Rome (Agenzia Fides) - "I arrived in Seoul and everything was destroyed. There were only the cathedral and the central station." Thus begins the story of Sister Adriana Bricchi, a missionary of the Daughters of Saint Mary Help of Christians (FMA). More than 60 years of mission among the Korean people, a journey full of surprises that she herself recounts in her testimony given to Fides as "a long journey in God's hands".
A missionary adventure that goes through the fears and hopes, the sufferings and the expectations of peace that have marked the last decades of the divided peninsula, and of the people who inhabit it. Sister Adriana, a Salesian religious since 1957, was only 27 years old when she arrived in Asia in October 1959. On the last day of that same year, she began her long mission in Korea. The country, devastated and bled to death by the civil war between the north and the south, was experiencing a social situation that Sister Adriana describes as 'unimaginable'. "Looking back at that time, I am amazed every time at what a miracle Korea has performed to get back on its feet." The first Salesian Sisters had arrived in Seoul in 1957, and settled in a house near the parish church. Then they opened another in Gwangju, in the southern tip of Korea. "When I arrived - recalls Sister Adriana - we were three sisters in the parish house where the Salesians had also just arrived. I remember the freezing cold, a frost without snow. In the house in Gwangju we started following a middle school, which later became a high school, while in the parish we had a nursery school. We visited families and the sick in the nearby hospital. Due to language difficulties, we had to wait a while to be able to teach catechism courses, which we later started thanks to a Korean Salesian nun who had been in Japan for formation. At first, without knowing the language, I dedicated myself to the children of the oratory, which was truly flourishing. The children played and also ate a few pieces of bread and a little milk that we went to get from the American military camps that were still present in the country. Among those children, some became priests, others nuns, and it was a wonderful experience for me. Even though I couldn't speak, we communicated heart to heart." In the parish, dedicated to John Bosco, Catholics already guarded the memory of a Korean priest killed in the conflict and venerated as a martyr. Now that church has become a large parish, attended by at least a thousand Catholics. "We - recalls Sister Adriana, recalling the threads of her missionary adventure - stayed there until we moved to the outskirts, to be called back to that same completely renewed parish. Currently there are about sixty sisters in our house".
Sister Adriana's story also exposes, without emphasis, eloquent data on how a web of faith, hope and charity has grown over time around the missionary work of the sisters: there are now 260 Salesian sisters in South Korea, distributed in 32 houses. The Salesian Sisters of Korea have also opened a house in Mongolia. Of the four houses scattered around the metropolis of Seoul, one is dedicated to the nursery school, another to young girls between the ages of 13 and 20, who should be in prison and whom the government entrusts to the nuns to take care of their rehabilitation away from jail. "Every day - Sister Adriana told Fides - I spend half an hour with them, and for me it is a moment full of joy to see them flourish again: surrounded by love, they return to who they are, according to God's good plan for their lives." Among the girls taken out of prison life by the silent work of the sisters there are Catholics, Protestants and non-Christians. "I asked some of them: if you saw Jesus, what would you ask him? They replied that they would say to him: 'Jesus, forgive me I have done wrong, but when I leave this house I promise to behave well. Forgive me and help me to be a good woman!' ". In the third house, in the center of Seoul, the Salesian sisters offer formation to new vocations (one year of "aspirancy" and another of "postulancy"). In the fourth house, a youth center runs educational and social assistance programs for people in difficult situations. "I have been told - says Sister Adriana - that people arrive who really seem to be possessed, but they try to help everyone". When she was younger, Sister Adriana also ran three boarding schools for students. Among them were university students with whom she created a free school for girls who could not continue their studies for financial reasons. "Even today, these former students come to see me with great gratitude." On the island of Jeju, the largest in Korea, the Salesian Sisters also have a youth center where girls come from all the schools in the country for a three-day formation course. "Seoul - adds Sister Adriana - is today a huge city where ten million people live, currently there are millions of Catholics throughout the country. When I arrived in the 1960s there were 500/600 Catholics. Although Catholicism had entered Korea in the 1700s, after the expulsion of the Catholics, it returned in the 1800s with American, Italian, and French missionaries who did an intense job. The Korean people - concludes the missionary - have a special religious sense, to which so many admirable Buddhists who work for good testify. Among the young women who attended our boarding schools, many have become Catholic nuns and now work in the parishes, and when they come to visit us, it is seen that the faith they knew during the years spent in the boarding school has been preserved in them. That community experience, in my opinion, is the most beautiful. Of course it is important and beautiful to preach, but life shared in the light and on the path of faith is the most intense way of doing mission, and also of changing the structures and forms of ecclesial life, so that everything in the Church serves only to announce the Gospel". Sister Adriana is now 91 years old. Missionary passion keeps her heart young. In these days, she is in Rome for the Ad Gentes Permanent Missionary Formation Course, from May 7 to 31, 2023, promoted by the General Missions Sector of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, together with about fifteen sisters from all over the world. The Course aims to 'awaken the original freshness of missionary vocational fruitfulness'. A 'return to the sources' to rekindle missionary passion according to the spirit suggested by Don Bosco's phrase 'da mihi animas coetera tolle' (Give me people; take the goods for yourself). (AP) (Agenzia Fides, 24/5/2023)