Monday, July 4, 2016

Conversation, Reconciliation and Peace In North Korea

The Catholic Korean Catholic Pastoral Information Magazine had an interview with the local Maryknoll Superior, Fr. Gerard E. Hammond, which was carried by both the English and Korean editions of the magazine. We have summarized briefly from the English edition.

Fr. Hammond  visits  North  Korea usually twice a year with the Eugene Bell Foundation to help  MDR TB patients in the North. This form of TB infection is caused by bacteria which are resistant to common drug treatments, highly infectious and fatal if untreated. Only about 10% of the sick  can be treated because of the amount of financial support required.

TB is the biggest killer in North Korea. Over the past 20 years they have treated about 250,000 patients. Fr. Hammond considers his visits to Korea as a pilgrimage, because of the number of martyrs, including Maryknoll Bishop Byrne, Bishop Hong Yong-ho and many Christians who died for their faith. 

Maryknoll began work in Pyongyang in 1927. Bishop Patrick Byrne, who was Prefect Apostolic of Pyongyang,  along with  Bishop Hong  both died in North Korea and are now candidates for beatification. North Korea still suffers from a lack of religious freedom.

In his own life he feels the work of a missioner is to build a loving relationship with a mission field. More important than speaking, for a missioner is acting, doing, because of the language barrier. He has always tried to delegate financial and administrative duties to others, and dedicated himself to spiritual activities. Eating together was always an important spiritual activity. Setting time aside for others is a important work for the older members of the Korean region.

Fr. Hammond asked about his views on the North South situation, responded that North and South need to keep talking  to each other. The United States, Japan, China and Russia put their own needs first so they should be excluded from the discussion table.  Before reunification comes we have to work hard to achieve the following: conversation, reconciliation,  and peace. North Korean Catholics were invited to the Mass for Peace and Reconciliation but they didn't come.

He mentioned how he experienced the presence of God in one of his meetings with a  North Korean. He was traveling in a Jeep on a four-hour trip to Sinuiju  to collect sputum samples. He was sitting in the passenger seat saying the rosary when his rosary broke.  He asked the driver for a pincer. The driver wanted to know why. Seeing the rosary he replied, "Oh, I can fix it."  While repairing he added: "My grandmother used to have this kind of thing." Father Hammond asked again, "She was a nice person wasn't she?" He said yes but the conversation was interrupted by another person but he remembers it vividly.

At the conclusion of the interview he was asked what does he want as an  epitaph, since he made  known his desire to die in Korea. Fr. Hammond wants to say just before he dies: "Yeongwoni Hamkke" ( Together forever).

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