Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Catholic Relief Work After the Korean War

The Peace Weekly had an article on the work of the church after the Korean War (70th year). War takes everything away. Refugees who had lost their families and homes had no place to eat or sleep. Day after day they depended on relief supplies to stay alive. When a truck carrying relief supplies came into the refugee village, all were excited. The children in rags and dirty faces shouted: "Give Me Chocolate” and C-ration" (US military combat food in cans) when a US military vehicle passed by. When American troops threw chocolates and tins to the children, they screamed "thank you" and rushed to gather them.

As of August 1951, the government estimated 3.8 million refugees, and the total number of refugees who lost their homes and property was 4.2 million, a total of about 8 million. It was close to half of South Korea's population at the time. It could not be sustained without foreign aid.

Overseas aid groups entered the country immediately after the war to heal the pain of those who survived the war. The National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC), and the Catholic Relief Services(CRS), and other groups were there to help Korea. Amidst the ruins, emergency relief projects, help to orphanages, home restoration projects, aid to education, and health care projects were begun.

The U.S. (NCWC) immediately sent aid to South Korea in August 1950, including milk powder, food, winter clothing, shoes, and medicine.

At that time, the Korean Ambassador to the United States and a Catholic ( Dr. Chang Myon 1899-1966) was of great help. In July 1950, Dr. Chang sent an appeal to the American Catholics asking for prayer and aid for Korea through the NCWC. Earlier, as soon as the Korean War broke out, Dr. Chang announced the North Korean invasion to the United Nations Security Council and appealed to the international community for help to the refugees.

Help was sent from around the world. The activities of the Catholic Relief Society (CRS), the official organization for overseas aid under the NCWC, was prominent. CRS had already entered Korea before the war. 

Monsignor George Carroll of the American Maryknoll Society, a missionary from the Pyongyang Diocese, founded the CRS Korea Branch in 1946. In 1950, the first year of the outbreak of the Korean War, CRS raised more than $2 million out of the $2.8 million US civilian aid agencies sent to Korea. At that time, the Catholic Church of the United States collected donations for the victims of the Korean War on the fourth week of Lent each year and collected relief supplies during Thanksgiving in November. In 1953, the total contribution amounted to $5 million.

The goods of the CRS relief project were distributed all over the country, so there were few Koreans who did not receive CRS benefits. 90% of these items were grains, corn flour, wheat flour, and milk powder from the United States and used for school meals and free lunches nationwide. Relief supplies were also delivered to each church. Since many of the Catholics received help, many of the Koreans entered the church at that time.

"To give relief goods to believers and not to non-believers is not what it should be but it is true that first, it went to the believers who came to the church. As a result, many people became believers without faith as a way to get aid. Such people would not be living the religious life. Thus the word 'flour believer' was born." (From the story of Cardinal Kim Soo-hwan)

Monsignor Carroll after the restoration of Seoul on September 28, he joined the 8th Army as a chaplain and went to Pyongyang with the United Nations forces. Later as the forces of the U.N. forces recaptured Pyongyang he was named acting administrator of the Pyongyang Diocese which was previously staffed by Maryknoll. When the Korean military action ended and Pyongyang returned to the Communists, Monsignor Carroll became involved in relief work of various kinds and eventually was the Catholic Relief Services representative in Korea.

They tell the story that before he left Pyongyang after the Chinese intervened he was one of the last to leave and he stayed up all night writing notes of recommendation to believers fleeing the north to the south. In the south, he founded the St. Lazarus Sanatorium for patients with Hansen's disease. He organized the Korea Association of Voluntary Agencies (KAVA) with the Methodists in 1952. He did not limit aid since the practice of love knows no boundaries. He died in 1981 at the Maryknoll headquarters in New York.

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