Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Culture of LIfe and Suicides

Korea is working hard to remove itself from the list of countries with the highest rate of suicides. Both Catholic papers gave space to the issue, noting especially the number of elderly who are committing suicide.

The Seoul Diocese conducted a symposium on methods to decrease the number of suicides in  society. According to the government office of statistics for every one hundred thousand citizens from the ages of 60 to 69 there are 42.4 persons who kill themselves. From 70 to 79  there are 73.1 persons and those over 80 there are  104.5 who commit suicide. Over 80 those who commit suicide number 4 times the average.

Department of Health and Human Services in a 2013 survey showed the largest group attempting suicide: 65.5 percent were the non-religious, Protestants 16.0 percent, Buddhists 9.4 percent, and Catholics 3.5 percent.

A professor at the Catholic University in the keynote speech said that those who had strong values and found meaning in life, and those that had a strong faith life had the lowest suicide rate. To lower the rate he stressed the need to increase the faith life of the elderly.

The Catholic Church and the Nowon District  (a residential district of Seoul, South Korea, Located in the northeastern part of the metropolitan city) have  worked together to decrease the number of suicides in the district with good results: in 2009, 180 deaths from suicide, and in 2013 it decreased to 150.

Civilian groups within the district have increased their cooperation, drawn up programs for the different age groups within the district,  made efforts  to find those who were at greater risk and work more closely with this group. A need was shown by the volunteer groups to have input by specialist in the field.  

The editorial in the Catholic Times mentioned that 11.2 percent of those over 60 have thought of suicide. Chief reasons were health and financial difficulties. With society getting older, those in the country have more difficulty than those in the city:   more  alienation, struggles and loneliness. We can't just see the suicide as an individual problem.

In conclusion was the need for the church to get more involved in their work with the elderly, form groups that are in sympathy with their goals, efforts to establish a social safety net, and extend the culture of life movement.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Not be Quick to Judge

A university professor of law writes in a diocesan bulletin about his experience in hosting a FM  radio program on law and music. He uses the lawsuits that the composers had to deal with as background in talking about the music they wrote; analyzing the law as seen at the time of the composition of the operas to understand the music of the age.

There are many who praise what they hear on his radio program, but there are those who find him whitewashing the libertine life that composers like Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt lived.

When he hears the criticism of Liszt by his listeners, the Pharisees of the Gospel come to mind as they pointed their fingers at the  prostitutes and tax collectors. The Hungarian composer Franz Liszt at  certain times in his life did not live an exemplary life: a relationship with a countess who left her husband to be with Liszt, and with whom he had three children outside of marriage.There was also the long relationship with a Russian princess after he left the countess that took 14 years to regularize in the Church, and the day before the wedding was cancelled. He became a third order Franciscan and took his spiritual life seriously. The princess spent the rest of her life in a convent and he received the minor orders before the deaconate, but never became a priest. 

Liszt was one of the greatest piano virtuoso of the times and with his good looks became a star. We have heard of his music but we are not familiar with his sacred music: the music for the liturgy, the   Stations of the Cross, the Our Father, the Ave Maria and the like. In our age very rarely heard in church or society.  

There are many who have lived a virtuous life and overcome their natural inclination and they are a good example to our young people but also those who have fallen into the bottomless pit, fallen into despair and have turned to a life of prayer are also a good example to our young people. Liszt cried a lot  and feared the Lord.

He was generous in helping others and in donating his money for different causes.The professor says even today you see plaques with his name for monies that Liszt donated in Europe. He was a man considered a king of the volunteer givers of his time.

When he hears the story of the prostitutes and  tax collectors and how they were looked down upon; listening to the music of Liszt the professor hears in the background of the music the  plaintive sound of sadness. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Preparation for the Unification of Korea

Unification of Germany was basically the demand of  East Germany. An article in the Catholic Times wants us to review the process that brought  the East and West Germany together, and the message it has for Korea.

The last Soviet leader Gorbachev and his revolution and policy of openness: Perestroika and Glasnot were the heralds for the  change in society. East Germany  felt with unification there would come freedom and prosperity. Where did this thinking come from?  It was the constant interchange between the East and West from the time of the division. The East wanted to be included in the West. The citizen revolution in the East brought about the unification of the country.

In 1970 the policy of  rapprochement with East Germany  brought about a thaw and the interchange that brought about the unification to the country. In the beginning of the interchange East Germany was lukewarm because of the structure of their government but this changed and they overcame the difficulties.

The unification brought many problems to the fore. West Germany thought only of money.  Economic  unity was important but gradually they realized that mutual understanding  was more important. With the unification the West took all the important positions in the government. The West also took a great deal of the responsibility for social security and  payments towards the  social welfare programs.

Germany in helping the East for ten years remained without growth and the East felt that they were second class citizens.They were treated like the West and yet they felt they were deprived and this feeling grew.

