their example to follow. The topics depended on the group to select; each member of the group would be responsible for conducting the meeting. One meeting could discuss the parable that each member liked the most and to explain why? What does one do when he is faced with a crisis in life? What phrases from the Scriptures did one find helpful and why?  These would be introduced to prime the pump. One could also select  some article on a spiritual matter to use as a point of discussion. The topics to be discussed are unlimited.

The meetings did continue for over the 30 years but gradually because of the age of the participants and a decrease in the members, the last group decided to stop last year. The willingness to share the  spiritual life with others will be blessed, he says. The writer recommends the practice and although they have  discontinued he  writes the  article hoping that others will read what he writes and seek to form groups.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Farming from an Easter Perspective

Spring he thought was here but briskly Summer has entered. The magnolia and forsythia without concern for time, bloom and disappear, which makes many have a serious concern about climate change and global warming. These are the words in a pastoral  bulletin that was received recently.

The priest last year  began to learn how to farm. He has been busy with preparing the land and planting the seed and with a hopeful heart  preparing for the mystery of life. It has been a happy and precious time.

Pesticides, chemical fertilizers, vinyl, fossil fuels are not part of his farming methods.Those who have  been accustomed to the customary ways of farming told him he would not succeed, but when they saw his harvest, it made them reflect on their ways.  He wants to call this method the 'law of coexistence'.

In the area with weeds, and all kinds of bugs swarming in the  earth; grasshoppers, butterflies  and dragon flies  fluttering around; many were those who told him you were not going to get an ordinary harvest. However, he read all about natural farming and deemed it possible, and the results were a grand success. When he planted the weak seedlings, he thought the  bugs would do a job on the seedlings and not allow them to grow, but the results were not so.The cabbage seedlings that were planted after a couple of weeks showed less damage than he expected. There were signs of the presence of  insects on the leaves and stem, but it did no harm to a good harvest. One of those who said that he had to  use chemical fertilizers seeing the harvest: "Ah it's possible" he blurted out.

If, he says, he got rid of all the weeds in the area hoping for a larger harvest, the nesting place of the insects would have been eradicated, and they would have infested the plants in the garden.When we try to eradicate the bad insects by spraying with pesticide, we are also killing good insects that feed on the bad, and destroy nature's equilibrium, and we are eating our food mixed with pesticides.

Easter is a time to bring in a new value system and  go beyond the fixed one to a new hope. With natural farming, the writer could  see Easter in a new way.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Who are those who are Pastorally Sensitive?

Father Paul has a good reputation among his Christians. He is devoted, zealous in his pastoral work, and in his religious exercises. He shows a great concern for the works of charity, helping  those living in difficult straits. In his sermons, he talks a lot about the need to practice the virtue of love in our daily lives.

He relates well with the wealthy and is rarely seen with the poor  or the alienated of our society. He does not  speak with them. He does not have the opportunity to hear the cry of pain  and oppression coming from this segment of society. He is living with  security, a sense of justice or social consciousness is missing, and he does not look favorably on those with head ribbons and those shouting rallying words.

This is the introduction to an article in a bulletin for priests written by a priest. He reminds us it is right to speak about love and to do works of  charity, but at the same time it is necessary to do something about the unjust  and immoral structures and to work to change these structures. This concern has also to be shown when it comes time to vote so we don't side with those who are not concerned with the poor and the alienated of  society.

“Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” The priest uses these words of Karl Marx, but there are  many who agree with this kind of assessment, he says, and they have a  large following.  He explains this to mean that the books we  read or what we have learned are not as  important as the people we have met and the  environment in which we live.

Christians read the same Scriptures, and say the same  prayers and yet when  it comes to voting there is a big difference in those in the East and those  in the West of the country.  There is a tendency to be opposed to each other, and this  does not  change with the passage of years. Of course, there are  elements that influence  the individual.

He quotes another saying of Karl Marx: "God made us in his likeness... and we make him into our likeness." The poor and those who desire change,  and those who are satisfied with the status quo  have two different  images of God. What one sees as incorrect we try to justify or rationalize. We see ourselves on the side  of truth and of God. Instead of searching for the will of God, we see our perspective  as correct. Our wills are filled with egotism, prejudice, error, greed and the like.

