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By Sister Ignatius Aquino OSB
Sister Ignatius wrote in May-June about her experiences in Africa and South America. She’s now back in her native Asia, but in a country very different from the Philippines, Korea. You can learn more about the Church in Korea and the persecutions there on www.cbck.or.kr, the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea. Click on ‘English’ at the top of the page and ignore anything about a ‘Language Pack Installation’.
My first twenty days at Daegu Priory, Korea, were wonderfully blessed with special events and celebrations: a Silver Jubilee, final and temporary professions, initiation into the novitiate and reception of candidates into postulancy. These monastic festivities gave me a glimpse of the quality of Benedictine life our sisters have over here. I am deeply impressed by the solemnity of their Divine Office, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, all in Korean, and their fidelity to Lectio Divina. (Editor’s note: Richard McCambly OCSO, a Cistercian monk, describes Lectio Divina as ‘ordinarily confined to the slow perusal of Sacred Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments; it is undertaken not with the intention of gaining information but of using the texts as an aide to contact the living God’ <www.lectio-divina.org/>).
There are more than 300 Sisters attached to Daegu Priory more, than a hundred in the priory house itself cheerfully and contemplatively doing their daily round of duties in and out of the monastery.
As a newcomer, I was invited by the formation directresses to have sessions with the novices and postulants, going on outings with the junior sisters and recreating with the perpetually professed sisters. Mother Prioress Gertrude and Sister Pascha, the Sub-prioress, drove me to Hantie, where the first Korean martyrs were persecuted in the early 1800s, and to a Buddhist temple in Tonghwasa, where one of the three world’s biggest statues of Buddha is located.
The Prioress took me twice to two Buddhist temples nearby for inter-religious dialogue. I was struck by the sharing of the first Buddhist nun we visited. She said, ‘We should be like the rice stalk, ripe for the harvest, that bends when it’s full.’ I asked her several questions regarding her formation and her present mission. She related her sixteen years of very rigid training and discipline: body prostration in the streets five thousand times, with two steps forward and one step backward at a time. After this experience, she said, ‘I am not afraid of anything at all because I believe Buddha and I are one’. She took us into the sanctuary of her temple and showed us how she makes a bow to Buddha. She makes three thousand bows to Buddha everyday.
I was given a warm welcoming lunch by the parish priest and the Sisters at a restaurant in Sangju-si on the first Sunday after my arrival. It was followed by a welcoming dinner from the school with the faculty and Sisters at a restaurant in Jeom Chon.
Korean food is different from our Filipino food except for rice. Rice, either plain or cooked with other grains, is the main dish in Korea. They have kimch’i, a spicy vegetable dish generally comprised of celery, cabbage and cucumber seasoned with salt, garlic, onions, ginger, red pepper and shell fish. Other dishes include seafood, meat or poultry, greens, herbs and roots. We enjoyed the deadly globefish, a delicacy that needs special preparation with only licensed chefs allowed to fillet the fish because it has a highly potent nerve toxin.
About 45 percent of Korea’s population of nearly 50,000,000 is of Buddhist background. Around 49 per cent claim to be Christians. These include the ten percent or so who are Catholic. I find the Koreans very polite as it is customary for them to make a bow when they meet one another or foreigners like me. They have a very high respect for elders and by nature are a disciplined and quiet people. The life expectancy rate in Korea has gone up to seventy-eight years due to their healthy food.
As I start my mission work, I keep in mind this Scripture passage:
‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’ (Exodus 3:5).
May the Lord make me faithful even in the darkest instances of life’s uncertainties. May He teach me to strip myself of anything and everything that makes me less like Him – prejudices that blur and color my acceptance of people and situations and mistrust that limit my openness and distances me from what I perceive to be dangerous.
May I learn to move from the ‘destructively familiar to the creatively strange’, to be willing to envision new possibilities, to be daring in following Christ and even to have the courage to fail, even joyfully, for the sake of the gospel.
May my way of life challenge some of the values and practices in our culture such as caution, timidity, small-mindedness, defensiveness, institutional paralysis and too much concern about status, custom and security to be willing to try anything new.
May I not only call attention to something that might be false and harmful but to point to something much more graceful and promising.
May the Lord grant me wisdom to respond in faith and in love, and may He give me a steadfast spirit to stand the test of time.
May the flames of fire on Pentecost make me courageous to witness to God’s abiding presence in a non-Christian country, as a foreign missionary in this part of Asia.
‘Obey my voice and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you’ (Jeremiah 7:23).
You may write Sr Mary Ignatius Aquino OSB at:
Missionary Benedictine Sisters, 733-1, Odong-ri, Hamchang-eup, Sangju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do 742-804, REPUBLIC OF KOREA or email her at email@example.com