Efforts were made to win the hearts of the East. The East wanted unification and the surrounding nations agreed and yet after unification there were many problems. 

Here in Korea the North South divide without  interchanges, without travel between the North and South, and little efforts to win favor of the other, there is little resemblance to the preparation that preceded German unification. If suddenly we had unification, with our own differences in the South, and the North/South division, does any one think it will be a blessing?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

'Comfort Women' and a Statue

A young girl about 13 or 14 years old,  with short hair, dressed in a  Korean skirt and  blouse sitting in a chair looking straight ahead with a  determined sadness in her face and closed mouth. A statue depicting one of  the comfort women as a young girl, sexual slave of  the Japanese military during the Second World War. The bronze statue is a sign of the scars inflicted on these young girls who were for the most part Koreans. This statue was put in place in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul four years ago, and have now appeared in other cities of Korea and in other parts of the world.

Each year the sculptor and his wife make two or three  statues in a small attempt to heal the wounds that have been inflicted. They just finished the ninth statue that was commissioned in Detroit where they had the  unveiling recently, and the journalist interviewed the sculptor recently after his return from the States, for the article in the Bible & Life magazine.

These young girls were recruited by the Japanese with deception and  force, using family relationships to trick them. The Japanese military worked mostly with the  poor families. 'Comfort stations'  exposed the girls to all kinds of inhuman treatment. When liberation came many of them did not find it easy to return to their home country. Even after Japan's defeat some returned to Japan to do forced labor.  Those that returned to their home country had another tragedy befall them. One of the grandmothers, in one of the reports, said after what they experienced it was difficult to return home to the family; they lived in the shady places of society.

Reporting about the comfort women began in earnest 23 years ago with a Wednesday protest march  outside  the Japanese Embassy. On the 1,000th weekly demonstration by the elderly women and their supporters they erected the Peace Monument which is the young girl sitting in a chair.

The Sculptor mentions the many times they tried to get the face of the girl correct.The couple have always been interested in the fight for rights of the citizens in their art work. They find great satisfaction in what they do. In this fight to have Japan recognize and apologize formally brings an increase of interest on the issue, but also the opposition of Japan continues to increase. In California where a statue was erected, the Japanese residents and the extreme right  groups have continued to fight legally for  the removal of the statue.  Another statue that was to be erected in front of a library in Detroit was cancelled and they had to change the location of the statue.

The issue will continue for the time being but the number of the women who  experienced this shameful period in their lives continues to decrease with death: most of them are now in their 80s and 90s. How much protest will continue if the Japanese government does not accept blame for the treatment of these girls only the future knows.                                                                                                                      

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gratitude and Praise

The Desk columnist in the Catholic Times recalls a weekend retreat she made a few years ago. At the end of the retreat master's talk, he gave them the task of finding 100 reasons to be thankful, and to write them down during the retreat.

Her first thoughts--no big deal, and took her notebook and began writing, but soon realized this was not going to be easy.The first 10 came quickly, the next a little harder but then the going was difficult. Many others, she kept  repeating to herself, but they were not coming to mind. After the retreat remembering reasons for gratitude became an important part of her meditations. 

She came across a book written by a psychiatrist who says there is scientific evidence that our feelings of gratitude influence the body for the good. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are all influencing the operation of the brain. Daniel G Amen an American psychiatrist is quoted, and uses his  studies in her article. Thanksgiving and praise she says have a relationship with how the brain functions. Words of praise  trigger the feelings of gratitude and there is a noticeable greater flow of blood in the brain.

We as Christians do not need this study, she says, to  know the importance of gratitude. In the passage of St. Paul in  First Thessalonians 5:6--"Be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus." A virtue that we as Christians are familiar.

She mentions a parish in which there is a relay in giving praise to individuals in the community. A name of one of the parishioners is listed in the Bulletin for something that was done: "Volunteered for 10 years in our Sunday School Program." "Every time there is an event she took the initiative and gave us a good example." These and similar reasons for giving praise and thanks appears and the community expresses their thanks to the individual during the week.

A month has passed since the visit of Pope Francis to Korea. He left us with praise for love and service to others. "There is nothing that belongs to me in this world," he is quoted as saying. We need to compromise,  show concern  for others. The less we have  of  possessions in the place in which we live the more leisure and good feelings we will have to share with other human beings and created life. He is thankful with tears, for all those that have come into his life. With just a little thought he realizes that life is just a continual life of thanks and blessing.

Our life, she concludes, should be one of thanksgiving and praise. Let us long around us and be open to this manner of life in both our actions and words.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Painful Memory of a Confession


Many find confession difficult, and  have a reason to fear the experience. We have all heard many stories of priests not sensitive to the needs of the penitents leaving scars that do not easily heal. In the magazine Catholic Digest a writer tells us his experience as a child in the confessional.

At his first confession the  child was given a hard time for not confessing his sins. The confessor  raising his voice in a way that his parents, outside the confessional, knew something was amiss, and asked him about it when he left the confessional. From that time on the confessional became a place he would  go to be reprimanded.

