Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Peaceful Co-existence of North and South Korea

In the fall of 2015 the 30th Human Rights Council met at the  Headquarters of the UN in Switzerland. A peace activist  writing in the Catholic Times on issues dealing with unification writes  about her attendance at this meeting. She was apparently a leader of one of the  small civic group discussions.

An organization in Japan came to the writer to ask  for an opportunity to speak at the plenary meeting. It was her task to facilitate the speaking in one of these  small groups. They sought to make a statement about the Japanese military comfort women at that time. She was saddened that the meeting ended in the morning and time would not be given in the afternoon. 

Civil groups were grateful that the Japanese organizations had come from afar to deliver the truth about the comfort women of the Japanese military. They were promoting justice and human rights, rather than giving  opinions and directions of the state. During a break she greeted them warmly and shared talk about their remarks.

However, she was confused and embarrassed on hearing what they were going to say. At that time in Korea  demonstrations against demolition of areas of Seoul where prostitution was extensive were items in the news. Korean comfort women were in the work for the money just like these prostitutes now in Seoul,was the opinion expressed by the Japanese contingent. Our writer was overcome with resentment and was asked where was she from. When she answered Korea, the spirit of the group changed quickly. She could no longer continue to objectively lead the group.

In the  afternoon session the Japanese group sent their statement to the plenary session and this time not as civil group but as official representatives of Japan. Our writer feels this should have been rejected but they were allowed to talk. Representatives of the comfort women of Korea because of sickness  weren't  able to attend.

This was the time  of contact between the Japanese and Korean government authorities on the Korea-Japan comfort women agreement which was released on December 28, 2015. The Korean delegation kept silent during the discussion. It was only North Korea that strongly criticized the Japanese Administration as distorting history and refusing to apologize in making sexual slaves of so many women. 

We are one people. We share a long history, suffered pain together and have the same wounds. Our body is divided but the heart is that of brothers and sisters. We have come together in harmony for the Olympic Peace Festival. Our co-existence needs to be prioritized so that we may be part of the open world. We pray that our encounter will be a step to a world of peaceful co-existence.   

Monday, February 19, 2018

To Marry or Not to Marry?

Mass media and the experience of young people towards married life is not positive. Young people are exposed to this negativity from an early age and it shouldn't be a surprise they don't see married life as beneficial. They know about failures, unhappiness in many marriages and the difficulties faced. Surveys and polls have given us the reflections of the young which are not a harbinger of a better future.

The understanding of marriage and children is not clear to many of the young. Over 4 out of ten don't see any need to have children. The survey of 7,676  young people was written up in the Catholic Peace Weekly. The Ministry of Gender and Equality and Family announced the results that were conducted with 13-24 year-old young people: taken every 3 years to make policy.

In 2012, 73.2% said there was a need for marriage; in the last survey 51% saw a need and 49% saw no need. Even if married 46.1% saw no need for children and this was higher for the girls. Last year there was a decrease of 12 percent from the previous year in the number of births.

Since they have determined that it takes about 300 thousand dollars to raise a child, we are seeing a drop in the birth rate and the reason the young are frightened of having children and distancing themselves from the teaching of the church.

The church needs to educate the young to have a  positive understanding of marriage and children that is more than an empty echo from afar. At the same time raising our voices to change the structures and culture that make it difficult to raise a family.

The number of young people who talked with their mothers for 30 minutes or more a day was 72.9% and their fathers were 41.1 %. About 2 out 10 spent little time in leisure activities with the parents. 27% ate the evening meal with their parents.

52% of adolescents felt a need for full support from their parents until they graduated from college. In job selection the young consistently indicate their abilities and aptitudes are the most important, followed by job security, unlike the past when economic income was important.

In their daily lives, 91.6 % experienced stress. This is a slight increase from three years ago. Over 80 % have received private education during the past year and this has increased from the previous year:  average is about 9 hours and 26 minutes a week.

The survey should help to make policy and also show the church where programs and education will be necessary for the future.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Suicides in Korea

One of the Korean government ministers in an interview with the Catholic Peace Weekly gives the readers of the paper his ideas on suicide. In one year, 13 thousand commit suicide. This is about 36 a day and the highest of the OECD countries. For the last 13 years, Korea has not been able to rid itself of this disgrace. The government is taking steps to change this. Government, religions and civic organizations are working together to lower the numbers. 

Unemployment and the inequality of income in society has a big influence on the numbers. Compared to other countries the inequality of income is large and affects the situation greatly. Structures of society are another aspect. Culture has changed: family bonds are weak, mental problems are hidden, and the embarrassment in asking for help are all reasons for the numbers.

Plans are to educate a million of the citizens to become Gatekeepers within society. They will be on the lookout for citizens who are having difficulty in life. Communication and presence with those in difficulty will help to make sense of their situation. Also with those who have attempted suicide efforts in accompaniment will be present. Celebrities who commit suicide have copy cat followers; efforts to give psychological help to those in high-stress occupations will be initiated.

Gatekeeper programs refer to programs that sensitize people to the warning signs of those contemplating suicide. Gatekeepers will be given tools on how to listen, be empathetic and know how to refer them to others if necessary.

