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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Dean Paul Mooney visits Korea


Dean Paul Mooney with members of TOPIK foundation in Seoul


When the invitation card arrived from Seoul in early Summer to attend the 125th anniversary of the Korean Anglican Church, I put the card on the mantle piece  and thought that it would be nice to go but the flight would cost just a bit too much for my budget at the moment. However, personally I have some anniversaries this year that I wanted to mark. It is 30 years since I was ordained as a priest in 1985 and 25 years since I was received as a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Busan in 1990. So, after checking the price of flights, I clicked on the best offer and bought the ticket.

Back to Korea

It was a typically glorious Autumn day in Korea when I arrived in Incheon Airport not too far from where Bishop Charles Corfe landed by sea on St Michael and All Angels Day in 1890. Bishop Corfe had been ordained bishop for Korea by the Archbishop of Canterbury but there was no Anglican Church or Diocese in that far away land.

Bishop Corfe and those who joined in his missionary endeavours would concentrate on the port of Incheon and the nearby capital of Seoul and then spread out into other areas. Progress was slow, Britain had no special connection with Korea, Roman Catholicism was already established in Korea for over 100 years by that time and the English missionaries did not display the entrepreneurial earnestness of the Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries who had recently arrived from North America. Nevertheless, the Anglican Church in Korea would carve out it’s own distinct niche in Korean Christianity. The Korean Anglican Church would remain faithful to Bishop Corfe’s Anglo-Catholic churchmanship and it’s strong respect for culture, social engagement and the oneness of the whole of Christ’s church.

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Early Years

In its early years the Anglican mission in Korea was responsible for establishing orphanages and clinics as well as establishing churches, bible and prayer book translation and the training of clergy. It was in connection with the work of the clinics and orphanages that the sisters of the Society of St Peter,  an Anglican women’s religious community, came to work in Korea from England. In time Sr Mary Clare Whitty, originally from Co. Clare but with deep family roots in Rathvilly, would come from England to establish and train a Korean sisterhood. Sr Mary Clare would die as a prisoner on a forced march in North Korea in 1950 during the Korean War but she is well remembered in the Korean Anglican Church and among the Sisters of the Holy Cross who are still very much alive and active as a religious community in Seoul today.

The Gathering

By the time that I arrived in Seoul, over 200 delegates from the Episcopal Asia Ministries in North America had also arrived as well as a delegation from the Diocese of Peterborough in England which is twinned with the Diocese of Seoul. The Episcopal Asia Ministries had taken the opportunity of the 125th Anniversary of the Korean Anglican Church to combine it with their own annual convention and it was interesting to meet some of the people involved in the wide diversity of Asian ministries in the United States and Canada. The Rt Revd Donald Allister led the delegation from Peterborough and represented the Archbishop of Canterbury while the American delegation was led by the Primate of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori. A large delegation from the Anglican Church in Japan was led by the Most Revd Nathaniel Mokoto Uematsu, Primate of Japan. The Most Revd Dr Paul Kwong, Archbishop and Primate of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Provincial Secretary, the Revd Peter Koon, represented Hong Kong and are certainly not unknown to many in Ireland through the links between Hong Kong and the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission.

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Dedications and service

The main celebration was held on the morning of Saturday 3rd October in Seoul Anglican Cathedral and began in a small garden area of the Cathedral where a bust of the Revd Mark Hee-Jun Kim, the first Korean priest of the Anglican Church of Korea, was unveiled. Seoul Cathedral, which is located in the centre of the vast city, was filled, inside and outside, with clergy and laity for a very impressive communion service with a strong emphasis on mission. The Most Revd Paul Kim, Archbishop of Seoul and Primate of Korea, preached on the message of reconciliation and mission and among the laity reading the prayers of intercession was a Filipina migrant who is now a Korean resident and is a member of a vey active Anglican parish that includes many migrants and people who have immigrated into Korea to work in the dirty, difficult and dangerous occupations (3 Ds) that many South Koreans no longer wish to do. I was privileged to be one of those involved in the distribution of communion. The service ended with an impressive rendering of Amazing Grace in a traditional Korean folk song format.

Human Aid

Part of my purpose in making this trip was to arrange matters related to the Anglican Church’s provision of humanitarian aid to projects in North Korea. To this end I was invited to take part in meetings with the Peterborough delegation to brief Bishop Allister on the situation and work in North Korea. I was also involved with meetings with the TOPIK Foundation, the Anglican Communion’s official outreach to North Korea for peace and reconciliation and aid for humanitarian projects as an expression of this spirit of peace and reconciliation. I would hope to be able to go back to North Korea for a trip at the end of this year or early next year with medical supplies for a clinic in the countryside that we have been assisting for a number of years as well as for a larger clinic in a more remote area that we have be asked to assist. To this end I have had 100 sets of reversible stoles made at a sewing workshop in Rajin City in North Korea and I collected these in Seoul. These sets of reversible stoles, made in North Korea, are now available for €65 or £50 as a way of making the money needed for the medical supplies for the clinics we have been helping in North Korea.

Return to Ferns

Autumn in Korea is particularly nice and the sun was shining as I made the journey on the Airport rail link from Seoul to Incheon on the morning of Friday 9th October. Messages regarding parish and diocesan matters were already coming in from Ferns and Kilkenny on the email on my phone and my mind was partly preparing for preaching at a Harvest Thanksgiving Service in Rathvilly on the following evening and so I thought of Sr Mary Clare whose grandfather had been for 20 years curate of that parish, so far away and yet not so far away.