While in middle school they moved to China because of his father's work. Catholic Churches were distant, and the language were some of the reasons he distanced himself from God. After high school he entered college and going to Sunday Mass was infrequent.

During college there was a Catholic Scripture group that met and during one of the study and training programs he gathered the courage to go to confession. As he was waiting to go into the confessional the thoughts of his first confession came to mind, and like a child overcome with timidity, his whole body stiffened. Hesitating awkwardly, he opened the door and went in. But making matters worse was the cloth that separated the priest from the penitent was missing, and he was face to face with the priest. A candle in the cozy compartment in which the priest sat, cast a shadow which projected the priest's image.

His hair was white and his blue eyes welcomed him with warmth and a smile, he was a foreigner. Without words he  was telling him to sit down, say anything you want, nothing to worry about, God will forgive all your sins. Without reason seeing his smiling eyes he began to cry. All that kept him from a closeness to God and his dark past all came out.

After the training period his life changed greatly.  He went to Mass and felt a closeness to God. He was thankful for the time at the training and study program. He was not conscious of others but made his own plans for the future and his happiness was such that even his acquaintances noticed the difference.

Some four years later he was working for a department associated with the Vatican. He was given the task to interview a  foreign missionary  priest and religious sister. They were Franciscans. When he met the priest he looked just like the priest that made him feel so comfortable some 4 years earlier. He passed it off as being a look-alike.

When the article appeared in the magazine he brought a copy to the priest, and while eating they talked about the spiritual life. The writer brought up the Scripture study and training group of young people he attended while in college. During the conversation it was clear that this priest was the one who heard his confession many years before. And he thanked the priest profusely. This experience was a gift, and helped him to experience the love of God again.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Month of the Martyrs

September is the month of the martyrs. Korean Catholicism has a great devotion to the martyrs; their spirituality is influenced by the martyrs. In the Catholic Bible & Life magazine a pastor explains what this should mean for the church of Korea. Obedience of the martyrs has become the foundation for the growth of the Church. Efforts continually are made to instil this mind of the martyrs into our Catholics of today: their courage, sacrifice, and love of neighbor.

Spirituality of the martyrs, is not something that is sentimental and of the moment, but a deep appreciation of their life. The priest as a pastor of a parish makes it clear to the catechumens who are preparing for baptism the joy they should have with a martyr as their patron.

At present he says only about 4 percent of the parishioners have a martyr as their patron saint (baptized with the name of a martyr). However, with the newly baptized we see more who are choosing the name of a martyr. When the example of the martyrs enters into our lives we become witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and open to the  seeds of the new evangeliziation. The results are many: we are changed and the Church renewed.

He introduces us to two of the martyrs who were recently beatified on August 16th. One is
Simon, Hwang Il-kwang,  a devout follower from the lowest class in the Joseon society. The other was Simeon, Yu  Keun-myeong, from  a high class noble family. Simon was a butcher by trade and not welcomed in the society of the times and before his death  said:“There must be a heaven on earth and another one after death.”He was treated so well by his community of faith that he felt that he was already in heaven. Yu  Simeon after being baptized, a hundred years before the law required, freed all his male and female servants and gave all his property to the poor neighbors. Here was an example of breaking down the walls separating the different levels of society, and giving freedom to those that had become his property because of the Gospel message.

In order to follow the example of the martyrs there is a need to know them and the pastor has made this an important part of his teaching method. The dying daily is the way we partake of the paschal mystery in our daily life, and the way we live the Christian life. White martyrdom is living the life of the martyr without the blood, but with their heart and spirit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Single Life in Community

 
Writing in the Bible and Life magazine, from the time he was in middle school to the present, now in his middle forties, a parishioner tells us about his volunteer work as a member of the parish liturgical committee. Usually his turn comes-up about twice a month, but at the New Year and Autumn Festival he is the one who is the lector at the liturgy. He  lives in Seoul, no need to go to the country to visit relatives, not married, his concerns are not as  many as the other members of the community.

Some years ago at the Autumn Festival he was the lector not only at the morning liturgy but at the evening Mass. After morning Mass he was called by the assistant priest to the rectory to have breakfast. He was asked if he could be lector at the evening liturgy. Since he would be alone during the day he had no problem with attending the evening Mass. During the breakfast they talked about the single and married state. The priest said: "Whether married or single we have to live according to God's plan for creation."

With these words came the realization that we are all responsible to form the world we live in according to God's plans, and he saw the vocation to the single and married state in a different light. In one way it was the same vocation. One of the benefits of the single life is the freedom to be of service to others.

He was introduced to volunteer work in an old age home by one his younger friends. Every other week he would go to wash clothes, clean, and play checkers and talk with the grandfathers. The question he hears the most from the grandfathers: "Isn't your wife and children upset with you being away from the house on Sundays?" When he tells them he is not married they respond: "Forget about coming here and get married." Volunteer work  is not difficult and has helped his spiritual life a great deal.