There is the expression: "We have to see the world from beneath to see it correctly."To see justice and truth correctly we have to see our reality from the perspective of those in the lower strata of society. We will then have a social consciousness and become aware of reality. We then want to see change, and become one with those hurting.

He concludes his article with a quote from one of our Korean bishops. "A Christian is one who follows our Lord.  Jesus did not stay in one place but moved around to meet people. Different from other religious leaders, he associated with those that society  didn't want to  see, the alienated, those pushed to the sides, those that many considered the  dregs of society."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

The Desk Columnist in the Korean Times believes  Pope Francis' exhortation  'The Joy of the Gospel' will be a means of renewal for the whole Church. She mentions  Pope Francis called together the heads of the Church offices in the Vatican to discuss  how to integrate their work with the exhortation. This is what the Bishops' Conference of Korea  has done during their spring bishops' meeting.

The bishops want it to be more than just an exhortation but to have a change in the way the Church functions.  They recommended meetings to study the exhortation in all the dioceses and find ways to implement the teaching in our works.

In Korea signs of interest were seen in the number of copies of the exhortation sold. The way the mass media reported on the exhortation did help. After two weeks,  they have sold over 20,000. Usually in the past with the printing of Roman documents  they sell between 3 and 4,000, so there has been much interest in 'The Joy of the Gospel'. 

What is the reason for this  kind of response in Korea? The answer given by many, she says,  is a style of  writing different from the  past. The exhortation is appealing to read, with an easy presentation of ideas, but also she says, the feeling  many have of living in difficult times. Materialism, egotism, worldliness is rampant; the exhortation helps us to face this reality with a faith filled understanding, which is attractive. The  appeal comes also from the concrete ways we are called to be missioners in this world environment.

The pope, more than anything else stresses how we are to be a poor church. A sign of a renewed Church is the concern and love for  the poor and the promotion of peace. After the end of the Year of Faith, we have the directions given to us by the pope on how to be a poor Church.

This August we will have the visit of the pope and the beatification of 124 of our martyrs. There is the hope that the  whole Korean Church will be energized and gain a new hope for maturity and renewal. At this point in time, to  find happiness we are urged to look at the poor,  share  joy with others, show the beauty of this view to others, and invite others to the banquet of joy to which we have been called. This is the vocation that we have been given in the exhortation.

Our ancestors in the faith in order to follow the commands of God suffered all kinds of difficulties, but were not delinquent in their carrying out the command to love. They had the hope of  the resurrected life that Jesus showed us.

We are celebrating the Feast of Easter. At this time, we meditate on the happiness that the Easter message gives us, and remember what is necessary to receive this joy. Decisions necessary should be self-evident. A Happy Easter to all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Plight of Young Korean Farmers

A farmer-poet, in his column in the Catholic Times, was invited to give a talk to a group of women involved in social work. He started by asking them a number of questions: Are your parents important to you or their property? Is your husband important to you or his job? He asked them to put their hands on their hearts, and after serious thought give honest answers to themselves.

He looked at their faces intently and thought they were having a hard time deciding. He then asked another series of questions. Would they exchange their children for all the money  in the banks of the country? No matter how lacking in talent or the trouble their children caused, they said they would not exchange them for money. However, when he asked if they would exchange their husbands for money, it was then that a smile came to the faces of the women. One women said that she would have difficulty giving up her child but the husband would not be so difficult. With that answer everybody broke out in laughter. The poet said that he did not find it a laughing matter. To him it seems that we are willing to exchange anything and everything for money.

He then asked another question. Let us suppose, he said, that you  were again a young women and ready to marry, would you be willing to go to the country and marry a poor farmer?  Would you be willing to marry a young, single farmer who was kind, honest and devoted? He asked those who would be willing to raise their  hands.  Of the 100 or so women present no one raised their hands.

The  farmer was not able to laugh. If there had been one person willing to marry that farmer, he said he probably would have managed to laugh. On his way home that evening he reflected on whether our journey was for life or for death. Isn't the journey in life, for most of us, a journey in search of money and comfort? he asked himself.

