South Korea

From the heart of Europe it takes about twelve hours to reach the farthest peninsula of the Eurasian landmass: Korea, ‘the Land of the Morning Calm’ as it is called. This country is one of the few in the world still divided between North and South.

South Korea, with its 48 million inhabitants – 12 million of them living in Seoul, the capital – has had the presence of the Movement since the ’60s. After the opening of the first focolare in 1969, the Movement spread swiftly throughout the country, and was welcomed by people of every age and social group. Now there are five centres in Seoul, two in Daegu and a Centre for meetings and formation in Kyeonggido.

We offer here a few brief notes to give an idea of the life of the Movement in Korea today.

 

Interreligious Dialogue is typical of a country under the cultural influence of major religions, such as Buddhism and Confucianism, that also has a strong Christian presence. We need only indicate the latest significant event: Han Mi-Sook, a focolarina and a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea’s Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue (http://english.cbck.or.kr), accompanied the Ven. Ja Seung, president of the ‘Jogye Order’ of Korean Buddhism and Dr Gun Duk Choi, president of the Confucian Association, to last October’s Assisi meeting. They were active in their participation. The president of the Confucian Association and his colleagues later visited Loppiano, the Focolare’s international little town near Florence, and the Movement’s Centre in Rome. He said, ‘I hope you realize your dream “May they all be one.”’

Social Initiative. Heaengbok Maeul, ‘The Village of Happiness’, is a monthly project that has been active for eight years. It helps foreign workers, refugees from North Korea (more than 20,000) and many others in need. Among its services, the project offers a range of medical services, food and clothing, hairdressing and lessons in Korean. ‘To begin with,’ the volunteers with the project say, ‘people were wary, but now they feel loved, and bit by bit they open up and they even bring their own food to be shared.’

Politics and economy. The Movement for Unity in Politics (MUP) in Korea began in 2004. It was the initiative of a group of Members of Parliament who, since 2008, have been meeting once a month in the ‘Political Forum for Unity’. The group conducts research and is recognized by the Korean Parliament. Its activity extends to a ‘Social Forum’ open to journalists, lawyers, civil servants, doctors and economists, which meets in Parliament every two months with about 30 people each time. Among the activities promoted by the MUP in 2010 there was the campaign for ‘a purer form of language’. About a hundred students of journalism from several universities monitored the language used by politicians and Members of Parliament in their political activity, interviews and speeches. Their research was a stimulus to politicians to be more attentive in how they spoke and concluded with the giving of a prize. The Movement for Unity in Politics has also worked to set up two schools for young politicians and interested students. The courses have ten lessons and so far have been attended by 58 people.

Maria Voce’s Visit. In January 2010 the President of the Focolare Movement together with Giancarlo Faletti, the Movement’s Co-President, met about 1,700 members of the Movement. They spent two days together in a festive atmosphere to get to know one another, share the latest news, and to deepen their understanding and living of the spirituality of unity. Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti also met several bishops and, in Parliament, various politicians who are part of the Movement for Unity in Politics.

The Korean community experienced a renewal of Chiara Lubich’s hope for them, expressed in 1982, when she asked the members of the Movement to be ‘locomotives’, that is, a driving force, for the whole of Asia: a daily challenge and commitment.