The biggest problem with the single life is the distorted view that many have of the celibate life.  Life is incomplete. Many see it as as a lack of something, and this is not only a view that is seen outside the community of faith. On one occasion he was chosen to be mediator in a problem with those preparing an athletic meet for the church community. One of the persons who was given the committee some trouble was not married, and was criticized for his stubbornness: "Isn't that the  reason he has not found someone to marry?" These words were not address to him but it made him feel very uncomfortable, and he found himself avoiding situations where he would be bickering with others and became passive.

Because of his celibacy there are times that he has felt alienated from the community. In a meeting with the married members and their talk about family and their problems it is then he feels like an outsider. Little is there for him to say during the discussions.

Looking over his life as a single male he sees it as something positive in living the life of faith.  His  membership in societies of the community, his service to others, prayer and meditating, reading spiritual books, all have been helped by his celibacy.  Prejudice against the single life and the need to overcome the temptations in daily life that are present are a problem but he feels celibacy is  a help in some small way in witnessing within the community of faith. 

Consequently he concludes there is a need to have specialized programs introduced into the community of faith that are concerned with the single Christian. He has never attended any such programs so doesn't know what they should entail but it would be sharing of ideas and experiences, praying together would be a great help in their spiritual growth. It would be a help in overcoming the bias against the single life and  dealing with the temptations in life and the feeling of alienation that is often  present. He hopes that this new chapter in Church life with these groups for single Catholics spreading the fragrance  that comes with a life with Jesus will give birth to new life within the Church.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Crossroads of Life

We speak about coming to the crossroads of life. A fork in the road: will it be the left or the right? Will it be a choice for the good or the bad? This fork in the road is present not only for the individual but for families, society, and the nation. In the opinion page of the Catholic Times a columnist brings to our attention this serious decision that many face.

The Sewol tragedy, death of a soldier because of bullying, number one in suicides among the developed countries, one out of eight adults suffering from despondency: these are some of the issues Koreans need to face.  One student tells his mother that one of his classmates committed suicide and the mother tells him not to take his attention away from studies. This is the kind of society that we are promoting, he laments. Process, motivation, does not concern us but rather hoping for a jackpot.

The columnist is referring to the stalemate in  congress over the special bill regarding an investigation to uncover the truth behind the ferry sinking of the Sewol.The truth in the eyes of many  will be harmful to the country so the maneuvering to  limit what will come out from an investigation. The dilemma of choosing the  lesser of two evils is a difficult decision and the columnist feels that the Christians should not have a problem with this, but they do.

How does our  religious belief, faith life, relate with  our present reality? We proclaim who we are by the choices that we make, a phrase with which we are familiar. If we take a rough look at statistics, he reminds us, 10 percent of the population are Catholic and 30 percent are Protestant which makes the country 40 percent Christian. Four out of 10 are Christians and yet the efforts to find  the truth about the Sewol tragedy is meeting stiff resistance. A disregard for the dignity of human beings and the responsibility we have to search for  the truth is being buried because of political strategy and to preserve one's future.

The columnist wonders if this is not because we have so many with a religion but not religious faith. Or is it rather that we have religious faith but don't  believe; is our belief genuine?

A person of faith will trust that when one does what is right, the results whatever they be, will all work out for the good. However, this does take a great deal of faith. Form, is all that seems important, but wonders if this is not just empty babbling. Have we forgotten who we are? What is our mission?  Especially, he concludes, those in Congress....

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Era for Heroes Has Ended

Words take on different meanings in the cultures in which we live. Words also are made to say whatever we choose: expanded or reduced according to our context and philosophy. Paternalism in our age is a big negative. On the opinion page of the secular Chosun Ilbo newspaper the columnist gives us a secular understanding of what a democracy should mean and why the era of heroes has come to an end. He  makes some interesting comments about two individual leaders who have made a big impression on the Korean citizens. One is Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and the other was Pope Francis.

After the Sewol tragedy we realized our indifference to safety precautions. Frequent corruption of high ranking officials and seeing the  inconsistency in our politics we have fallen into grief, despondency and lethargy preparing us to receive these two individuals with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. 

Coincidentally, they both where on the stage at the same time. The movie Myeongnyang  opened on July 30th breaking all box office records in our movie history. Pope Francis was in Korea for five days from August 14th. He went out to embrace the sick and those hurting showing us  a man of faith going beyond religion and the denominations and inspiring many within society.

Admiral Yi Sun-Shin is one of Korea's great war heroes. He had an undefeated naval record usually against insurmountable odds. His most remarkable victory occurred at the battle of Myeongnyang where he defeated the Japanese. This is the battle that took place in 1597, and portrayed in the movie by that name. He remains one of the great leaders and exemplary human being.

These two leaders says our columnist one sacrificed for his country and the other for God. They showed us what a leader should be and he  asks where does this come from?  Why don't we have them in our present society?

