Russ and I finally got a chance to catch up over coffee whilst ensconced in the overstuffed chairs in our library.
Our conversation started out focusing on his work in Partnership ministry, popular with Korean Sisters and religious, but with bishops, not so much. (Quel surprise!) We chatted about Peace Corps days and of the new Korean President Lee Myung-Bak's love and appreciation for the work PCVs did in South Korea. So much so that the ROK government now sponsors twice-yearly hospitality tours for all returned Korean Peace Corps Volunteers. The current U.S. ambassador to Korea, Kathleen Stephens, was a PCV there. In the spring and fall, groups of RPCVs pay their way back to Korea but then are treated to two-weeks of touring, meals and cultural performances.
Russ and I then spoke about the Korean Foreign Mission Society which has about 42 permanent members (all under 55 years old, btw) but who has also begun seeing a decline in vocations in recent years. That's when I enquired about the curious case of the Korean bishops, lead by Cardinal Cheong of Seoul, sending their priests to foreign missions without collaborating with the KFMS. Russ dropped the bomb that three diocesan priests sent to Sudan less than three years ago have decided the mission wasn't working and have returned to Korea.
Father Joseph Lee had first been sent by Cardinal Cheong to work in Albany, NY, to learn English. Another priest was sent for the same reason to San Diego and the third to Dublin (?!). Lee came to Maryknoll to visit and I was surprised at the lack of preparation. He didn't even know what vaccinations were required or the cultural background or history of the place where he was going.
Maryknoll helped him out as best we could and off he went in January 2007, as far as I was able to discern, to help the bishop in southern Sudan minister to Catholics there.
Why did the Korean bishops feel a need to circumvent the Korean mission Society? More important, why weren't their priests assigned to go overseas given adequate training and preparation?
Let's just pray this doesn't sour the Church in South Korea to the important work of evangelization overseas.
(R.I.P. Father Dan Schneider, M.M., longtime missioner to Korea.)