Saturday, March 21, 2015
Healing Knows No Boundaries
In the Maryknoll Magazine for January/February Fr. Gerard Hammond our local superior had an article describing his volunteer work with the Eugene Bell Foundation. This U.S. based not-for-profit organization provides medical humanitarian assistance to rural North Korea, where at least 100,000 people are living with tuberculosis. Below are some of the words taken from the article.
"Visiting North Korea to bring medical supplies to people with tuberculosis is like being in one of the passages in the Bible where the sick crowded around Jesus begging to be cured.
We do our best to enroll as many patients as possible, giving priority to those who are sickest. But, unfortunately, due to a chronic shortage of medication, we have to turn many away. Not everyone who receives treatment recovers, despite our best efforts.
Last year's visit of Pope Francis to South Korea was a great blessing for all of us, especially the people who have suffered so much after the Second World War divided Korea into two countries in 1945. The pope celebrated a Mass for peace and reconciliation at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea. Although North Korea rejected the pope's invitation to allow North Korean Catholics to attend the Mass, I hope his visit will be the spark for the beginning of a move toward peace on the peninsula and for the reconciliation of the peoples of North and South Korea.
The Catholic Church, like other religious groups, is allowed to operate in North Korea only under extremely tight restriction. It must work within the confines of the state-controlled North Korea Catholic Association (KCA) there are 3,000 Catholics in the North, but outside experts put the figure at around 800. The best Pope Francis could do was to invite to the Mass for peace and reconciliation five representatives of families whose loved ones were kidnapped by the North and 30 elderly Catholics who crossed into the South during the 1950-1953 Korean War.
On Aug. 14, the pontiff met each one of the 14 Maryknollers serving in South Korea. When he greeted me, he simply said, 'North Korea-tuberculosis' and squeezed my arm.
On every trip we provide each patient a six-month supply of multi-drug-resistant medication. On average, a patient will receive four medication boxes over a two year period. These boxes give patients one last chance at recovering from this deadly disease and help prevent the disease from spreading to their families.
Part of the North Korea trips includes 'graduation ceremonies' for patients who have completed treatment. Usually members of the delegation place necklaces of cranes ( a symbol of long life) around the necks of these patients. I am often asked to say a few words of congratulations and encouragement. I get a big smile when I promise to pray for them. I hope you too will remember our patients in your prayers."