Democracy, he says, does not permit this kind of leadership, but this is not a reason for sadness but  fortunate: if we understand what a democracy is. Admiral Yi was a hero. This heroism is hidden during ordinary times but comes to the fore in extraordinary times to save the country and the people. The task of a  democracy is to maintain stability at all times. A democracy wants to maintain the safety, peace, and permit the citizens  to devote themselves to their work and allow the families and individuals to strive after happiness.The citizens do not elect officials to  be fascinating heroes in difficult times, but to elect officials who will prevent hard times from appearing. When all is managed correctly, he says, we don't  need heroes.

Pope Francis came to Korea as a affectionate father. The word pope does include the note of authority,  but in the West the word has the meaning of a father. The Church is the family and the pope is the father. The reason the citizens welcomed the pope was the longing the Korea people have for an affectionate father that they found in Pope Francis, and do not find in politics, schools, family and the work place,  but found in the presence of the pope.

This is the patriarchal image that comes from the feudal era. Although possessed of absolute authority  and power they do not use it for themselves, their pleasure and benefit, but for the happiness and well being of the members of their society.This may be necessary in a family but it is not the quality, he says,  that we want in our democratically elected leaders.

In a democracy we do not divide society into  high and low. Each person's rights and equality is respected, that is why there is a contract made with the citizens; they elect  their president, and representatives for four or five years and if satisfied  reelect them or at the next vote opt to change them. They do not elect heroes but people who will take heed of their personal needs. When they make the contract there is no one who is looking to sacrifice their financial benefits.

A democracy  and a free economic market is made by the voters and citizens. We need leaders like Yi Sun Shin and Pope Francis when  we have war, disasters, tragedies and the good of the citizens is being  undermined in extraordinary times. The ordinary daily democratic way of life is dry, but peaceful and secure. Desiring a hero or a person with great qualities to appear who will give us wise answers to our problems is not the way of a democratic society. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why is Asking for Forgiveness so Rare?


Peace Catholic Radio Station had a contest for original hymns and one of the prison inmates entered his compositions, he was not able to be present but was giving special recognition by the judges. The chaplain of the prison wrote about his feelings in an article  for the Pastoral Bulletin.

The prisoner was a very zealous Catholic and the leader of the Catholics in the prison. He was taking a correspondence course offered by the school of theology;  an exemplary prisoner who was determined to change his life.

In a meeting of  pastoral workers for the prisoners he heard about the family of those that our exemplary prisoner had inflicted harm. Family members were not able to rid themselves of the hurt that was experienced. As a chaplain he never forgot the  victims of the crimes perpetrated, but hearing what was said about the prisoner did make him feel uncomfortable.

He remembered a film, Secret Sunshine, and the meaning of forgiveness. The heroine  of the movie lost her husband in a automobile accident and she  moves with grief to the  small hometown of her dead husband. She becomes interested in Christianity. Shortly after becoming a Christian, her son was killed by an owner of an academy. After some time, moved by her new found faith, decided to go to the prison to forgive the man who killed her son. With difficulty she told the prisoner that she was there to forgive him  for what he had done. However, the prisoner calmly and easily responded that he had already been forgiven by God.The mother, the person the prisoner should be asking for forgiveness, and hearing him say that God had already forgiven him was too much for her. The mother promptly lost any semblance of faith she had, and our writer sees the question of forgiveness in a new light.

This situation is not only seen in movies, but often in daily life. There are many who  have suffered, been hurt and to whom much harm has been inflicted in our history and in the present day, and yet we have few who ask for forgiveness.

In the past when our country was taken away from us by the Japanese we have many in those days who have benefited by their relationship with the Japanese and their children have important positions in our  society, but few have asked for forgiveness.  During the totalitarian rule many were killed but few have expressed any need to be forgiven.

In the recent Sewol tragedy there are many who have caused great harm to the victims and their families but few asking for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a means of healing. Those who have been hurt need this for healing.Many have been forgiven who have not asked for forgiveness, and those that need to ask for forgiveness don't.Those that ask for forgiveness are those that really are forgiven. Why do we have so few?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Where is our Emphasis: Money or People?

The Catholic Times' bishop's column on Faith and Economics has a partial list of the 10 tips for happiness the pope mentioned in his interview with the Argentine magazine Viva.

+“Live and let live"--move forward and let others do the same. + “Give  of yourself to others”-- people need to be open and generous toward others. +“Proceed calmly” in life."+"A healthy sense of leisure"--  turn off the TV when you  sit down to eat. + "Sundays should be holidays"--Sunday is for family. + "Respect the environment and work for its care." + "Work for peace," and of three  others, the  bishop selects the need to find innovative ways to  +"create jobs for your young people and give them the opportunities to work."

