01 February 2011

'My Mother's Insight'. A young Korean Columban writes about his mother's visit to China

Tae-moon Kwon, Johan, then a seminarian with his mother and Yang-Ai in Wuchang, China, April 2008.

Fr Tae-moon Kwon, whose baptismal name is Johan, was ordained to the priesthood in Korea in January last year. He reflects on his mother's visit to China while he was there on his first mission assignment (FMA) as a seminarian with Fr Andrei Paz, a Filipino Columban, who was ordained as a priest on 7 December 2009. Both took up their first missionary assignment as priests in Taiwan in September.

Father Tae-moon's article has appeared in a number of Columban publications. It isn't often that a missionary's mother can visit him. The insight of  Mrs Kwon was into how her prayer had changed without her being aware of it and embracing asher own family the people her son was serving as a seminarian.

I have highlighted some parts of the article and added some [comments].

Rev Tae-moon Kwan, Johan, left, and Rev Andrei Paz, right, with Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Chicago at the Mass at which they were ordained as deacons, 7 June 2009

On 3 April 2008 my mother came from Korea to China to see me. My plan wasn't to go sightseeing but to let her see how we Columbans work in China. [I'm not a great one myself for sightseeing with visitors. I find that they are touched when I bring them to visit people I work with.] As a result, we met many of the people whom I was encountering in my ministry.

With my mother I went to Jingzhou to meet Korean Sisters and others who work with lepers; also to Xiantao to see the Chinese priests and Sisters there. My mother was impressed with their simple lifestyle, especially that of the late Bishop Peter Zhang.

One day my mother, a Chinese seminarian and myself went to the first Yangtze Bridge with Yang-Ai. Paralysed at the age of 18, Yang-Ai was now 48. When I escorted her to the church in Wuchang last year, using a wheelchair, she said she wanted to see the First Bridge. She remembered being brought there when she was eight. With our help, her wish of 40 years was finally fulfilled. It was a great moment for me, the Chinese seminarian and my mother. [Very often what a person who is not fully independent asks for is something very simple, such as the request of Yang-Ai.]

My mother also met many parishioners in Wuchang church. We had dinner together, took pictures, chatted and listened to the history of the Church in China. She was delighted with the experience.

The last day before she left, my mother said, 'Tae-moon, do you know how happy I am? Now I have the answer to my prayer when I asked what does it all mean. Before you left Korea for your First Mission Assignment, my prayers were entirely for you, but somehow they have changed.

'Now my prayer is not only for you but for all the people you encounter. I did not understand why the object of my prayer had changed in this way because it was not my intention to change it. But now that I have met the people whom you know in China, I understand why I pray like this. Even though I did not know them before, even though I cannot speak Chinese, I feel strongly that they are my family, my children, my sisters, my brothers, my parents and my grandparents.' [What a beautiful discovery. The visit brought to Mrs Kwon's attention something that the Holy Spirit had already done in her. This reminds me too of a lovely line in the reading from the Life of St Anthony the Abbot by St Athanasius in the Office of Readings for the feast of St Anthony, 17 January: 'Some loved him as a son, and others as though her were a brother'. It is some loving him 'as a son' that really hits me, since it is so unusual. I presume that people didn't see him that way when he reached 100! he ided aged 105 or 106.]

When I heard her say this, I was so proud of my mother and the Chinese people I had come to know. I could feel how close she had come to them and how close they were to her as one family in God.

When she went back to Korea I found myself reflecting on her time here. Before I came to China for my First Mission Assignment, I often wondered about the work I could do because of my limitations in the Chinese situation. Here I have met people with mental and physical disabilities, lepers, elderly people, children of poor migrant parents, seminarians, priests, Sisters and the humble and faithful parishioners in Wuchang Church.

These people are exactly the same people whom Jesus helped, loved, often met and ate with, during his time on earth. They treated me and my mother with great love, kindness and hospitality. They eagerly shared their lives with us. Could it be any better? I gain confidence from those people who give me the energy for mission and help me to improve. Even if my pastoral work is restricted by the Chinese Government, God has given me a great sense of love and relationship through his people in this country. [Jesus took on our limitations too and worked within those parameters, affecting us all.]

I am grateful for the opportunity to experience God's love, to feel his presence and to realise the extent of his compassion.

Rev Tae-moon Kwan, Johan, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Chicago and Rev Andrei Paz, after the Mass at which the two Columbans were ordained as deacons, 7 June 2009

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