Meeting of the Social Apostolate in Korea and Japan
Park Mun-Su SJ (KOR)
This first plenary meeting of social apostolate Jesuits and collaborators of the Japan and Korea Provinces took place in conjunction with the 2015 Gangjeong Peace Conference. This setting was chosen because 14 Jesuits and collaborators of the Japan Province attended the Peace Conference, and 13 of them stayed for the social apostolate meeting. The provincials of each province attended the peace conference and the social apostolate meeting.
The setting for the conference and the social apostolate meeting was the newly opened St. Francis Peace Center, an initiative of the Jeju Catholic Diocese. Gangjeong Village, in Jeju Island, So Korea, is the site of an important ongoing confrontation over the construction of a naval base. Bishop Peter Kang , ordinary of the Jeju Diocese, has given strong open support to the villagers from the very start, in 2007, of their protest against the planned incursion of this base into their village, which began without the legal steps required to gain village agreement. The key point of the confrontation is that this base is threatening to destroy the village fishing and agricultural way of life, even though the base is not necessary for the defense of South Korea, but is rather for projection of U.S. and Korean naval power into the East China Sea. By now the base is 80% complete.
Korean Jesuits have been living in Gangjeong village for more than four years, joining in the villagers' struggle. The Korea Province has solidified its commitment to this peace and reconciliation apostolate by building a Jesuit community residence in Gangjeong Village, a six-room two-story facility, which was blessed by Bishop Kang on Sept. 7, the first day of the Peace Conference. Many Japanese bishops and several Jesuits have visited this village over the past few years to show solidarity with their struggle. The struggle in Jeju has formed close ties with that of the people of Okinawa, Japan, who are demanding the removal of U.S. military bases.
In the morning of this one-day social apostolate meeting each province presented the activities of their respective social apostolates. The social apostolate committee chairmen, Fr. Mitsunobu of Japan and Br. Chu-hui Chon of Korea, made the presentations in Japanese or Korean with translation ably provided by Fr. John Sang-won Lee of the Japan Province and Sr. Burnadette Jeong of the Lavelle Sisters. The two provinces' social apostolates share a number of similarities. Each one has a migrant laborer apostolate, environmental initiatives focused on blocking nuclear energy and promoting renewable energy, collaboration with citizen peace movements, accompaniment and advocacy among the urban poor, concern for labor issues, and having social centers which provide the frontline apostolates with information, analysis, and reflection. These similarities reflect the two nations' economic similarities, their close historical connections within the N.E. Asian region, and the common Jesuit mission of option for the poor and faith that seeks justice and reconciliation with creation.
In the afternoon the participants broke into four groups with the purpose of getting to know each other better, improving collaboration, and making more specific plans. There were groups on the peace movement, social Justice and labor ministry, anti-nuclear power and environmental concern, and migrant workers.
Regarding the peace movement the participants hope for some exchange of personnel, for example, regency opportunities, and cooperation on projects. In particular they see an apostolic opportunity to cooperate in holding educational programs for students, for example, collaboration between the St. Francis Peace Center and the peace programs in Hiroshima. They urge the provincials to form a team to prepare such programs. The programs should be based on the Gospel.
The justice and labor ministry group stressed the importance of learning how to meet the challenge of neo-liberalism, and how to increase cooperation. They suggested a team composed of Fr. Shimokawa, Fr. Mitsunobu, Br. Chu-hui Chon, and Fr. Mun-su Park should communicate with each other to plan a practical program with clear objectives and clearly targeted participants. Also, the group urges the Jesuit Research Center for Advocacy and Solidarity and the Tokyo Social Center to learn from each other through visits and exchange, and also urges the Korea Province to form a meaningful connection with the Institute of Global Concern at Sophia University.
The two provinces have already been collaborating in opposing nuclear power. They have jointly sponsored three annual conferences at the Shimonoseki Labor Education Center, a series which this year will take place as part of the national meeting of the Justice and Peace Commissions of the dioceses of Japan. They have collaborated in preparing educational materials and have joined together in international demonstrations. At present they share concern over the re-ignition of the Kendai Nuclear Power Station in Japan and the Korean government proposal to construct a new nuclear power plant in Yeongdeok. They have opportunities for cooperation on environmental issues, such as the proposed cable cars to be put on pristine mountain ridges in some of Korea's national parks, the damage to the environment from military war exercises, and also they have an opportunity to collaborate using Laudato Si as educational material.
The two provinces' apostolate among migrants differ in that Korea is focused on migrant laborers while Japan is engaged in the Adachi International Academy (AIA), a school for children of migrant laborers or of internationally brokered brides. The two provinces could profit from mutual visits.
The meeting ended with a splendid raw-fish dinner and a walk along the beach in the moonlight. Praised be Jesus Christ.