Pope Francis has already on many occasions expressed the need to help solve the problem of work for the young. His attendance at the Asian meeting of the young people shows this interest. Last year at the end of the World Youth Day in Brazil, talking with the journalists he mentioned the danger of the large number of young people without jobs, and criticized the inhuman elements in the labor market.

The pope mentioned we are preparing for a society without jobs. A person finds satisfaction from the work they do which gives them a sense of worth. In the work force the young people are often seen as disposable. We are becoming accustomed to a throwaway culture-- habituated to throwing away so much in the culture in which we live.  The pope sees these young people managing our  future, and wants to communicate with them.  

He direct our attention to the poor and the minorities in society.They need to receive hope and courage.We are not only facing an economic crisis but one of values. The pope is seeing the issue as a pastor and not as a specialist in economic matters.

When the young are not able to have a place in society to complete themselves they are drawn to drugs and despair.The problem for Korea is serious and has been for some time.The number unemployed is over 1 million. With the young the percentage is over 40 percent. We know overcoming difficulties is not always a negative but there is a limit to this. Here in Korea we have 3 areas of life in which many of  the young have given up-- romance, marriage and having children.

Like the Pope we need to see the need for work for our young people if we are to have a healthy Church and society. This hope is not only for a certain time in our history but for the future of humankind.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Popcorn Brain Syndrome


Creativity and imagination are two assets that help us live a full life. Our attachment to the internet world  is seen as  a diminishment in our ability to relate with the real world and to engage our brains. A religious sister who has made media ecology her interest writes in a  series of articles in the Korean Times about the problems we face in this new world.  

Many of our young people hate to read, think and write. Reading helps us to think, thinking helps us to discuss and to write. Frances  Bacon said: "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." 

She feel that if the students realized that reading makes one a more complete person, they would see reading differently. The way they see reading in school is a rite of passage to get into college. Once they get into college they can do away with it. 

The smart phone for the young people is a pathway to freedom and deliverance. She doesn't know what comes first. Whether they become attached to the smart phone and don't read or they don't read and become attached to the smartphone. What is clear is that when one's attention is taken up with the stimulation that comes from the games and the smartphone, reading will be difficult. Middle school children are the ones mostly affected: 30 percent of the students find their text books difficult. To read and understand is the problem.

The sister mentions professor David Levy who coined the word: 'popcorn brain' syndrome — a brain so accustomed to the constant stimulation of electronic multitasking making one unfit for life offline, where things pop at a much slower pace. We become indifferent to our reality, our attention span is reduced. 

When the smart phone becomes like another appendage we become lethargic to the outside world, lose sensitivity to our surroundings, find it difficult to express our emotions and read the emotions of others. When this happens, she says, it is difficult to expect human instincts and virtuous living to follow.

She recommends in the home to keep the interchange with the children open. She would like all to keep a diary of the use of the smart phone and in the evening  have a place in the living room to keep them. Before they go to sleep, as a form  of prayer she advises to review some sentences they  read during the day. Hopefully, she says this will become a habit, similar to the one they have with the smart phone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Different =Wrong



In Korean the word  for 'different' and 'wrong' have a similarity that in speech fosters their incorrect use, says a professor of philosophy and ethics. In the diocesan bulletin he  writes about the differences and how it is an obstacle to communication. 

We use the word 'different' when we compare two or more subjects that  are not the same. An example would be the difference in the  appearance of this person and that person. On the other hand we use the word 'incorrect' when we want to express that something is wrong or contrary to what it should be. When these two words are not given their proper meaning we have the death of communication.

When I should say your opinion is different from mine and instead say you are wrong we have a fight.

Different = wrong was the thinking of the past when interchange with others was infrequent, travel  difficult and contact with other countries was rare. The Chinese idiom: 'Frog in the well' would be one way of describing the  person who  would not be able to grasp the difference between these two words.  People who have lived together for years in the same spot, the word different in accordance with their experience would be understood as incorrect. This would follow from being a racially homogeneous people. However, the professor reminds us that according to the study of genes, Korea is a composite of 60 percent  from the Northern  countries and 40 percent from the South. He regards the understanding of a homogeneous people as a myth.

Those who are similar to us are normal. The  different are abnormal and wrong: different=incorrect. This understanding has come to us from the past and we are influenced by it to this day. Blood, region, school ties all come to the fore when we have an election. Mixed blood, different races,  foreign workers, the handicapped, the weak, minorities-- realities we find difficult to accept into the nation-family. We are unyielding in this  exclusive, cliquish, and unhealthy behavior, a black and white logic which concludes the different, without discernment, to be wrong.

We want all to be the same, but we are different. There are seven billion people on the face of the earth: similar but different. Each one is an unique person.  That which is different in each one of us is what distinguishes us from the other. What makes us  different is not abnormal but normal but important as it is we do not want only to stress the difference because what is similar is greater. What makes us different  has to be in harmony and balance with what is the same. When this harmony and balance is broken or separated we all suffer. Same and different are the prerequisite for communication. In our relations rather than stressing the  different and wrong we should be more concerned with the different and the same.