The fact is that the young men on the farms are not finding it  easy to find Korean  girls who are willing to spend their lives on the farms. Women are well educated and are able to find lucrative jobs in the city. Spending their lives on the farms is not an attractive option for many of the young women of today.

New rules require that foreign brides have to have basic Korean language skills to obtain a resident visa. This will make the  possibility of finding foreign brides for farmers much harder. In 2012, 20,637 of Korean men married to foreign women 6,586 were Vietnamese; the second most popular brides, after the Chinese. It is well-known that the inability to communicate was the primary reason for the divorces and violence in the home. Recent attempts to remedy the situation will no doubt help, but without helping  very much the many farmers of today who are looking for brides to live the difficult country life.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Violence in Society

School violence is believed by many to be one of the causes for the increasing number of suicides in Korea. In 2011, with the suicide of a student because of school  violence, we all became acquainted with this ever present evil. This is the topic of an article in the Kyeongyang magazine, written by a Catholic professor who is an authority in the field.

School violence has many different aspects: bodily injury, the threat of violence in person or through cyberspace, or any acts that are potentially or actually harmful, mentally or emotionally. One of the surveys showed that 35.3 percent of violent incidents were verbal, 16.5 percent involved group bullying, 11.5 percent violence and confinement, 9.7 percent cyber abuse, 9.2 percent taking away possessions,  5.3 percent involved forcing others to do errands, 3.5  percent sexual abuse. Except for cyber abuse, which increased, the rest were similar to the  previous year.

Nearly 30 percent of the perpetrators of the abuse say it was merely a prank, 24 percent say they did not like the person, 10 percent had no reason, 4.5 percent did it to release stress and vent their resentment.

The professor asks what can be done? Although  violence takes place in the schools it is not a problem that the school alone can solve. The violence that we have in society infiltrates the school environment. Many of those who are responsible for bullying say that it was only a joke. This kind of thinking, she says, is the most dangerous because it is the most difficult to deal with.

Though we have been insensitive to violence in the society for too long, there are those who say we are   needlessly sensitive to violence in society. The professor feels there is a need to  give this topic much thought.  We need to be sensitive to any violence that we see in the society. We have violence in the home, in the school and in the mass media, and have become insensitive to it and consider it a natural part of life.

A change to  the system does not solve the problems that we have in the school. There has to be in many cases a change in the way we think. Since my own child is not a bully, many parents say, they feel there is no need for a widespread societal concern. This thinking has to change, for all of us are potential victims of bullying. When we are an unconcerned spectator we are a perpetrator. We all have to be participators in doing away with the violence that we see. The professor quotes from James 4:17: " When a person knows the right thing to do and does no do it, he sins."

The words that we use do not only  present to others our  thoughts and feelings, but form our own    thoughts and feelings. Our children's words are very coarse.  Jargon and vulgarity is used often without anything being said;  they do not hear words of warmth, encouragement and words that give life. Parents do not make the effort to correct the words of  the children to the degree that they encourage them to study. In the schools there is a need on the part of  teachers to avoid using any type of vulgarity or coarseness in  speech.

In conclusion, she finishes with the thought that words contain our values and  our beliefs. The students in school and in families are learning more from the words they hear than from the written word and the books they read.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Healing Power of Play

"He is waiting to see the day when the side streets are again filled with the voices of children playing." These are the words of a priest, in the diocesan bulletin, head of a research center concerned with the spirituality of the young,

The priest was on a trip down-country, driving along a side street where about 15 boys and girls were running every which way, hollering and jumping. He stopped the car to see what was happening. There was no problem. They were just children absorbed in playing together. He hadn't seen anything like that since he  was a child. He was overcome with a warm feeling, remembering his own childhood.

Huizinga, the scholar, said that we can't reduce all  human  activities to the level of work. There is a principle in all cultures that surpasses work, and this is play. Play, he says, is an essential part of being human. Children absorbed in  play experience joy. Play is magical, intense, fascinating and captivating.  It is the way we most naturally express ourselves, expressing our individuality, our personalities, and revealing our anger, our weakness and strong points, our creativity--all are expressed easily when we are involved in play.  Another philosopher said that play was art.

