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Food with love for homeless and hungry Koreans

Catholic lay group collects donations to feed the needy on the streets of Seoul

Young Korean Catholics prepare lunch boxes for homeless and hungry people in Seoul

Young Korean Catholics prepare lunch boxes for homeless and hungry people in Seoul. (Photo: Catholic Times)

Published: May 22, 2023 11:10 AM GMT

Updated: May 22, 2023 11:15 AM GMT

Every Saturday, a group of young Catholics wanders around Seoul train station wearing light green vests and carrying lunch boxes, while looking for homeless and hungry people.

The members of the group, known as Milal (Wheat Grain), carry some 50 lunch boxes during the visits.

Each box contains traditional Korean dishes such as bulgogi, curry rice, tuna kimchi stew, jjajangbap or black bean sauce, and rice.

The Catholic lay voluntary organization Milal was founded in May 2021, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which triggered poverty and hunger for thousands in the South Korean capital as well as in other parts of the country.

Over the past few years, the volunteers have been collecting donations to prepare food for the homeless and hungry on a weekly basis.

This act of charity is an effort to put into practice the Church’s teaching, says Stephen Kim Hyeong-seon, 36, the head of the group.

“Through Milal activities, I can put into practice the teachings of the Church, which I had only learned in my head,” he said.

Sister Scholastica Yoon Hye-jeong, a Salesian nun who has been active in missionary work among homeless people, known as Gilbeot, meaning a friend in the street.

Sister Yoon has worked at Gilbeot Love Community, set up by Father John Lee Jae-eul, chaplain of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Seoul archdiocese, which also has young volunteers. It began with five volunteers and the number has now increased to 35.

Initially, the group was active twice a month. Now, volunteers take turns every week serving the homeless and hungry people.

Young volunteers say a bowl of rice or a glass of drink helps them become friends with poor people on the streets and delve into the world of needy people who struggle every day to make ends meet.

"When I met them, I felt that they were not different from me, but rather like my mother and father," said Catherine Park Seul-ji, 30.

Another volunteer said at first, he felt uncomfortable and scared being on the road with food. However, he was able to overcome the fear and hesitation thanks to the accompaniment of Sister Yoon and other volunteers.

Though these homeless people are worried about many things in their lives, they never miss saying “thank you” over and over to the volunteers after receiving lunch boxes.

Sometimes, the volunteers and the homeless people join small prayer meetings for "peace on the Korean Peninsula" and for "peace in Ukraine."

A developed nation, South Korea is Asia’s fourth-largest economy. However, official estimates suggest about 15 percent of the country’s more than 51.6 million people still live in poverty.

Susan Yoon Song-hee, 29, said she is inspired to support the poor because they will be the first to meet God in the “Kingdom of the Lord.”

“I am grateful for the fact that God is using me as a tool to deliver love to those in need,” she said.

Anthony Cheon Seo-yoon, 21, said he feels privileged as he is growing up by volunteering and serving the underprivileged.

On March 25, the Solemnity of the Announcement of the Lord's birth, the volunteers gathered at the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, popularly known as Myeongdong Cathedral, in Seoul.

They renewed their commitment to serving poor people and living as “apostles of love” in the world. 

Their mentor, Sister Yoon said the act of charity brings solace to young people who are disturbed by socio-economic challenges.

"When young people who are tired of fierce competition and are psychologically anxious, experience how many people struggle with more difficulties and feel about spreading love to them, healing takes place and their lives change," the nun said. 

The group’s leader Kim says their voluntary act responds to the invitation of God.

“It feels like a blessing to be able to help these people when the world looks away. Our small steps reveal God’s love for the poor neighbors,” he said.

This report is brought to you in partnership with the Catholic Times of Korea

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