That’s “thank you” in Korean. I’ve been saying that a lot these last number of days. That’s because it is the only thing I CAN say in the Korean language.
In point of fact, to say 감사합니다 is the reason I’ve travelled to Korea, from where I am writing this particular blog post. For over twenty years, the Archdiocese of Gwangju, in the southwestern part of the country, has been making priests available to care for the members of St. Jung Ha Sang Parish, the Korean Catholic community in Edmonton. For years the parish has been inviting me to visit this land, and finally I have been able to make the timing work, in coordination with Archbishop Kim Hee-jong, and his Auxiliary Bishop Ok Hyun-jjn. So, for this wonderful expression of solidarity and support towards our Korean parish and our local Church in general, I am here to bring the thanks of the clergy and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
My journey began with a two-day stopover in Taiwan to visit with a friend from university days of old. It was great to see him and to catch up on what has been happening in his life. It also afforded me the opportunity to pay a visit to the Archbishop of Taipei, Most Rev. John Hung Shan-Chuan, to learn about and see a bit of what is happening in that local Church, and also to thank him for the gift of one of his priests who served our Chinese parish of Mary Help of Christians for a few years.
From Taipei I flew to Seoul, where I was met by Fr. Jeong Cheol Cheon, the pastor of our Korean parish. He is here in Korea on some holidays. To my surprise and delight, he was accompanied at the airport by some of his parishioners! Together, they whisked me off to a great restaurant, where for the first time I was introduced to Korean cuisine. I’m now a fan!
After overnighting in Seoul, and prior to traveling south to Gwangju, we visited some of the sacred sites of Korea. There is a beautiful Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine to St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean-born Catholic priest, and the other Korean martyrs. This is recognized by the Vatican as an international pilgrimage site. I found it very moving to pray in the chapel where the remains of twenty-eight of the martyrs are kept and honoured. It was in that same chapel that St. John Paul II paused to pray during his visit to South Korea in 1984.
Also in Seoul is Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine, a sanctuary dedicated to the memory of St. Jung Ha Sang (aka St. Paul Chong Hasang), the patron of our Korean parish in Edmonton, so we couldn’t leave the city without stopping there to pray for our fellow parishioners. Then, after a bit of playing tourist at the Changdeokung Palace, followed by lunch (delicious!) we made our way to Gwangju.
The welcome here has been extraordinary. The Bishops, priests and lay faithful have been both gracious and generous in their hospitality. It is a wonderfully vibrant local Church. During a tour of the many pastoral offices that form the curia of the Archdiocese, I met with the department directors, who gave me an overview of the tremendous pastoral work that is undertaken here. At that meeting I presented Archbishop Kim and his Archdiocese with an image of Our Lady of Canada, a work fashioned by the iconographer Andre Prevost on the occasion of the 2017 consecration of Canada to Our Lady by the Canadian Bishops.
I was also privileged to visit some of the Archdiocesan institutions. The Archdiocese of Gwangju operates its own radio broadcasting corporation, which welcomed me, gave me a tour of their studios and introduced me to their many activities to announce the Gospel. They are doing wonderful work, and were pleased to learn about what we are doing in Edmonton through Grandin Media. I was also taken to visit Gwangju Catholic University, which serves as the Archdiocesan seminary. There I met with the professors, greeted and prayed with the over 150 seminarians (80 of whom are for the Archdiocese alone) and celebrated mass for the community.
In the city of Mokpo, where the Archdiocese began, I visited a beautiful large sanctuary and retreat/conference centre dedicated to Our Lady and to three Columban missionary martyrs to the faith. They also have in that city a beautiful museum that recounts the history not only of the Archdiocese but also that of the Legion of Mary in Korea, where this lay association is very active. The day Mokpo was topped off by a visit to Mokpo Catholic University, where I participated in a pledge-taking ceremony for the graduates of its nursing programme.
Archbishop Kim is known in Korea and throughout Asia for his commitment to inter-religious dialogue. Thus it was only fitting that my time in his Archdiocese included a visit to a key Naejangsa Buddhist Temple, situated in beautiful Naejang Mountain national park. There I met with the head monk, and also was treated to a lunch prepared by Jeong Kwan, a female monk renowned internationally for her cuisine and cooking institute.
A particular highlight for me was meeting the mother of Fr. Cheon, pastor of our Korean parish in Edmonton. The sacrifice that Fr. Cheon makes to be in Edmonton is not his alone; his mother also shares in it by being absent from her son while he is here. I thanked her in my own name and on behalf of our parish.
During the final day of the visit, I concelebrated with Archbishop Kim a Confirmation mass in the morning at St. Paul of the Cross parish and joined with him in confirming many young people and adults. In this mass I experienced firsthand the embrace by parishioners of that full, conscious and active participation in the mystery of the liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council. It was a reverent and joyful celebration. The choir even sang a hymn in English!
Following mass they invited me to plant in the parish courtyard a maple tree (they think of everything here!) as a commemoration of the visit and sign of enduring friendship between our two Archdioceses. It was particularly moving to meet the young girl, who, with her family, donated the tree.
Following lunch (another big one) in the parish, I was taken to what is called the May 18th National Cemetery. This impressive and moving site was built in 1997 to commemorate the uprising in May of 1980 against the military junta of the day, and which resulted in many deaths. It is an event etched deeply in the psyche of the people here. I was honoured to join with Archbishop Kim in a ceremony honouring the memory of those who gave their lives for freedom.
Back home tomorrow. I came here to say 감사합니다 to the people of this Archdiocese for their generosity towards us. I leave saying 감사합니다 to Almighty God for the dynamic witness given by the Bishops, priests and lay faithful of this Archdiocese to the beauty of the Gospel and the joy that comes to all who follow the Lord in His Church.