There are positions that are objectively not correct and those that are correct, but when we communicate with others if we go directly to what is different and consider it wrong then the doors to  communication are closed. We are all searching for truth. Working with what is the same and what is different we keep the doors open and the possibility of agreeing in our search for truth. 



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New World Order


In a contribution to the Chosun secular daily newspaper, one of the elder clerics, Monsignor Tjeng Eui-chai, who has a teaching  chair at Sogang University, reflects for his readers on the meaning of Pope Francis' visit  to Korea.

Pope Francis was a non-European and from a land that was for 500 years a colony of Europe. We have a movement in the 3rd millennium evolving to a common culture and  the monsignor sees the pope's visit to Korea in this light.

At the airport we have the pope in the 'Kia Soul', a small car followed by highly placed dignitaries in their big cars. This rare sight  is a forerunner  of what the future holds in store:  power to serve the citizens, wealth to serve the poor, and the  strong to serve the weak.  In the third millennium we will have the rule that has come down to us from God's creation.

What have the two  millenniums of the  past  shown us? In the first we moved from the Roman Empire that dictated to the whole world to a little town in Bethlehem where a baby was born, like us a human, but worshiped as God; the roads that led to Rome moved to Jerusalem.

In the second millennium we had the religious reformation, and the industrial revolution, and at the same time the dehumanization of humanity with totalitarianism and colonization. With the rise of communism, atheism appeared at its zenith. The two world wars brought us to edge of life and death, but at the beginning of this century we had the example of love in Mother Teresa of Calcutta,  and the apostle for the new millennium in Pope John Paul II.

One of the Christians saw the appearance of Pope Francis from the colonized continent on  the world's stage as Christ for our times. Pope Francis can be seen as the  beginnings of a common culture. He sees the North/South Korean situation as the noble cause of our time and whether we progress or regress will depend on the way we deal with it.

The monsignor sees the popularity of Francis coming from the way he listens to everybody and tries to understand their situation. He sees the problems of others as his own. The poor, the handicapped, the comfort women of the Japanese military, the families of the Sewol tragedy these were all a concern of his. He at the same time showed a great deal of wisdom. On the plane back to Rome he was asked a question about the comfort women and  gave a shrewd answer: "Today, the women were there and despite all they suffered they have dignity, they showed it in their faces."

For the monsignor the words the pope addressed to the young people were for him the most memorable: "Stay awake." They are being addressed, the monsignor wants to believe, especially to the young people who are going out to the developing countries of the world on a mission as members of the Korean Peace Corp. They have in less than 50 years come from a undeveloped country to a developed county and have a great deal to teach others in the underdeveloped countries of the world.

The monsignor has been a strong proponent of a Korean Peace Corp for many years and  our previous president  promised to send young people overseas each year and we have many of them now working in different countries of the world. He finishes the article by hoping the young people will continue to expand their presence all over the world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Shadow on Education


One of the shadows on the  educational system in Korea is  tutoring-- private academies take much of the families money and time from the students preventing them from enjoying their youth. A researcher at the Catholic University Learning Center puts some light on the problems associated with private tutoring.

 
“Four hours of sleep and you pass, 5 hours of sleep and you will flunk.” These are the words that have been around for many years. Academy buses are easily seen on the streets. Our college students work part time teaching in these academies and those who want to teach, but can’t find work, are employed by these academies. Entrance examinations to college are the problem, and she doesn't want parents to see this as inevitable, but to continue to search for remedies.

 
Efforts have been made with free compulsory education, free lunches, and after school programs that have decreased the expenses on the parents for  public education, but the private keeps going up. The academies are following the same programs as the public schools and for that reason called 'shadow education'. The reliance on private education decreases from the 81.8 percent in elementary school, 69.5 in middle school and 55.9 percent in high school. In the lower grades we have concern for the students interests, cultural pursuits and aptitudes while in high school it is preparing for college entrance.

 
The conditions in many of the academies are worse than the regular school situation but the main reason for attending is to raise the grades of the students. If the students don't go to the academies, they are left alone during after school hours, another reason for going to the academies. Many believe the  private academies are supplementing the teaching in the schools, but those who have studied the situation feel it is to increase the competitive ability of the students. 

 
Family expenses are going up. Educational levels are being determined by money, nurturing more dissatisfaction, and building a culture that sees grades as all important. The meaning of  education is distorted, the place of education in the home is belittled, and fostering a need for separation from family in search of learning. These elements which are distorting the education of our students is making parents forget to develop the gifts  children have received.

She recommends that the school decrease the number of students for each teacher. Stop the classification of jobs as high or low, and ranking them according to prestige. Efforts are necessary to change the cultural need to relate with others according to their rank in society: not judging only by externals. Without this liberation we will not be freed from the  need for private education. There is a need for the parents to stop looking for ways to better the education of their children. She asks is the education for the good of the child or the good of the parent? Are the academies helping the children to be more vital or are they  oppressive and  preventing growth?  Is it not happiness and vitality that the parents want for their children?



