Gospel of Joy, Mission and Visual Arts

written by Jason Antiquera

Mission work in Korea

Church Tradition as Foundation

129]…Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new “language of parables”.[132] We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particularly attractive for others”  wrote Pope Francis in the chapter IV (On Evangelization and Deeper Understanding of the Kerygma) in his widely published and read magisterial document entitled The Gospel of Joy. It is addressed to bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and lay faithful on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.

Doing Mission in Korea through Visual Arts

With the local Korean Catholic Church very much alive and capable of accompanying the faith of the local community through parish ministry, what can a foreign ordained Columban contribute that is not only redundant but also crossing an unfamiliar field of doing mission? After my ordination in January 2015, I came to Korea and has worked in two Korean parishes as curate in Jeju island while at the same time assisting the diocese-based migrant centre. However, a year and a half later, a shift in my ministerial engagement took place; a shift to what I coined “art ministry”. What is this kind ministry? How do you do it? Some Korean faithful told me it was their first time to hear such a name for ministry. I can only explain it through concrete application.

art and mission on Korea

In September 2018 marks my first public ministry with visual arts through a day-long art recollection I facilitated with Seoul Filipino Catholic Community. And that was not the last. It was followed by facilitating more recollection with the same model and approach not only with other migrant communities in Korea but also in our Formation House in Seoul with Columban students. Art recollection, over-all, is praying, reflecting and meditating through drawing and painting, and visual art appreciation, among many others. In this approach, Christians not only able experience other creative and non-conventional ways of reflecting on their faith but also learn something about themselves and God through arts.

As I explore various channels to engage art ministry, I have a few realizations. Firstly, I can serve Columban community that is not limited only to my region of assignment but also can extend through other regions/mission units. In Korea Region Mission Magazine, we developed an art page where I contribute my own artworks and a really short, written reflection on the artwork. Readers have given us feedback that the art page is like a space where they can rest from words and relax while contemplating on the artwork; it’s bringing art gallery to the magazine. Likewise, I was also able to do an artwork for the cover-page of the book on the life of Rufus Haley initiated by Columban publication in Philippine region.

Secondly, visual art reaches out and provide for the needs of other communities and organization. The most recent one is working with Transparency International – Korea on a project related to Environmental Issues and Climate Change. Climate justice is one of the advocacies we promote in our Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation ministry and visual art has become a tool to connect with other institutions where we as Columbans also channel our priorities in ministry.

Thirdly, visual art is able to create a new and different space of encounter for Columban missionaries and the people in the secular society. When I joined public exhibit in Seoul together with other artists, I invited fellow Columbans to the art galleries. Other artists would get to meet Columban missionaries and have an exchange of conversation. People may find the experience of meeting religious missionaries memorable since the encounter is not in a religious gathering hall like church or temple. The encounter may only be once, however, who knows how did the meeting change the lives of people? Isn’t it that’s how parable of the sower works?

Lastly, visual art works with time and history to express thoughts, sentiments and principles of people as they experience crucial events. In this time of coronavirus pandemic where people is locked down or quarantined in their own houses, art has provided them relief, comfort, solace and hope. As a Columban in Korea, we have come up with a children-colorring-book-inspired Thank You Art Poster where participants can express their various emotions through colors while at the same time able to say a creative Thank You to covid 19 frontliners. Photos of artworks are shared in social media community. This initiative allowed us as a church and missionary society to be in one with the wider suffering world.

This article, however long, may be not enough to explain in detail how visual art has become a direct channel in my present ministerial engagement as Columban. However, exploration and active finding of new ways of engaging mission has proven that art has been able to minister to people in many creative ways. Art is the work of the Spirit; it mirrors a reflection of our first and ultimate Creator. When we become artistic and creative in ministry, we concretely live out the image of the One who created us. And we preach the Gospel of Joy!

Fr. Jason, from Binalbagan, Negros Occidental, was ordained in 2015 and is working in Korea.