With this  thinking, it is understood that children and the young should be given the freedom to run and holler in play. During this time, the adults should not be too closely involved. This only interferes in the children's play. In play, they express what they want to do and the way they want to live. This is the  way that life is expressed for them. They become sick, and they are the doctors who heal themselves. They squabble, have war and peace, win and lose; life and death are spread out in front of them: life in miniature is placed before them in play.  Play expands their horizon and cultivates their character. In play, they are fine-tuning themselves and forming a vision of themselves for the future.

He feels that most young people do not play enough. When they go outside there are few children they can play with. You go to the side streets, and everything is deathly quiet. Children also do not have the time to play in our society. Children who play are generally in good health; without health they rarely play. Educators seeing the children playing with enthusiasm can diagnose their psychological situation. St. Don Bosco not only thought that play was important but was also a means of healing.

The priest concludes his article expressing sadness at the lack of enthusiasm among the children he sees today, because of the burden of study most of them have to deal with. He finds joy when he sees them playing together with passion.

When will the days come, he wonders, when the side streets will again fill with the sounds of the young people playing together?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Growing Old Gracefully

In a village very close to the demilitarized line between North and South Korea, there is the artist village of Heyri, where artists of all kinds live. A professor emeritus writes  in a parish bulletin about the house that was built with rusted sheets of steel. It left a deep impression on her during a visit to the village.  First of all, seeing a building built with that kind of material was novel. Asking about the building she was told that the  rust on the plates passed through a natural chemical reaction as it weathered during foul weather, eventually becoming a beautiful  chocolate color. The writer mentions that she envies the way those steel plates, in their own process of retirement, developed so beautifully.

What additives, she asks herself, does she need to face the future without fear?  She lists financial security, health,  family,  neighbors, among others that came to mind.  Looking over her standard, how difficult and tragic it must be for an older person to live well, she points out, when he is poor, not healthy, and living alone with no one to look after him.

Before retiring from her teaching position at the college, one day on her way home from school to the  subway, she saw a grandmother who was precisely in that kind of situation. She sat behind a box on which were placed taffy, pop corn and rice cookies. She looked to be in her eighties, stooped over, but was actually, she later learned, 73 years old. Outside of days when there was snow on the ground, she would be at her box selling her goods.

On passing her spot on the sidewalk, she would always stop to buy some of her foodstuffs, and on  occasions she would bring her something to eat but she  would always get  some thing  in return. Once she became friendly with the woman she asked about her family and was told she had a daughter, who lived  quite a distance away and they were no long communicating. Since she has nothing to give her daughter it was natural that the relationship had  developed the way it had, she said, dispassionately.

There were a number of days that she did not appear. The police had confiscated all that she had, she said. The writer felt so bad that she gave her all the money she had with her, and again she gave her some Korean dates in return.

Now that she is a retired professor, she reflects on the life of the grandmother,
who despite the difficult life she has lived does not dwell upon her misery, but lives every day to the best of her ability. She wonders whether having many possessions was the reason she  became friendly with the grandmother.

Her worries about amassing  a lot of material goods, which became her must-have additives in life, were probably, she said, in God's providence the reason she met the grandmother. The additives that she needs now, she believes, are feelings of gratitude  and the need to entrust everything to God. This additive, from among the many others, she says, is the one she is most concerned about continuing to have as she moves forward into her retirement years.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Is the Resurrection Genuine?

"Is the Resurrection of Jesus for real?  I want to believe, help me believe." These are the words that begin an article in the Bible & Life magazine. The priest writing the article says, sorry but there is no answer that  one is able to 'grasp' with their hands. He will present some points to ponder on the  missing body in the tomb.

Hypothesis #1:  The disciples stole the body and buried it in another place. The possibility of this happening he says is zero. No one is willing to die for a lie. The apostles after the Resurrection went around preaching about the Resurrection and  became martyrs.

Hypothesis #2: The enemies of Jesus took the body which also makes no sense. If that was the case when the  apostles went around preaching about the Resurrection they would  have shown the body. His friends or enemies did not have a chance to move the body because it was no longer in the tomb.