The government is not able to do it alone and needs the help of all society. Religious elements in society are an important part of this effort. Catholics, Protestants, and Buddhists have been involved in the movement for some time. Plans are being made to set up a policy council that will help coordinate the work and determine the strategy.

The government has set a goal of reducing the numbers of suicides by 30 percent by 2022. Criticism is heard for desiring to attempt such a large reduction, says the minister, but after examining the situation, he feels it's an obtainable goal. The government needs the help of society, if this is to be achieved. This is not only the ministry of Health and Welfare but the other branches of society working together that  will bring about change.

Korea is a country with a great deal of stress. Many vividly remember the financial crisis of 1997 where many were hurt deeply: lost their jobs, their business and lived with great stress. The IMF and other institutions helped in the recovery but the memory and fear of it happening again is present. The North-South division, competition, stress of society, found also in the years of schooling are all areas that need to change. Hesitation to ask for help when overcome with problems is present in many other societies but  thoughts of dishonor to the family may be greater in Korea.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why Take Issue With the Tears of Others?

In the Catholic Peace Weekly, one of the journalists writes about crying and its place in life.

He begins by mentioning how he is easily brought to tears and that was always the case. As a child he was scolded for crying: a man shouldn't cry, and unconsciously this feeling of uneasiness remains with him whenever he is moved to tears.

He went to see the movie '1987: When the Day Comes' sat in the back of the theater and was prepared with his handkerchief. Anger, sadness, joy, sympathy all kinds of emotions moved him deeply and the tears came. "Crying puts me in touch with myself, we came into the world with a cry. Crying  expresses our innocence, our gratitude for life and our desire to share and to sympathize."

President Moon saw the movie with the actors and cried and was written up in the daily press. One of the daily papers referred to the crying and wrote that he cried again: after seeing  the film A Taxi Driver a few months earlier, the president giving some political comments cried. 

In the article on the president watching "1987", the journalist mentions that during this movie he cried again which our writer found hard to swallow. He read the article over slowly and calmly a number of times. It was like a fish bone caught in his  throat. "The president shouldn't cry so often. Or is it that he shouldn't show his weakness to the people?"

"1987" is a movie dealing with the torture and death of a university student Park Jong-chul who was actively fighting for democracy against Chun Doo-hwan the military dictator. This started the June movement for Democracy of 1987.

The other Movie A Taxi Driver is the story of a foreign correspondent who covered the story of the uprising in Gwangju, Korea. A Korean taxi driver was the hero of the film. He takes the German foreign correspondent to Gwangju and the uprising became world news: also called the 'May 18 Democratic Uprising'. Estimates suggest that over 600 people died during the uprising which ending on May 27, 1980.

Both of these movies were popular in Korea. Going back into history and seeing the suffering of those who wanted a better way of life and their suffering moved many. Many incidents have recently brought tears to the eyes of the citizens.The recent hospital fire, the Sewol ferry disaster that killed 304, mostly young people. 

President Park Geun-hye who was then president,  cried when giving her message to the nation on the tragedy. Some found fault and considered the tears filled with hypocrisy and without authenticity. Tears are not from the head but from the heart.

How can any politician or president wipe the tears of those weeping if their own tear ducts have dried up?  The writer ends the article by asking all our politicians to get rid of their crocodile tears and become human and able to cry with those who are hurting and crying. "Rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow" (Rom 12:15).  He asks for the gift of tears and hopes all will be gifted with tears in seeing the suffering of others.                                                                                  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Minimal Life and Spirituality

Tomorrow we begin the Season of Lent and begin living the Paschal Mystery so that it will become second nature to us: we die so we can live. At the liturgy we receive ashes on the forehead and hear that we came from dust and will return to dust. Sad as it may sound, it's the journey to happiness in this life and the one to come.

A seminary professor of spiritually writes in the Kyeongyang magazine about the minimal life. We empty ourselves so God can fill us with himself. He quotes a well know Buddhist monk who was well known for his 'lack of possessions' which to the monk was the way of having the whole world open to him. A different religion but makes sense to all of us. It's not the possessions but our attachment that is the problem. It takes our attention and freedom away from the important things in life.

Minimal life is a world-wide topic of discussion in recent times and can be compared to our evangelical counsel of poverty. Is this truly the fact that poverty is a means toward happiness? The Scriptures also tell us that God is the one who gives wealth. Why does Jesus say the poor will find happiness? Those who choose to live the life of poverty are not the same as those who without choice have to live in poverty.

It's not that poverty in itself is a good but a condition in which we can find joy in life. The poor need to rely on God more than those with wealth. The life of the counsels is to imitate and be united with Jesus. Poverty, chastity and obedience are a means of being united with Jesus. Not the acts themselves but what they enable us to do is important. If riches allowed us to be one with Jesus that should be our choice.

St. Ignatius of Loyola expressed this with the word 'indifference'. We choose the way that will enable us to attain the object for which we were created. Wealth or poverty is not what is important but our relationship with God.

Why then does the Church put so much emphases on poverty instead of wealth? The reason is that wealth has a stronger pull on our actions and a greater temptation to pull us way from God. When God is the center of our lives than whether its wealth or poverty, health or sickness, slight or honor is not important, but the freedom we enjoy.

