Thursday, January 16, 2020

Looking At North Korea With the Eyes of a Believer

News about North Korea is seen daily on Korean TV, in news articles, on the internet. It is one of the big issues in our society. We had a war and continue squabbling. For the most part interchanges between the North and South have stopped, between governments restricted. Most of the news of the North comes through the media and the internet. A young researcher with a doctorate in North Korean Studies writes in the Kyeongyang magazine on seeing the North with the eyes of a Christian.

Each year the media and research centers report on Jan. 1st New Year's Address of the North. The analysis of the address gives the South hints on the future relationship and outlook on the Peninsula. Important is the present situation, preparing for the future both for the country and industry.

The writer mentions that in her studies for the masters and doctorate on North Korean studies one of her major concerns was the inaugural New Year's address. A reason to wait for the  New Year and the curiosity and stimulation that would come from the new textbook. Often it would give a new theme to ponder. Those who knew of her specialty would be asking questions about the North. When a missile was launched her acquaintances would ask about the situation with the North, South, and US. Even though that was her subject matter she would be looking avidly at the news each day for things that could change quickly.

When the South and the North shook hands she was overcome with emotion. But very quickly it fell apart and we heard words of provocation and a sigh followed. It was like riding a roller coaster, one moment emotions up and next moment down. Very difficult to experience. As a religious person she finds she desires the peaceful coexistence of the two parts of Korea and when her hope is shattered everything turns upside down.

Her desire for peace is strong and it stays with her during all the ups and downs in the political situation between the North and South. When her hopes were low she met a person whose desire of a lifetime was to see a united peninsula.

In 1960 a white-skinned blue-eyed, mid-twenty-year-old, now a white-haired old man came to our country. He would be similar to our grandfathers in greeting the young who came to his door. We would get to know our history in his words.

His name is Gerard E. Hammond M.M. A member of the Maryknoll Foreign Mission Society. He left the United States in 1960 by boat, took three weeks to arrive at  Inchon in August. He lived with the poor of the country in the South and in 1990 participated in programs giving food supplies to the North.

He has worked with the Eugene Bell Foundation which at the invitation of the North Korean government helped in the distribution of TB drugs for those sick with tuberculosis in the rural areas of the North. The roads were not paved and would take a whole day to get to some of the areas to meet the sick. Since TB is contagious great care was taken and the work was done outside. This kind of arduous task was done for close to 60 trips to the North. He wonders when he will be going again and how those who he last saw are doing.

In the early days saying Mass, he would be using coal briquets and sawdust to heat the church. He is now 86 years old but has not lost the heart of a missioner. He continues to worry about those sick in the North for the increase in political discord makes humanitarian aid mission difficult.

The writer after talking to Fr. Hammond and hearing the need to act like human beings and thinking deeply about the situation between the South and North,  as a believer she doesn't know what to think about the North. When Pope Francis visited Korea in 2014 he asked for prayers. This evening at 9:00 when she hears the alarm go off from her handphone she will say an Our Father and Hail Mary for Peace on the Peninsula and not be upset with all the confusion that comes with news and direct her prayers to God (Korean Catholics have been asked by the Bishops of Korea to daily at 9:00 pm pray for peace on the peninsula).

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