Lockdown in Korea

I was reading an article in the Irish Examiner that people’s mental health has been affected by the closure of the pubs in Ireland. No word about the closure of the Churches.

I have just received word from the Cathedral in Seoul that English Masses may resume. I have had no Mass for the English-speaking community since the end of January.

Of the 1,000 plus who attended Mass each Sunday five or six people have enquired as to when we will have an English Mass again. Obviously, I miss the congregation more than the congregation miss me!

However, I am happy it is starting again though I am a little apprehensive because we have people from many countries which have had very severe outbreaks of the virus. Among those I know I have counted people from 23 different countries and there are also people attending whom I don’t know. I suspect that they are Irish here because they leave so quickly after Mass that I have never had a chance to speak to them.

Since I moved to Seoul and away from parish work the only time I leave the Columban Central House is for Masses or confessions or for shopping – shopping because I am the house manager. I have a few friends who occasionally used to call here, so nobody could accuse me of having much of a social life outside work.

Since our movements have been curtailed due to the virus, even I get frustrated at not being able to move about. Therefore, I can understand the frustration of younger people or people who may have had a social life and now cannot move about as they would like.

I’m sure you have seen the ads for losing weight, and they show you the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. I have photos of my congregation before the virus, as yet I have no photos of after but I have some of ‘during’. I say mass for the Benedictine Sisters a few times a week. We all wear masks throughout the mass.

The Sisters probably harbored hopes that the mask might curtail my preaching but their hopes were dashed as I have found I can go on at great length in spite of my mask. It has the added advantage that if I mispronounce a word I can blame it on the mask.

Celebrating Mass for the English-speaking community at the Cathedral in Seoul before Covid-19 lockdown.

You have heard the phrase that it’s a bad wind that doesn’t blow some good. One of the ‘good’ things that has come from this virus is that with less travel the earth may get a chance to recover from the abuse we have been heaping on it.

The air quality in Seoul city has visibly improved. I have seen mountains in the distance that I have never seen before, and didn’t even know they existed. The traffic is moving more freely than before. People are spending more time with their families. They are travelling to places in Korea rather than foreign travel and in this way are benefitting local tourism.

I wonder when this pandemic has passed will we revert immediately to our former way of life or will we have learned something beneficial from this experience. Hopefully it will be the latter.

Celebrating Mass again for the English-speaking community in the Cathedral in Seoul in September 2020.

Mass resumed for the English-speaking community on September 6th and only 250 were allowed to attend because of the rules on social distancing. I needn’t have worried as only about 50 were in attendance. So now I have the ‘after’ photos. Today we had mass again with about 60 in attendance.

I was a bit disappointed until I remembered that when I first started this mass, less than 30 people attended. Over the years we built up our numbers to over 1,000.

We can now begin to rebuild but I don’t know if things will ever be the same again. I remember the stories I heard from the older Columbans who came to Korea before the war and built up communities and churches.

When they went back to their parishes after the war and found communities scattered and churches in ruins they began again and rebuilt their communities bigger and better than ever. That will also be the inspiration for us to start again.

Fr Denie Monaghan

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