Yesterday at the behest of Superior General Ed Dougherty, Fr. Mike Duggan (U.S. Regional Superior) and I went to the consulate of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in New York City to pay our respects as North Koreans mourn the death of their leader, Kim Jong Il. Prior to our going, Doc cleared it with local Maryknoll Korea superior Fr. Gerald Hammond who makes about 10 visits to the DPRK every year with the Eugene Bell foundation.
Yesterday's visit is similar to a gesture made in 1994 when Kim Il Sung died.
The consulate is located on the 13th floor of the Diplomatic Center at 820 2nd Avenue, a few blocks from the United Nations. Mike and I presented ourselves at the door in Roman collar and sporting our Maryknoll badges. After a moment's scrutiny via the peep-hole, a man opened the door to greet us and invite us into a small office, sparsely appointed.
We introduced ourselves in Korean, which seemed to both please and confuse him as he sized us up. We were careful to use the North's word for both the country and the language ("Cho Sun") as opposed to the South's word for the same: "Han Guk". He took our coats and after having us sign in, he directed us to a smaller room where a large portrait of the Departed was draped with black ribbon and surrounded by at least 30 floral tributes of mostly white flowers used by Koreans to show mourning.
An official photographer appeared to capture our corporal act of mercy as first I, then Mike, bowed, stood for a moment of silence and then made the Sign of the Cross.
Another man emerged, so the four of us schmoozed a bit. I mentioned how I had visited Pyong Yong in 1989 with Fr. Paul Mun who, along with South Korean student activist Im Su Kyoung was jailed in the South for visiting the North without permission. They remembered both.
I also mentioned how Fr. Hammond visits the North with the Eugene Bell Foundation and that Mayknoll first went to work in Pyongyang in 1923. THAT finally impressed him.
Mike and I signed a special book of condolences and added prayers for the peaceful reunification of the Korean people. Our hosts asked for a business card which we didn't have, but they offered a notebook to get the full title of Maryknoll in both English and Korea and my contact info.
Yesterday's Divine Office had prayers asking God to help us break down barriers that divide people. Hopefully our small gesture yesterday planted a seed.
Were the North to one day open itself for full time missioners, I'm there!