After a hiatus of 13 years, I was able to revisit the parish I started and built in 1981in Hwoi Weon Dong in the southern port cirty of Masan. I was overwhelmed!
When I left Masan to work on the magazine in 1985, Hwoi Weon Dong parish had 375 parishioners. I thought that an admirable increase from the 150 we'd started with. Today the parish boasts 3,000+.
While the basic structure of the rectory/church complex remains, they have magnificently refurbished the entire building. Granite now covers the stucco facade on the outside; marble flooring in the sanctuary replaced the "Tokitashi" (faux marble) and the inside walls are now covered with hard wood. On the rooftop, a huge,larger-than-life statue of Christ blesses and invites people in. Below his feet, a large rose window of the Holy Spirit, made of real stained glass, adds that touch of solemnity Korean Catholics love so much.
The ramp for people with handicaps was moved closer to the rectory to allow for a new parking lot. (Cars? When I was pastor, we didn't even have roads!) A new, Korean Madonna and Child stands in the Oriental garden in front of an ornamental wall.
Wooden benches and a patio maintain, and vastly improve on my concept of the courtyard being a place for people to gather, sit, rest and chat. But they did me one better! The parish now also offers an inside lounge with tables, chairs, magazines, water and coffee machines as a gathering place.
Most impressive is the Legion of Mary at Hwoi Weon Dong. which now boasts 36 (count 'em!) Praesidia and two Curiae! BTW, the Legion of Mary is the largest apostolic group of Catholic laity in the Catholic Church, according to Wikipedia. And, not suprisingly, South Korea has the largest number of Legion members!
On short notice, word went out that Founding Pastor had returned and they filled the church for an impromptu Mass on Wednesday evening. For me it was all very surreal and dreamlike. And it was immensely gratifying to see the parish not only survived but prospered.
I spent the evening at the apartment of my old office man, Mr. Yun Do Sang, and his wife and son. His first son started seminary in Busan last March. This year, 10 new seminarians came from Busan and 12 from Masan. There are 120 seminarians in Busan, one of seven seminaries in Korea. I was also proud to learn my old parish has produced four priests so far.
Since the Busan seminary is also where Maryknoll Father Rich Agustin works as Spiritual Director for the seminarians and staff, I was thrilled when Do Sang offered to drive me to Busan (about an hour away) to meet him.
As Providence would have it, Rich was there and graciously received us over coffee. A fortuitous end-of-class bell rang, and who should walk by but Do Sang's son! I got some great pictures which I hope to use in an article for a future issue of Maryknoll Magazine, providing, of course, that the camera doesn't suffer the same fate as my iPhone, (my Preciousss!) which was "liberated" by three aggressive pickpockets in Guilin, China.
The camera I took to Masan was on loan from Father Dennis Cleary, who although not understanding Korean, has become really adept at navigating the impressive and vast Seoul subway and bus systems. Dennis teaches English to seminarians at the Korean Foreign Mission Society.
Would that I had talked with Dennis BEFORE visiting China. He said that he'd learned in Venezuela never to put anything in any pockets, but rather to tuck valuables into his socks. (I hope this trade secret doesn't jeopardize our men in Latin America. They may have to hide their valuables closer to their valuables.)
Tomorrow begins the long haul back to the USA and New York, God willing in time for Sunday Masses at St. Paul's and Confirmations later Sunday afternoon. Of course, if the world ends tomorrow as some predict, all bets are off. (I wonder if I can blog from the Other Side?)