Friday, September 8, 2017

Peace Apostle to North Korea

The recent edition of the Catholic Peace Weekly had a one page interview with Fr. Gerard E. Hammond, the Maryknoll Fathers' local superior. He recently received the highest honor given by the Knights of Columbus, "The Gaudium et Spes Award for his work with the Eugene Bell Foundation an ecumenical movement which brings medicines to tuberculosis patients in North Korea.

The award was given in the United States in recognition of  the work of Fr. Hammond with the sick of North Korea. The first recipient of the award was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He is the 13th person to receive the award and the first priest. He will receive an honorarium of $100,000 which Father plans to use in building homes for the sick.

Father Hammond who came to Korea in 1960 and is now only three years away from his sixtieth year of priesthood, began his trips to North Korea in 1995. He has now made 56 trips to North Korea as a trustee of the Eugene Bell Foundation. They have helped over 250,000 sick  and are now taking care of about 2000 patients.

In response to a question on his feelings in receiving the reward, Father responds that what he did and hopes to continue doing is what any missioner would do and he receives the award for all missioners.Korea is a country that has suffered much. Jesus is with the suffering of those in the North and  the missioner needs to go. He quotes Pope Francis in showing solidarity with those who are sick.

They are taking care of about 2000 patients and taking the medicines they have 80% who are returned to health, 20% die from the disease. Every six months they return to the North to give the medicines. Plans are in progress to build about 20 convalescent  homes on the outskirts of Pyongyang which will cost about 70,000 dollars each and he plans to use the honorarium money to help build these buildings. Each one will accommodate about 50 patients.

To the question whether he has made any friends in the North he answers that he has only been concerned about the work. They are all Koreans just like the ones in the South. When he was younger they called him comrade but now he asks them to call him grandfather and he calls them his grandchildren.

He tells the interviewer that in his opinion they are not starving. They also like all other societies have some poor but they seem to have a leisurely life all with their hand phones.

Why does he continue his work in the North?  Fr. Hammond replies that Maryknoll began work in South Pyongyang Province in 1923 and the diocese was established in 1927. When unification comes he wants to be one of the first to be with those in the North.

The division of the peninsular engenders a great deal of anger what does he have to say to the Catholic Church of Korea? It's a dangerous time in Korea right now. If a war breaks out we are all destroyed. Three things  should be remembered: we need to maintain peace, without conditions we work for peace. Secondly we work towards reconciliation with the North and thirdly, we continue to work for dialogue between the North and South. Prayer for peace on the peninsular and for the suffering church in the North not only this month of the martyrs but continually.

Fr. Hammond's interview continues with his growing up years and personal reminisces of life in Korea. He concludes that he would like to continue what he is doing: working with the Eugene Bell Foundation with TB patients of the North. It's a bridge with the North and he hopes that in November they will be able to return to the North and asks for prayers.

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