Does this help to persuade? he asks. There is the shaking of the head, the expected response. Do we want to say it is a metaphor? There is nothing with which we can compare it to in our  world of experience. If you ask him what is the reason for the belief he responds that it is the change in the apostles. Men who were dim-witted, slow to understand and cowards, how in the world did they change into peerless heroes, afraid of nothing?  How was it that those who scattered every which way at the crucifixion were able to become so firmly united? How was the brother of Jesus, who thought Jesus was out of his head, become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. How was it that  Paul and the early Christians were able to withstand the horrible death incurred at the hands of the Roman authorities with such peace? Where did that passion  and courage come from? If Jesus had just disappeared and deserted the community would that early community have continued to exist with the persecution that they faced? This enormous change in the  members is what we call the Resurrection experience.

Those of you who are still nodding your head he wants to introduce you to a person who faced death with great peace--Stephen. He is a prime example of an  Easter person. The death of Stephen is, besides the death of Jesus, the only one that shows the death of a just one. They are the same ones who killed our Lord and before Stephen died he cried out in a loud voice: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Where did this strength and transcendence come from?

What seems contradictory in the Scriptures about the Resurrection--the different retelling of the story--only leads to showing the trustworthiness of what happened; there was no attempt to harmonize the different accounts, and the very idea that the women were the first witnesses (contrary to what the  Jewish tradition would consider a reliable witness) gives credibility to the oral accounts that  were later written down in our Scripture. The accounts are not about a few individuals but of many which adds a great deal to the way we look upon the Resurrection.
We do not have any incontrovertible proofs of the Resurrection, but  there are good reasons for the reliability of what is recounted in the Scriptures. This is not easily denied.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning to Live in South Korea

North Korean refugees in South Korea when allowed to talk about their problems in the South are often speaking about  difficulties with the culture of the South. One of them who is a college student and has been in the country for 5 years, writes about some of these difficulties in her column in the Catholic Times.

During the five years, she says, much has changed.  Having been born and educated in the  North, she finds many things here in the South strange and difficult to get accustomed to. One of most difficult would be the many different words of greeting:  hello...thank you...I'm  sorry. Why, she asks, is it so difficult for her to utter these words? They are not words she is accustomed to using, and so she has difficulty speaking them. When she hears these words she doesn't know how to reply, and avoids looking at the person.  Even though her head tells her to respond the lips will not  go along.

It is not that they do not have words of greeting in the North, but in the South one expresses their intentions  and thoughts so freely that it is difficult to make a response that is not awkward, she says.

Another problem develops when it comes to choosing. Those in the South also have problems with making selections, but with the writer  her problem is that she is fearful to  choose. In the North the education is the cramming method and she was brought up in a different social  structure than exists here in the South, and the opportunities to choose were not  many.  In a word, she says, they are not  practiced in the ways of choosing. When a friend asks: "What do you want to  eat, where do you want to go?"  Her constant answer is: "whatever you want."

In her first job in a market she uttered her words of greeting like a robot. It was difficult and when she got home she would practice this often to make it a habit. After a period of time this did become easier and more natural. Not only were the words of greeting easier to say but also the ability to express what she felt inside became easier.

Even when it comes to choosing, no longer does she have the problems of the past.  When asked does she want coffee or tea she readily answers: "I will have coffee". Her friends are surprised to see the change in her responses.

She has come a long way from what it was 5 years ago. Time  was necessary, but today  she is able to speak freely about her feelings and make the choices  that come her way. It did take time but today she feels she has made a successful transition  to life in the South.

How much the culture in which we live influences us is readily forgotten and yet the pressures and impact they have on our behavior is not small. What we think is our choice is not infrequently the influence of the culture, either in acquiescence or in opposition, and only rarely is it the act of a free and intelligent human being.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bringing Peace to the World.

Few are the articles in the daily news, says a columnist writing  in the Catholic Times, that leave him with a good feeling. He wants to share some that have been particularly uplifting with his readers in View from the Ark.

A custom in the universities is to have the upper class students buy the meals for the younger students. Recently in one of the universities the younger students started a fund for the older students to help defray the cost. The donation drive was an original and charming idea started by the newbies.

