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By Jehoon Augustine Lee
The author is a Columban seminarian from the Republic of Korea on First Mission Assignment in Quezon City. Here he tells us about his mandatory two-year military service when he was already a seminarian, nearly all of which he spent in the very unglamorous ‘Kitchen Patrol’ or ‘KP’.
In my native country, South Korea, all males between the ages of 18 and 35 who are physically and mentally able are mandated by Korean law to perform two years of military service. Koreans require this military service as a part of their national duty; there is a perceived need to share in national defense as well as prepare for potential war with North Korea.
As a Korean man, I served two years in the Korean military service from 2001 to 2003. Although I had already joined the Columban Fathers, I had no choice; service was mandatory. I was able to first complete my philosophy studies, but immediately after finishing these, I was called to begin my service. My feelings on this were very mixed. I certainly was willing and enthusiastic about performing my national duty as a Korean man and a Korean citizen; on the other hand, I had just been accepted to join the Columban Fathers and was excited to begin my vocational journey. A lot of my uncertainty was because I knew that my military service would be a huge time obligation – I wasn’t sure how I would be able to attend Mass, prayer services, and find the time to peacefully discern my vocation as a seminarian.
Nevertheless, despite these mixed feelings, I began my two-year tour of duty. The first step was to attend six weeks of basic training. These weeks were challenging, but also served to strengthen me personally. I was forced to have a ‘Bring it on!’ attitude while I crawled in the mud, hiked up mountains, learned how to shoot my rifle, and run . . . and run . . . and run . . . all while wearing my heavy combat boots.
Fortunately, soldiers are only mandated to be trained for eight hours a day, and we were fed well. Corporal punishment is officially banned (thankfully!) and there was also a certain degree of freedom. I was especially thankful that soldiers are entitled to participate in their own religious ceremonies on Sunday, so my fear of never being able to attend Mass did not initially materialize.
By Maira San Juan
Maira San Juan is from Taytay, Rizal, near Manila, and worked as a Columban Lay Missionary in Korea from 2007 till the end of 2012.
It’s been five years since I arrived in Korea as a Columban Lay Missionary from the Philippines. Since my nine months of language study I have been immersed in ministry with a community of persons with AIDS. On my first day there I felt a mixture of excitement and fear: excitement because it was my first time meeting people living with HIV and I was curious to know how they were coping after learning that they were HIV-positive; fear because at the back of my mind I was thinking I might get the HIV virus through them since we ate at the same table, used the same toilet, talked to each other and so on. But through the years I have been with them, my thinking and feelings have changed, not only about them but also about life, about people, about me and about God. Being a missionary involved in AIDS ministry has helped me to grow not only as a person but also as a woman called by God to be a part of his mission. Throughout my journey, the prayer that has helped me and acquired a new personal meaning is the Lord’s Prayer.
By Fr Noel O’Neill
South Koreans pride themselves on a competitive spirit. This has contributed to the vast number of Koreans attending elite American universities and to the country’s consistently strong performance in economics and sports such as women’s golf.
By Fr Peter Woodruff
Fr Noel O’Neill was ordained in Ireland in December 1956 and has been working in Korea since 1957. Fr Peter Woodruff is an Australia Columban who worked in Peru for many years. Ordained in 1967, he is now based in Essendon, a suburb of Melbourne, at the headquarters of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.
Columban Fr Noel O’Neill, spoke to the staff of our mission office in Essendon, Melbourne, Australia, about his experience with intellectually disabled people in Korea. Father Noel arrived in Korea in 1957, not long after the Korean War ended in 1953. The whole country had been devastated by war and was still in the throes of reconstruction. Like most Columbans at that time in Korea, Father Noel began his mission work building up and running parishes; this was his mission for 24 years.
He was working in Kwangju when he began to go to the Mudeung Institution which gave support to needy and marginalised people. He soon saw that the intellectually disabled were not able to fend for themselves so he began to sit and chat with them. They were definitely the forgotten ones of Korea in those days. Many would have been left to die at birth and those who survived would be kept hidden by their families, who were embarrassed by their very existence.
By Isidro Antiquiera
A poem of remembrance
by Fr Kevin O'Rourke
Fr Kevin O’Rourke, a Columban from Ireland ordained in 1963, is professor of English at Kyunghee University in Seoul, Korea, and is the author of three books of Korean poetry in translation and is planning to produce an anthology from AD 668 to the present day.
Dust of snow,
a wind that chills to the bone,
pinched mourning faces,
collars raised, hats pulled low,
the shiver of death everywhere.
Cardinal Kim Suhwan
is lowered to his final resting place.
The Columban Superior General says understanding other religions helps us better understand God. This is an extract from an interview by Father Barry Maguire, now the editor of the Columban magazine in Korea.
Fr Tommy Murphy, who became Columban Superior General in 2006, says Catholic missionaries such as the Columbans must engage with people of other faiths and religious traditions. He worked as a missionary in Korea beginning in 1974 and later continued his work in Taiwan.
Father Murphy, saw two very different reactions to Christianity and Catholicism in these two Asian nations.
Q: How was being a missionary in Taiwan different from Korea?
A: The big difference was that the Chinese didn’t seem to have any interest in Christianity.
This Columban lay missionary from Korea gives of herself to those on the fringes in Manila.
When Columban priests in Manila talk about Columban lay missionary Columba Chang, they’ll sometimes refer to her as ‘Saint Columba’, a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to the sixth century Irish saint who shares her baptismal name. Very few of them know that she’s actually named after Kim Hyo-im (Columba), one of the canonized Korean martyrs. (See ‘box’). Mostly, however, it’s a token of the genuine respect and admiration for the 49-year-old from Seoul, South Korea, and the exemplary life they have seen her live the past 16 years.
Columba was an accountant for a bank when she decided to become a lay missionary. At age 33, her parents joked that her motivation was to get away from getting married, but her real inspiration was a tremendous pull to help others. She had worked on weekends with Columban priests in her family’s parish in South Korea and answered the call when they suggested she would make a fine lay missionary.
‘My parents trusted the Columbans because we knew them in Korea,’ she said.
After taking language classes in Tagalog, Columba decided she wanted to work among the poorest of Manila’s poor: the squatters who live on and around the huge garbage dump in Quezon City, which includes some of Metro Manila’s sprawling, poverty-filled suburbs.