News from Seoul (Korea)

After having finished my studies in Seoul in the fraternity of Pomun-dong, I have now been in the fraternity of Samsong-ni for seven months.
It is in the town of Goyans-shi like the north gateway to Seoul. It is there that the road for reunification begins and goes towards the North. On one side of the road there is a village, and on the other a small agglomeration with a school, a bank, a police station, several small shops spaced out, and even a small market, although we do not go there often.

Our fraternity is in a small residential area where the small houses are all alike, like twins born at the same time. They consist of three bedrooms, a communal room, a kitchen and bathroom. On the basement level there are other tenants. When I arrived at this fraternity last year in October, the sunflowers planted outside, in a strip of earth along the wall of the courtyard near the entry way, were in full flower.

Tsuneo at work on the landTsuneo at work on the land
There are three of us in this fraternity, Hi-Su, Tsuneo and me. Here are some of our occupations. On a plot of land near the fraternity Tsuneo grows all kinds of vegetables: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, lettuces, courgettes, carrots, peas, garlic, and also some cereals - barley and wheat.
As for Hi-Su, he repairs old houses. It is an energetic job. These old renewed houses look more beautiful than the new ones. When one of the houses is finished, the hearts of the people who live in it are renewed also. And isn't it an excellent thing to be in contact with the people through work?

As for me, my work consists of gathering up cigarette ends and sweeping dead leaves, piling them into a cart and taking them to the dump. In winter there is the sweeping away of the snow, in autumn there is the battle with the dead leaves. When Spring arrives, life swarms in the piles of rubbish; but I sometimes take full advantage of the scents of Spring, when the cherry blossom falls. With summer not being here yet, I do not know much about it, but I think it will be even more perfumed. The work changes in each season, but it consists principally of removing the rubbish.Pyeong Ch'eol at work with a colleaguePyeong Ch'eol at work with a colleague Sometimes we are also required to prepare for a party or a ceremony in the neighbourhood. Thus once a year, in autumn, there is an offering ceremony for dead benefactors for whom people sacrifice an ox, after which the people gather in order to eat and enjoy themselves; on that day we had to sharpen twenty knives.

There are four or five of us who work together, divided into two teams, each having a hand cart. My colleagues have often led a difficult life and have strong personalities. One common point between us is not having either a home or a family. One of them has been married twice, but now he lives alone. Employed by the administrative office for the neighbourhood, we belong to three categories: people aged over 50 who do not benefit from social security, having neither a house nor any help from their families; the unemployed, and the poor (this is the category I belong to); and those who live in the centres for the homeless and work in the mornings in order to be able to re-insert themselves.
My colleagues understand each other well among themselves, but all the same, they argue easily. In particular, when a new person enters our group, it takes a certain time for him to be well integrated. But as they all have led a poor life, they sympathise with the difficult situations some of the others have. Each has his faults, but sometimes shows a surprising benevolence. This work causes me to regain peace of heart and health. I think that to live with these poor people is to be invited into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I would now like to say a little about myself. After the studies, I went to India where I lived for about a year with the brothers out there. That was an opportunity to discover that we are different, but also that we have so many points in common that one sometimes forgets the boundaries between you and me.

When I came back to Korea, leaving the sun of India behind me, I felt that I was fading little by little. What was difficult for me was the attitude of people towards nature. All the values are converted into money. The hens, with beaks cut off, spend the whole night under lights so that they will weigh more; the cattle do not go into the meadows of green grass, but have to stay in narrow iron cages in order to give a lot of meat; in order to produce one kilo of salmon, one gives a diet of 20 kilograms of herrings. These kinds of things take place almost everywhere in the world. It does violence to nature and outrages humanity! that Where is God? Where is the Tao? We seek him but it seems to me we do not think of the nature that God has made. Can one say that everything exists for mankind? God told man to govern nature, not to destroy it! One has to ask oneself if Christians have interpreted the Bible badly.The brothers with friendsThe brothers with friends
The Gospel tells us that the poor are blessed, but the majority of countries in the Christian tradition are rich. Korea is also, where for a little while now Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, have become the majority. It seems that there is a sort of contradiction. These kinds of thoughts exhaust me and make me doubt the meaning of my life. I am in the process of becoming like Jonah - anger is rising into my head. Fortunately I cannot flee far away; I know that there is nowhere I can flee to. The love of God goes before everything, all that I hope, love and want to become: we are already his prisoners.
But through all that, I believe that our life of Fraternity is a grace and we are given as a sign of the Kingdom of God. The poverty that God gives us fortifies us and simplifies our life. We ask him for our bread each day! That is the prayer of the poor; for the rich it has no meaning.
When I think of the poverty of Jesus! That is the poverty that he himself chose by coming and making himself man. God made himself man! And he did that out of the need of love! Isn't poverty the most positive thing? No, a need! Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is yours!Pyeong Ch'eolPyeong Ch'eol
Thank you for everything, thank you all.