The Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, HE Mr Ki-hwan Kweon, paid tribute to Columban missionaries’ “selfless service to the Korean people” and said the Society had “ultimately assisted us in securing our freedoms”.
On a visit to Dalgan Park on Wednesday 23rd September, Ambassador Ki-hwan Kweon recalled those “Columban missionaries who put themselves in perilous positions to safeguard Korean people”.
He explained that his visit was to express his “deepest appreciation” for the Columbans’ service to the Korean people. “You were called to serve in Korea when we most needed your help.”
Addressing up to 20 Columbans who served in Korea and are now retired in Dalgan, the Ambassador told them, “Think of Korea after the War and Korea as of today. Now, Korea is a thriving democracy with a dynamic and vibrant economy. Yet Korean people will always remember those who helped us, and we will do the same as you did by extending our helping hands to those suffering around the world. That is what Korea has been doing these days. I am sure your service to Korea was truly rewarding and worthwhile.”
He said Koreans are well aware that in the aftermath of the war, it was the Columban Sisters that provided medical services while the Columban priests established approximately 130 parishes that supported Koreans to rebuild society.
The Ambassador also extended his personal condolences to the Columban community on the passing of Fr Frank Carr earlier this summer.
“I know that Fr Carr’s dedication to the people of Korea will be remembered far and wide. Korean people will not stop giving thanks to those who helped us and fought for us. Friends in need are friends indeed.”
“I pray that you will stay safe and strong in both body and spirit and the Heavenly father will be with you now and forever. Thank you for your friendship, service, hospitality and this great opportunity,” the Ambassador said.
Speaking ahead of presenting His Excellency Ambassador Ki-hwan Kweon with a 5,600-year-old bog oak carving of a harp, the regional director of the Columbans in Ireland, Fr Ray Husband said the visit was “a great honour for us”.
“The first Columbans went to Korea in 1933 and since then, we have had a close association with the people of Korea. Many of these men here have friends to this day who write to them, visit them and keep in contact.”
Fr Ray also highlighted that Columbans have a number of missionaries who are very involved with the Korean community in Los Angeles in the US.
“There is a long and warm association between the people of Korea and our Irish Columban missionaries.”
Ahead of the reception in Dalgan, Ambassador Ki-hwan Kweon visited the Cemetery in the ground of Dalgan Park where up to 50 Columbans who served in Korea down the years since 1933 are buried.
The Ambassador and Embassy officials were accompanied by Fr Paddy Smyth, who served on mission in Korea, and spoke to them about some of those buried in Dalgan, who had served in Korea, as well as about the founders of the Missionary Society of St Columban, Bishop Edward Galvin and Fr John Blowick.
Columban lay missionary Kyungja Lee presented the Ambassador with a wreath which he placed at the foot of the cross in the cemetery.
Speaking to Columbans.ie, Fr Noel Daly highlighted how it is almost 90 years since the first Columbans went to Korea in 1933.
Recalling his own time in Korea, he said the Columbans were “lucky in a way” because they went there “when the Church was emerging into the new period after Vatican II. We landed at a time when Bishop Daniel Tji was hitting the road and taking part in demonstrations. It gave us a whole new perspective on what Church was about.”
“Bishop Daniel Tji was Bishop of Wonju Diocese. Wonju was cut off from Chunchon Diocese, which was the original Columban area.”
Bishop Thomas Quinlan was succeeded by Bishop Thomas Stewart [who retired in 1994] and in turn he was succeeded by Bishop John Chang.
“It was after Bishop Quinlan retired that the diocese was divided,” Fr Noel explained.