This custom of having the older students buy a meal and liquor for the younger ones goes back some time. The older students have taken this in stride, and felt the new students  were worth the time and  effort. They were  innocent and entering a new world; showing concern was a way to help them in their transfer to the world of higher education, like a seedling needing care when transplanted. There was no need to repay this generosity but the desire to do so on the part of the new students was admirable, said the columnist.

At the same university last year a student put the words "How are you?" on a large poster on a bulletin board,  and from there it spread quickly to other colleges and even found its way outside the educational arena,  prompting students to speak about the problems they were having in society. This initiative also began inconspicuously  and spread quickly. From a very small beginning, big changes proceed and we see a more beautiful and peaceful society.

The columnist mentions that he is working in the Cardinal Kim's Research Center which uses the spirituality of the Cardinal in educational programs for adults and in character education programs for the youth. Our columnist has the responsibility of talking about peace and  its place in our lives.

This peace that the Cardinal talked about was not abstract or other worldly, the columnist points out, but a peace that we need now, a real  peace that can be experienced in our daily lives, a peace that everyone needs to live a human life, and is centered on treating everyone with the dignity they deserve. With this understanding we are making for a  peaceful society when we practice love, especially when shown to the most alienated and poor.

The Cardinal stressed that this type of love was to be carried out daily in our lives. This could be seen in the way the Cardinal lived his own life. The Cardinal, with his trademark smile, in meeting anyone would leave them with a feeling of warmth and ease. It was his everyday way of dealing with those he met.

In a word, everything we do, if done in the manner of Cardinal Kim, we will begin with the small things and do them well. And with these small changes in ourselves, we will be bringing peace to the entire world.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Korean Comfort Women

One of Korea's unresolved issues  is the Japanese failure to acknowledge the use of foreign women as sex slaves for the Japanese military. Japan says it was voluntary prostitution; it is easy to understand how angry these women must be on hearing this distortion of the truth. They are called 'comfort women' and continue to demonstrate in front  of the Japanese Embassy.

A representative of the group, "Catholic Women for a Changed World," recounts, in her article in With Bible, the abuse women, and their children, often suffer In wars. Women are the ones who feel the wrath of the enemy in the cruelest way, as soldiers caught up in the insanity of war satisfy their carnal appetites. In our Scriptures we can  see a number of cases where this is  graphically expressed.

These women who returned to their  country after being used as 'comfort women' for the Japanese soldiers, lived a life less than human. They were not able to speak about this period in their lives and  society showed little concern  and allowed them to  live in darkness.

In 1990 Protestant women took the lead and made the issue of the Japanese comfort women known to the world. One of the women in 1991, grandmother Kim, made her ordeal known in graphic detail. This courageous act of grandmother Kim opened up the way for other women to speak out about their experiences during the war. In response the 'Butterfly Donation Fund' was set up to help raise money to help women from all over the world who are being abused in war and in society.

On Wednesdays a number of women groups can be seen demonstrating peacefully in front  of the Japanese Embassy, asking Japan to recognize their part in the atrocities against women in the Second World War. These women, also in solidarity with other women in the world, are extending their hands to help  other abused women: the early forced marriages of girls at a young age, the women that are forced to undergo circumcision that is dangerous and life threatening, and women in tribal societies who are taken from the enemy and suffer sexual abuse and humiliation that is even difficult to imagine.

This abuse of women, she says,  is also seen in Korea, with documentaries focusing on such abuse, which frequently occurs in families. To see these documentaries  brings tears to one's eyes, she says. One women wrote a book about the sexual violence that she suffered from her father and received  the  Stepping Stone Award. She left home and went to a  center for those who have suffered this violence. She mentioned the scars she had to endure and began to take counseling to undo the harm and slowly began to realize her worth. She hopes that others will read her book and again begin to live anew. The writer sends her applause to those  who have suffered this kind of pain and are willing to make it  known so that we will have solidarity with those who have suffered in this way.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Forgetting the Essential

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times the columnist recounts the story of a religious group who had decided to spend an Easter Sunday,  after attending liturgy, playing sports on an Emmaus trip. The religious brother who was in charge of the outing went ahead to prepare for the time together of the 30 religious in the country. He  prepared all the necessary equipment:  nets, balls, bats, and so forth, and of course plenty of food for snacks.

