Musing about Catholicism in Korea

One of the greatest things about being Catholic is that no matter where I am in the world, I pretty much know what to expect, I do know when I’m supposed to sit, stand, kneel, bow, and talk, except for Latin Masses. But there still are interesting differences that make Mass in each country a unique experience. Although sometimes I do have to shake my head at the logic.

Before I talk about my experiences abroad, I probably should give you my reference point of view about Catholic Mass. I’m a member (for lack of a better word off the top of my head right now) of the Houston-Galveston archdiocese. We have an awesome Cardinal Daniel  DiNardo – he’s really involved in the community and has organized/participated in a wide variety of activities to encourage the parishes in the area. Amongst my friends, I am the only female to not wear a veil, as well as the least religious, most liberal, and pretty absentminded. A couple of my friends are in the seminary or third circle of various religious orders.

In Morocco, because there was a hodgepodge of speakers of other languages, so the Mass was in several different languages, French, English, Latin, and sometimes Russian, German, Dutch, Italian. But there was such a different atmosphere of being Catholic in a Muslim country, having the church entrance and exit guarded by soldiers with big guns, which has a recent history of violence against non-Muslims. You kinda hid as you until entered the church and then you relaxed.

The Catholic church in Dublin, London, and Glasgow made me sad, there were these amazing churches and cathedrals and they weren’t even a quarter full and my friend Antonio and I were the youngest at the Masses by at least 25 years. And the SUNDAY Mass was 30 minutes at the longest. So Antonio, who’d Italian, and I were sitting there wondering where everyone was going because Mass couldn’t possibly be over yet and yet it was. One of the things that made me upset, was that the Church was so poor in Dublin that it has sold off churches that have basically no attendance and those churches have been converted into dance clubs, bars, etc.

In Korea, right now Catholicism is the “trendy” religion, but the practice of Catholicism is very different in some ways. Father Dennis was telling this story in his Easter homily about his first Easter in Korea. He was helping the with adults confirmation class and the best student didn’t show up for his first Mass as a Catholic. Fr. Dennis called him and asked him why he didn’t come to Mass and the man said that since he had “graduated” he didn’t need to go to Mass.

It’s common for women do wear veils but the veils are put on inside the Church or will randomly come off during the Mass. And there’s this attitude that as long as you wear the veil and sit in the front of the Church, you’re holy and golden, you can say or do anything. There’s this one older women, who comes into Myeong Dong Cathedral in the middle of the 9a.m. (the English) Mass, so that she can get her preferred seat for the 10a.m. Mass. She will push her way to get a seat in either the first, second, or third pew. When we go to receive the Eucharist, she will follow until she gets to the end of the pew in the center of the cathedral and if she has to  move someone else’s belongings to be able to sit there, so be it.

It’s interesting to me that many Koreans recognize the scapular that I wear around my neck, but many  don’t know that you do different rosaries on different days and different seasons. Mass is optional, even on Sundays. None of the Korean Catholics that I’ve talked to have ever fasted for Good Friday or any other day. It’s definitely a different world…


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