Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Does the Garden Grow?

Anyone who’s ever tended a garden knows that when a seed or bulb is tucked into the ground, something mysterious happens. We walk by it, drive past it, chat or do business near it, even play on top of it, and it does its growing thing, regardless. Jesus once commented, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, at once he starts to reap because the harvest has come” (Mk. 4:26-29).
The hibiscus is S. Korea's
national flower.

Off and on for the past twenty years, Korea has sent its Daughters of St. Paul to bless the U.S. with their energetic and cheerful presence, especially among thousands of Korean immigrants. Especially in areas where American Daughters either are not present or are not positioned to evangelize this population, these sisters have been using both their technological and spiritual creativity to develop new ways of sowing the Gospel seed, primarily among Korean-speaking adults, who have almost no Catholic media resources.

Their preferred methods have been book and media exhibits in parishes, as well as retreats that integrate the Pauline mission with parish goals. The latest stint began a year ago this month. To date, nearly 50 parishes have been visited, mostly in the Midwest, South, and Southeast.

The retreats, multimedial and prayerful, attempt to address some of the issues facing immigrants from the perspective of faith: inner healing, bridging the generational gap, and resetting priorities in pursuing the American Dream. They’ve been designed to help people rediscover the value of their families, regain gratitude, and recommit themselves to be the light and salt of the world, bringing light to others in the process.

I bet you didn’t know that. Even we’ve hardly noticed the tilling they’ve been quietly been about, unless we get a shout from the field. Such is the work for the Kingdom.

Those whose lives have been touched, though, do notice. Jinmin Kim, who attended a retreat last June, said he felt greater courage to confront his problems and believed that the prayerful experience was a time of love and grace from the Lord. After a play on the Prodigal Son, a couple confessed that after twelve years in a difficult marriage, they had considered separating, but had recently decided to give it another chance. “As we watched the play that you’ve just put on,” they confided, “we prayed and decided that we would go back to God who understands our difficulties so that he may open our hearts and unite us in him.” A media version of the Way of the Cross prompted a woman to share: “It felt as if Jesus was being crucified by my side. I realized that whenever I hurt my neighbors through my words or actions, I am actually crucifying Jesus living inside of them.”

A combination of film and Lectio divina (a time-honored way of praying with Scripture) modeled a new way of prayer and life for another woman. “I used to complain about how little I was given, but as I watched this video, tears ran down my cheeks as those complaints changed to ‘I am such a happy person’ and ‘I had so much given to me.’

Sr. Gemma Hong, FSP
"Later that evening at Lectio divina, I met the Lord within his own words. [Sr. Gemma] said, ‘Calm your thoughts. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, take in his words thoroughly and carefully, and listen to him. Words that make you happy, words that make you sad, and words that make you uneasy. Keep them close to your heart, and he will come to you through them.’

“After that, I experienced a different side of God, which enabled me to see a side of my husband I had never seen before. The Lord’s words led us to love each other more. I always planned to meditate with his words, however hectic my life may have been, even for a mere thirty minutes a day. It was difficult to keep my promises, and I was prone to give up after several days. But this retreat has shown me such an easy way to be with the Lord. I wanted to keep meeting him.”

At the moment Sr. Gemma Hong is the only FSP in that fertile field. Wisely she has built up an entire network of co-workers who drive, offer accommodations, visit local places, and conduct exhibits. “I can't carry on my mission without them,” she says emphatically. She is studying possibilities for these and other Korean-speakers in North America to connect with the Pauline Web site based in Seoul, so they can regularly use its catechetical and spiritual resources.

Meanwhile her books and other media, even those from years gone by, seem to keep the faith-plant alive. A woman approached a parish exhibit table and recognized her as the same sister she had bought a book from when she was a non-Catholic teen in Korea. Déja-vu! When she immigrated to the U.S., her neighbors invited her to another Christian church where they thought she might feel at home. Sr. Gemma smiles, “Then she remembered the book she had bought from a nun in high school and decided to go to the Catholic church instead.”

She hopes to remain in the States for another three years. For now, she’ll join us for her annual retreat and a rest. Then back in the saddle to plant or tend the Gospel in the mid-Atlantic states or on the West Coast.

Sr. Gemma reminisced over the past twenty years of mission in North America, very thankful for God’s providence in every “precious” moment. She wants to “visit all over the USA and Canada to evangelize with St. Paul’s mind to immigrants who do not have access to books, CDs, DVDs, etc., in their own language. I want to spread media culture that states that Christ alone is our hope and in him there is real peace, truth, life and freedom.”

Back row: Sr. Majorina, Sr. Leonora, Sr. Margaret E.
Front row: Sr. Patricia, Sr. Karen Marie
The province of the U.S. and English-speaking Canada extends heartfelt thanks to its out-going provincial government: Sisters Margaret Timothy Sato (provincial superior), Marie James Hunt, Karen Marie Anderson, Joan Paula Arruda, Mary Domenica Vitello, secretary Anne Eileen Heffernan, and treasurer Nancy Michael Usselmann.

At the same time, our province welcomes the incoming government: Sisters M. Leonora Wilson (provincial superior), Karen Marie Anderson, Patricia M. Maresca, Margaret Edward Moran, and Majorina Zanatta. The secretary and treasurer are yet to be determined.

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