Saturday, January 7, 2012

Seoul - Busan - Taegu - Seoul

January 8, 2012

Peace and Good,

I have been in South Korea all this week doing my visitation of the Korean province. When I do this visitation, I talk with each friar in each community to find out how he is doing, how his community is doing and how the province is doing. Obviously, I am doing this through an interpreter this week. The two friars who are offering this service are Italian friars who arrived here in Korea over 40 years ago. The message goes from an American speaking Italian to an Italian who then translates it into Korean and back.

I visited our big community here in Seoul. The main apostolates here are the international parish (weekly masses in French, Korean, English, German and Italian). They also have a kindergarten for foreigners (over 100 students). There is a retreat house which is used almost every weekend. There are friars who run the province here (the provincial, the secretary, and the treasurer). There are also friars who works as a spiritual assistants with the Secular Franciscans (a group of lay people who vow themselves to live the ideals of St. Francis).

On Monday I travelled south to Busan. This is a port city in the south of the country, the number two city in South Korea (c. 3,000,000 people). We have a friary there and one down the road a bit in a city called Ilgwan. The friars in Pusan run a center for handicapped children (physically and/or mentally). They do great work with this. They also have a center where they refurbish donated goods and sell them. The profits go for a soup kitchen and other works of charity. There is the parish, as well as work among the Secular Franciscans.

Ilgwan has the parish, the seculars, and there is one friar whose apostolate is art, and another who is a brother who makes Seseme seed oil (which sells for around $10 a pint) for sale for the benefit of the friars. They have also built a new friary, and after having refurbished the old friary, they are looking for a good use for it. On the grounds are a few buildings that house lepers. The disease is easily treated nowaday, but some of the older patients suffer from horrible disfigurement from their disease. They live there in peace and worship in the friary chapel.

On Thursday we travelled to Taegu. There we have another parish with a newly built social center. There is also a very active apostolate among the Secular Franciscans. In fact, they and the friars built a center where they can hold meetings, seminars, retreats, etc. It is a beautiful building. As a welcoming center, they established a coffee house on the ground floor.

Friday afternoon we travelled back to Seoul. Yesterday and today are rest days to catch up a bit, and then the next few days will be a series of other visits.

It is very, very cold here. A lady at the train station yelled at me and pointed at my feet when she saw that I was wearing sandals with no socks. The Italian friars said that people think that I am crazy going around like that. My theory is that if you are going to be eccentric, do one thing that is so obvious that everyone will focus on that and miss all of the other smaller eccentricities.

The food is also challenging. I like it a lot, but it is all heavily spiced. If you know what Kimchi is (fermented cabbage heavily seasoned with peppers), it is odd when that is the least spicy thing on the table.

I have finished some books this week. I will change the way I write up this account a bit starting with this week. In the past, I have written what I remember of the book from the backlog of what I have read over these months. Sometimes, though, I do not write it until a couple of months after I finished it. The report was a bit vague. Now, I will write the reports as soon as I finish them and include them as I get time and space.

Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

I never realized that Verne wrote a follow up to his book 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. This is the story of a group of men who flee prison in Richmond, Virginia toward the end of the Civil War and who end up on an unexplored island somewhere in the Pacific when their balloon is carried aloft by a hurricane. They struggle to survive (e.g. the Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, etc.). An engineer serves as an almost godlike figure who helps his companions overcome every obstacle (obviously showing Verne’s immense appreciation for technology). They are assisted by a mysterious figure who serves as a deus ex machine when they are most in difficulty.

The Rose Killer by Pat Gregg

This is a who done it when a series of killings occur in a mid-western town. The main character is mourning the death of her policeman husband and must delve into the fact that he was probably not faithful to her nor was he always honest. The killer turns out to be a surprise, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Unfortunately, not all of the characters are well developed, and it is easy to loose oneself as the drama shifts from one character to another.

Richard I by Jacob Abbott

This is a biography by the prolific 19th century British author who produced a series of hero stories for young people growing up in his era. This deals with King Richard the Lion Hearted. While most of us grew up thinking of him as a hero who defended the rights of the simple folk (a message portrayed in the Robin Hood legend) as opposed to his evil brother King John, he turns out to be a more complex character. He spent almost all of his time in France, the other part of his reign. He considered himself to be first a king of that realm, and then only later a king of England. He almost bankrupted England with all his wars. Yet, with a name like “lion hearted,” how could he not look good. He was a great warrior, but more brave than clever. When compared to Saladin, his rival during the crusades, he comes across looking more like a brute than a noble, chivalric warrior.

Have a good week.
fr. Jude


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