While traveling to the site, the brothers, not having spent time together in this fashion for some time, were busy chatting , singing and eating. They were enjoying  the warm weather and their time together. The brother who had prepared for the sporting events felt satisfied that he had done what needed to be done to give everyone a enjoyable time, anticipating the surprise of the brothers when seeing all the equipment he had prepared.

Arriving at the playing grounds, they all changed into their sporting clothes and soccer shoes, and after loosening up the body with their stretching exercises, starting looking for the soccer balls.

The monastery on  these outings  usually spent time playing soccer, and in the evening eating pork ribs. These 30 young religious all were looking for the soccer balls. It was then that the brother religious who prepared all the equipment remembered that he had forgotten the most important item: the soccer balls. 
The superior  of the group laughingly said to him: "The tradition of the monastery is to play soccer until the players are completely bushed,  is it not! Your job is to have the group divide into teams, choose  the  referees and  let them enjoy themselves. You were busy about too many things and forgot what was  important."

One of the group took the van into town and after some time came back with some balls. That day they were only able to play soccer for a short period of time. The brother in charge of athletics was, of course, exasperated and humiliated. 

One who is responsible for a task wants to do their best, the columnist reminds us. There are times that a person thinks what  he considers important others will also. However, this thinking leaves no room for the different demands of others and we often experience friction and confusion as a result. This always begins with good intentions, but  it is not what others may want: one person's good deed turns out to be a problem for others.

The columnist concludes by offering some advice.  Before  we  plan  to act upon a thought or impulse we should discern  whether it is merely  personal  or something others would approve of.  This requires  give and take.  Dialogue  brings about relationship and is the  window to communicating and a necessity for mature growth. Do you have a good thought that has come to mind?  Then share it with another. This will arouse an even  better feeling.                                                                           

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Those who Sing Pray Twice

Many of the older missioners in Korea remember when the Christians would be able to take some catechism answers and put it to song. This came as a surprise, but it was soon realized that this was a common way of learning  the catechism that dated back from the days of the persecution. They were so used to this type of learning that they could  use the name of the missioner and ad-lib musically  some words  of congratulations on his name day or extemporize musically on  some parish celebration.

The Theological Perspective  magazine introduces us to the Korean Catholic epic poem, "Sahyangga," that in the early years of the Church was often sung in learning the catechism. The article mentions Father Choi Yang-op the second Korean priest who spent a great deal of time devising ways to teach the catechism. The majority of the believers  at that time could not read the Chinese Bible or the Chinese devotional  books, and there were few books translated into Korean that could be used in teaching the catechism.

Father Choi devised a catechism for the believers which was transmitted by way of song, matching the Korean's feelings and sensibilities. He put the Catholic doctrine in a familiar poetic style that the Koreans found easy to learn and sing. This was made in a way to help non-believers  understand Catholicism and  to defend against those who were antagonistic towards Catholicism.

Through these literary devices Father Choi sought to refute the arguments of those who were antagonistic towards Catholicism. This also helped Catholics to meditate on Catholic dogma and reflect on their lives by bringing to mind the accusations of the enemies of the Church.  These songs reveal the thoughts of the Koreans in the late Joseon dynasty.

This precedes the introduction of Gregorian Chant and the hymns that are familiar to  Catholics. All the lines of the Sahyangga were based on the catechism. There is a phrase in Latin that says  those who sing are praying twice. The Sahyangga used the song's contents to reflect upon the particular judgement, general judgement, and heaven and hell which follow death.  This was closely associated with the spirituality of martyrdom. Here was a  catechism by which they learned the teaching  and also a way they could pray with the words by putting them into song and memorized.

Besides the Sahyangga there were other similar epics and didactic ways of teaching about Catholicisms in song. Since Koreans have always enjoyed singing, we can understand  why Father Choi Yang-op found it easy to use music as a way to teach the catechism. This has continued and can be observed at daily Mass in most of the parishes and mission stations, even when there is a small congregation present. The society at large is no different: there are a great number of "singing rooms," each equipped with a karaoke machine and a menu of songs.