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sensitive Leadership


The diocesan bulletin finishes the series of articles on communication with the place of  mutual understanding  as an important quality in  leadership. The professor uses the words of Pope Francis asking when we give alms to a beggar do we look into their eyes? If not do we at least  grasp their  hand? With these gestures we are meeting the person to whom we are  giving alms. We need to be at the same  level of the person with whom we are trying  to communicate and be sensitive to their situation. The pope's method of leadership in understanding  is not  what we usually see in society, but rather the 'follow me'  bulldozer type of leadership.

Korea's economic and educational level is that of a developed country, and with the changes  we have in society the bulldozer type of leader is not what we need. No matter how capable a person is the lone-ranger type of approach does not easily solve our problems. What we need is respect for the other, sensitivity to another position. We want all to participate and ask those in  leadership to be sensitive and have respect for the others within the community.

Communicating requires that the leader does not reign over the community but stand together with them, and look into their eyes.This is the first first requisite of a  leader. Dialogue to mediate and manage the conflicts and misunderstandings, to encourage, praise, assist the members of the community to spontaneously  judge their situation and take the initiative in finding solutions. Changes from outside are many and efforts to correct and harmoniously deal with the problems that arise are necessary.

In every society we have the progressives and conservatives, the left and the right, conflict and misunderstandings. We have those that agree and those opposed, those who like and those who don't:  a very normal situation.  We take  this for granted. The means we need to follow require we persuade those who are involved. This does not mean we try to have others on our side or overcome them, but to remain in dialogue. Success or failure in persuading depends on the opening of the hearts of the others. The effort expended requires a great deal of energy and is a difficult process. All parties have to see the result of dialogue  as a victory, and be able to live with the results. From this understanding we have leadership by persuasion and co-existence.

Leaders try to manage, be administrators of people. They  need  to read the hearts of those in their community, and read their own heart and emotions. To do this, their EQ index (Emotional Quotient-- measure of a person's adequacy in such areas as self-awareness, empathy, and dealing sensitively with others) has to be raised and to  help those in the community to raise their own index. We need to smooth over the  sediment from  emotions that are not helpful, and harmonize  the feelings that come from sensitivity, and help the members to relate gently with one another, which means sensitive leadership.

This  does not require a  need to  speak well.  What  is needed for communication, concludes the professor,  is the meeting of hearts. Without sympathy we will not have communication. This leadership sensitivity is what we mean by communication leadership. This kind of leadership is not only for the individual, an organization,  a company or a community, but for all of society.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Old Foreign Missioners in Korea.

The number of foreign missioners in Korea continues to decrease. Korea no longer needs the help of the foreigners, and is sending her own missioners to many parts of the world. Recently, the Seoul Diocesan Council of Priests has set up a program for the treatment of old  foreign missioners who remain in Korea.

An editorial in the Catholic Times reports on the decision to give these old foreign missioners, who choose not  to return to their country, and have worked in the diocese for over 10 years, a place to stay and living expenses. The essence of the decision is to make the life of the retired missioners comfortable in Korea. This, says the editorial is a change, and welcomes and applauds the move.

The editorial mentions that  the Church  has been able to grow the way it has because of the help given by the foreign missioners in the past. The Paris Foreign Missioners came to Korea in the beginning to spread the faith when they knew they would face the threat of martyrdom by the knife.  After them came the Maryknoll Fathers and Columban Fathers, who both materially and spiritually gave unstintingly to the Church. Especially after the Korean War they  were instrumental in supplying  the hungry Koreans with  something to eat.                     

These missionary societies in contrast to the Korean Church have become weaker and have fewer members than was the reality when they came to Korea. The missioners have become old and infirm, they have not been replaced and their work has been curtailed. The Seoul Diocesan plan to help these missioners is a way of remembering  what they have done, and  showing the Korean Church's gratitude  for their many years of work.

In God's providence the Church of Korea has benefited from the work of the foreign  missioner and now is the time for the Church to return this in care for the old missioners.This is a grace that the Church is able to show to these old missioners. Sharing is of the essence of what Church should mean. The decision of the Seoul Diocese in regards to these old missioners is welcomed.

The missioners have not only worked in Seoul but in other parts of the country. Each diocese, the editorial hopes, according to their needs and capacity, will  follow the example of the Seoul Diocese.

Many of the dioceses have without any formal programs or decisions shown concern for the old missioners. Here in Gyodong, where the writer of this blog lives, has been benefiting from the largess of the Inchon Diocese for the last eight years. Many other dioceses have without any formal decisions and programs  shown concern for the old missioners.  Retired missioners in the present Church benefit from the work of the  missioners of the past, who worked in difficult circumstances and now those who are old and infirm are receiving the love and gratitude of our Korean Christians with whom we live and work.