South Korea: Friars supporting the poor

When the Chapter of the Korean Holy Martyrs Province decided in 1988 to make caring for the poor a priority, the Franciscan friars opened a canteen in the friary in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Almost 35 years later, even today, the most needy can find a hot meal there for the symbolic price of 200 KRW (0.16 USD). The soup kitchen is located in Francis House, run by the friars of the community: Br Seraphim is the director, Br Vincent Ko and Br Ezekiel Heo are the cooks, Br Felix the councillor and Br Peter Shin, Basil Lim, Damian Kim work as assistants. Francis House also offers a spiritual service to volunteers, who are members of the OFS, but also people of other religions or non-religious, who come to help prepare the food or serve in the hall. “When the friars, volunteers and guests meet, it is a moment of joy,” says Brother Seraphim Lee, the director. The biggest challenge is to do more to help the homeless re-enter society. I hope that our house can always continue to support the poor and move forward in the journey to become all brothers”.

Approximately 300 people eat every day (except Wednesdays) in the Franciscan friary, which since 2010 has also provided a refreshment area for the homeless so that they can get some sleep, take a shower or wash their clothes. The friars thus try daily to witness with their lives to Christian and Franciscan brotherhood and the importance of solidarity.

Help for the homeless and alcoholics

The Province of the Holy Korean Martyrs now has 159 friars distributed in 20 houses. In addition, there are several solidarity projects for those most in need. For example, the Hansarang House, a community for the homeless founded in Seoul in 2007 by Brother Francis Yoon. There, the brothers offer accommodation to the poor for two or three months and help them find work or receive a government subsistence allowance if they cannot work. “I am happy when I meet the Lord among the poor and see a person changing his life and earning a living,” commented Brother Francis Yoon. The difficulty is when our guests cannot overcome their addictions or cannot find a job”. The head of the home encourages the guests every day to live a community life, strengthen their faith life and contribute to joint savings with a shared fund.

In addition to the main site in Seoul, the Hansarang House has two other locations: in Paju, in the northwest of South Korea, where there is a farm for alcoholics, and in Yangyang, in the northeast, where there is a recovery house. The friars try to offer the homeless and drug users a job and a normal life and live among them, sharing their joys and sorrows. For example, in the Paju House, Br John Paek and Bernadine Choi accompany alcoholics. Their daily activities are varied: there is a tofu factory and a workshop for making rosaries and religious images in Seoul. In the Yangyang House, they work on making soy sauce and some vegetables.

The pastoral care of migrants

In addition, due to the continuous increase of foreign workers and multicultural families, the EAC Conference strongly desired to initiate pastoral care for migrants. Thus, since 2007, in the city of Jinju in the south of the country, Br. Simon Kim, the pastor of the Chiram church, has been providing Mass in English for English speakers. Br Martin Vu and Br Thomas Dang from Vietnam, on the other hand, accompany a Vietnamese community in the city of Jinju and in the diocese of Masan. Furthermore, through the Public Employment Service Centre and the Migrant Centre of the Masan diocese, the friars also support workers who suffer unjust conditions. “We rejoice every time we see migrants overcome the difficulties of living as foreigners through faith,” says Brother Simon Kim. “Even today, mothers and children of multicultural families find it difficult to receive adequate support from the government and society. That is why more and more people must pay attention to the reality of migrant workers and multicultural families”.