ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - Mission is a give and take: Korean missionaries in Japan and Filipino church members in Korea

Saturday, 14 October 2023 evangelization   migrants   missionaries  

Seoul (Fides News Agency) - Today, more than ever, the mission of evangelisation is based on a dynamic of give and take, as an exchange of gifts.This is also evident in the Catholic faith community in Korea, which today, on the one hand, sends priests and religious to Japan (as in many atre nations of the world), a country that has had times of war and hostility with Korea, and on the other, welcomes Filipino immigrants in its own Catholic parishes, who see themselves as missionaries of the Gospel and continue to bring in new believers.
Among the Korean priests living and working as missionaries in Japan - a country where Catholics make up 0.3% of the population - is the Korean priest Jeon Won-cheol, who is doing pastoral work "on tiptoe" in the diocese of Fukuoka. He began celebrating Mass in a public at where some Catholics were attending services. In doing so, he found that there were no helpers to prepare the altar and liturgy. Although the missionary had to do everything himself, he said, "Our work is service, I am here to serve God and the faithful." When he visits public offices, he usually meets people who are not at all familiar with the faith: "Even when you introduce yourself as a 'priest,' most people don't know what kind of work you do," he notes. "In my daily life in Japan, I meet so many people who need a pastor, who want to be heard, who long for a word of compassion and love. I feel that the Lord has called me to be here and to use my strength to light the fire of faith in this place," he says, referring to October's World Mission Month, when the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday next Oct. 22.

The daily lives of people in Japan are closely interwoven with Shintoism and Buddhism. Believing in Christianity can therefore mean a kind of "disconnection" from the daily lives of most other Japanese. Against this background, Korean missionaries are constantly thinking about what it means to "be a missionary" and "do mission work" in Japan. Rev. Lee Han-woong, another Korean missionary, comments, "I think it is not a wasted effort; I see children and non-Christians embracing the gift and awareness of the preciousness of life when they hear stories about God. If we simply witness our faith in society, I think that is an important missionary initiative."

Mission is about giving and receiving, and being united in this circle of God's grace. This is testified by Lani Lo Rivas, a Filipino woman and president of the Catholic Community of Filipinos in Korea. "The reason we are united is because we are based on love and mutual respect. We are united in Christ. In the Gwangjeok community we experience that we can become 'one' in faith and love, beyond nationality and language." The parish of Gwangjeok, part of the Diocese of Uijeongbu, is home to thousands of immigrants and, among them, many are Filipinos. These people do not feel like "foreign bodies" in the local Church, but are fully integrated. Some of them are on the pastoral council and actively participate in community management. "In the Christian community I found a place where I could console myself for the difficulties I was experiencing at work and the loneliness of living far from my family. The community is our spiritual refuge, where we can meet and talk with people who give welcome and understanding, finding comfort in common prayer," says Lani Lo Rivas.

At the beginning, only ten Filipino Catholics attended the Korean community; gradually, thanks to a constant "missionary word of mouth," the community grew and now counts more than 200 Filipino Catholics who attend the services, cultural events and community meetings "just like all the other Korean believers and mingle with them," she explains. The Gwangjeok faith community, thus moving forward together in synod style, is experiencing that differences in face color and language are not obstacles to faith life: "As St. Paul says, there is no longer Jew or Greek, for we are all united in Christ Jesus. There is only one race, that of the children of God. There is only one color, that of the children of God. There is only one language, that of the children of God, and that is the language of charity. This unity is a great testimony of God's love and is itself a missionary work," she concludes.
(PA) (Fides News Agency 14/10/2023)