When we say God is the center of our lives we are at the same time saying that we are open to the love of our neighbor. We are open to others and willingly giving ourselves to others. This is living the life of love and the virtues. It's then we enjoy the peace that Jesus gives and not the world's peace.

If the minimal life is only a way to manage our material things and to feel unburdened with the material it's good, but only another way to be centered on ourselves. Here again we take center stage and not God. This, as we have learned, does not last long. We want to fill our lives with what will not disappear. When we gaze on ourselves this is extremely narrow. We want to bring into view our neighbor and beyond to God. It's then that our life becomes filled beyond imagination.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Victimless Offenses are not Crimes

Same-sex sexual relationships have always been legal in Korea but not  socially approved. This is true today and possibly more so because of a large number of Christians in society. Our president is also Catholic.  An article in the Catholic Times is the explanation of a priest to a  young man Peter, on what we mean by victimless offenses. 

"When we talk about a sexual minority one idea that must be remembered is the 'victimless offense' category. After the French Revolution in 1791 in the Constitution victimless acts were no longer considered crimes. This included all acts of heresy, magic, witches, and same-sex sexual acts. They were  victimless and no longer concern of the law.

Just because these minority sexual groups think differently than I do is no reason to punish them.  This is a big step in understanding. Whether I like it or not is not the issue and can't be a  reason for the punishment of these acts between consenting adults.

In Europe gradually these victimless offenses were accepted by society and homosexuality was no longer considered a crime. Peter, when I was a child in the 1970s  I  can remember when victimless acts were considered a crime and punished. Do you know this?  I remember seeing this." Peter did not know how to answer.
"Long hair and miniskirts were not allowed. Police would measure the length of the hair and shortness of the skirts. (The priest saw the expression on the face of Peter  and decided to discontinue these examples) 

In Europe, there is no problem with homosexual acts between consenting adults. The number of marriages of same-sex couples also continues to grow. However, in many areas of the Middle East and Africa, it is illegal and in certain areas of the world, punishment is the  death penalty. There is a difference in the way people in different cultures see human acts.

In Korea, same-sex marriage is not allowed. In  Korean law  any discrimination against those who are homosexual or lesbians is forbidden. Two celebrities who are gay and living together wanted to get married but they were refused. They filed a case against the ruling but the court has refused to hear it. This is still a cause for talk. No way to know how this will work out but the way society sees the gay life is changing greatly.

Twenty years ago you would never hear the issue discussed but now very much in public discussion.
If one thinks this is a development it's a development, on the other hand if one thinks it is the downfall of society that's what's thought. Peter, what do you think? Is this  a development or a foreboding of ruin?"

"Um.... Father, isn't the forcing of an answer from me on sexual  orientation a failure to respect my human rights?"

Friday, February 9, 2018

In Search of the Sacred

We live in a secularist world environment. In the last house census over half of the Koreans  reported they have no religion. Those of us with a religion do not come across as being much different from anybody else. Sacredness is not something that is easily discovered in the life of religious people. A Jesuit priest on the opinion page of the Catholic Times introduces us to his thoughts on the sacred.

In our society, we see a great deal of uncertainty: unemployment, North Korea and the nuclear issue, the direction of society towards artificial intelligence. Everybody is intent on making a living: interested in going in search of what each considers their ultimate goal of life. How many are interested in the sacred and to experience the sacred in their lives?

From the beginning, the boundary between the holy and the secular was not present. All that God made was holy. The whole world is to be a temple of the sacred. Our journey to God is a journey to find the sacred, a fuller life, a spiritual life.

Zen Buddhism and Catholic Monasticism say that everything in daily life is sacred. Catholicism says that human life and the foundation of our moral vision for society is sacred. The writer points out that housewives are living this life in their daily work and living a form of priesthood and participating in the work of creation in a great degree.

When we are concerned with the preciousness of life at our work site we are dealing with the sacred. This is something that doctors will not experience when they are only working for a livelihood and do not meet the patients as persons when making a diagnosis. He as a priest when he doesn't do all he can to help a person grow spiritually he is only a person with a job and not witnessing to the sacredness of life.

In the midst of social conflicts pursuing the common good, we find the sacredness of life. God wants to elevate the dignity of the poor and wants us to help share more of the world's goods and services with them. "In their proper spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing. Yet, by a different title, each serves the personal and social vocation of the same human beings." (#76 The Church Today: Vat. II) The Church respects the inherent characteristics of religion and politics but calls for ethical judgments of political power in order to promote the common good.

Church desires  through the political system not only the happiness of a few privileged people but the happiness of all: a fuller life and happiness working always for the common good. We witness to the sacred in seeking a new order, reconciliation and co-existence without trapping ourselves with self-imposed fences.

In the many conflicts of our society:  North and South tensions, labor problems, political party conflicts, youth and the aged, God doesn't just choose between alternatives but as a parent caring for all the children shows greater concern for the weakest child. 

He finishes the article with a quote from Father Peter Arrupe 28th Superior General of the  Jesuits: 
"Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything."