Migrant Ministry In South Korea

Written by Rev. Gonzalo German Borquez Diaz SSC

As a humanity we thought that we have reached a point of development or a point that we could control all situations regrading economics or the power of our governments. However, this year something that still proves to be out of our control happened. It’s a thing that we cannot see or touch but is certainly there bringing uncertainty and changing our lifestyles, and that thing has a name, its name is Covid. 19. This small virus is causing occurrences that not even the most expert economist in the world could have predicted. The reason why I have started this article with these lines is because the ones who will suffer the most when we overcome this crisis are the poor and the oppressed; the people who are a priority in our church. In addition, the global issue of poverty and oppression is tightly related with another issue that we are all aware of and we somehow dismiss talking about, and that issue is migration. Every year thousands of people around the globe are forced to leave their families, their friends, their homes and their dreams and almost everything behind in order to find dignity and a better way of living. I do not want to make assumptions, and I do not want you to think I am a prophet and I do not intend to be one. I am just a simple priest from Chile that belongs to the society of St. Columban, who is working as a missionary priest in a little city in the south of the peninsula of South Korea called Suncheon. I somehow have clarity of what is going to happen when we as a humanity overcome this crisis. The poor countries now are even poorer and the migration to the most developed countries will be even bigger.

Migrant Ministry in South Korea

In April of 2019 I was working with the youth in a small university in another city called Mokpo, when without expectations I received a phone called from a phone number that of course I did not know. I thought it was a call centre calling me to offer a loan of money that I could not take, because I am  not  Korean, so I did not even bother to answer. However, the caller rang again about an hour later. I did not answer it thinking that it might be the same person. Eventually the caller rang a third time and when I answered it, I was very surprised to hear a nice and a peaceful voice from the other end asking for father Gonzalo. The caller introduced himself as a priest from Gwangju dioceses called Anselmo and explained he was assigned to work with the migrants in that city. He asked me if I would be willing to help him with the migrants on Sundays, because he was struggling to communicate with them, and even he could read English, people were complaining because they were unable to understand him. I found him so honest and humble that I said i would help him. I did not know at that moment what that yes would mean for my life at that point. It was the start of something new in my heart. The next Sunday I went to the catholic migrant centre to celebrate the mass in English and I was shocked to see the number of people from different nationalities. I really thought it was the Holy spirit that had brought me to that place and encouraged me to become involved in the migrant ministry. After a few months I realised that I wanted to be involved in migrant ministry so I asked my director and his council if this would be possible. Much to my relief, before going on vacation, they told me that I would be appointed to the migrant ministry. As soon as I came back from my vacation I started the process to be appointed by the Columbans to the Gwangju diocese.

Of course there were some problems. Another priest was already appointed to the Mokpo migrant centre so i was unable to work there for the time being. However, the Bishop told me there was no priest doing migrant ministry in the Suncheon Area, a place where there had been no Columban presence for at least the last 60 years, so after a few days of thinking and consulting I decided to take the offer. Before the onset of Covid19 I was visiting people that came from Vietnam  when i came across a heavily pregnant Vietnamese woman needing medical attention. I very much enjoyed the experience of welcoming two beautiful and angelic looking babies into the world. I was praying about that experience for a long time. Working in the migrant centre I felt I was helping Mary and Joseph to get Jesus born again. These people are the poorest of the poor here in Korea. I find it very difficult to encourage people to help the poor.

Also part of my ministry here is to celebrate the mass, prepare for the sacraments the sons and daughters of the migrants migrants in this area. Most of the migrant in this area are from the Philippines, Vietnam and East Timor. There are a few people from the United States, England,  Ireland, east Europe and south Africa and I could say in this month I have met a good number of them for different reasons. Since the Covid 19 virus irrupted however I have had to change my way of thinking about my ministry. I was not able to go to the hospital anymore and unable to celebrate public masses. Occasionally I was able to meet in small groups to share biblical reflections and to do masses at people’s homes or bless their houses, and also to listen their problems and their worries especially at this time. On account of this, I have realise that our societies and our lifestyles are not going to be the same, and we as a church need to move with the times. It is true that our faith is based in the sacrament of communion, and the real presence of  Christ and we need to make His presence more visible. I truly believe that the Holy Spirit is pushing us to go to the peripheries, not only physically but also the existential ones and to follow the example of  Christ who spends most of his time at the periphery. I believe that by just being with these people, just sharing a bit of their food, by listening and sharing God´s Gospel the sacrament of the presence of  Jesus in our daily life is at our hands. When we come to celebrate the sacrament in the Church again, this presence means, not only that we are in a nice building called Church, but also means life, love, compassion, mercy, understanding patience, and  presence.