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Korean Church offers love and care to migrant communities

Daejeon Diocese gives pastoral care to migrants from countries including the Philippines, Vietnam and Timor-Leste

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: September 21, 2021 04:39 AM GMT

Updated: September 22, 2021 09:11 AM GMT

Korean Church offers love and care to migrant communities

A Catholic priest blesses migrant Filipino Catholics on their birthday in a church in South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Moyse Cheonan)

Emiliano Pajardo’s first visit to South Korea in 2003 changed his life forever.

The 47-year-old Catholic from the Philippines came to the country to work as a technical trainee and found a rising number of Filipino migrants in the East Asian country.

He then moved back to the Philippines, studied migration theology at Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University and returned to Korea in 2008 to work as a lay missionary for the migrant Filipino community.  

Pajardo offers spiritual and pastoral services to hundreds of Filipino migrants under the auspices of church-run Moyse Cheonan, a pastoral ministry of Daejeon Diocese in central South Korea.

The pastoral ministry in Daejeon Diocese touches the lives of migrant communities from various countries including the Philippines, Vietnam and Timor-Leste

Each week he visits Filipino migrant Catholic communities in Cheonan, Hongseong, Seosan, Dangjin and Sinhapdeok to help priests arrange Masses and other services for them.

Pajardo says foreign migrant workers often need support as they don’t speak up about their problems openly

“In the past, it was all about offering Masses in English, mainly in urban areas such as Daejeon and Cheonan. Since 2017, we have been visiting each region and offering Mass in Tagalog,” Pajardo said, reported the Catholic Times of Korea.

Each week two Filipino missionary priests from the Missionary Society of St. Columban and the Society of the Divine Word visit five Filipino migrant communities in Daejeon Diocese. They celebrate Mass and offer counseling on a range of issues including family life and labor, conduct the Sacrament of Reconciliation and arrange for medical care as necessary.   

Pajardo says foreign migrant workers often need support as they don’t speak up about their problems openly.

“During the Mass at Hongseong Cathedral last week, a Filipino woman was crying the whole time. I consulted through the president who leads the community, and listened to her painful and difficult stories and comforted her. In fact, it is often difficult for migrants in Korea to talk openly,” he recalled.

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As Korean priests can only minister services to migrants in Korean or English, Moyse Cheonan has assigned missionary priests who can communicate in native languages and reach out to migrants to help them overcome the challenges of life.

Father Park Chan-in, in charge of Moyse Cheonan since 2017, said he has paid renewed attention to the needs of migrants and prioritized communicating in their own language.

Moyse Cheonan has also signed agreements with religious congregations in the Philippines, Vietnam and Timor-Leste on behalf of the diocese to show great interest in loving support for migrants, the priest said.

Strict restrictions due to Covid-19 have dealt a blow to the pastoral ministry as regular liturgy, gatherings and social events were halted. However, services have resumed gradually with a small number of participants in recent weeks.

Vietnamese nun Sister Asumpta from the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Mirinae has been serving Vietnamese migrants. The nun said the pandemic has caused problems.

“I can only meet the faithful for a short time during Sunday Mass, so it is difficult to listen to their stories and help them,” Sister Aumpta told Catholic Times. 

Sister Nguyen Thi Yen Ni, in charge of support services for the Vietnamese migrant community, expressed similar concerns

"It is difficult to meet believers due to Covid-19, so I mainly contact them by phone,” she said.

Father Park Chan-in noted that the pandemic shows that the Church needs a new approach and paradigm shift in the pastoral care of migrants but added that the visiting pastoral ministry is required to develop relationships between pastors and faithful as well as the welfare of communities.

The priest said Moyse Cheonan has reorganized its services and activities in three major areas covering liturgy and sacramental life including Sunday Mass, community and social activities centered on sharing and fellowship and religious activities to promote spiritual maturity.

The Korean Church regards ministry to migrants as a pastoral priority as the country has many foreign migrant workers

Social services for migrants cover both believers and non-believers, seeking to support multicultural families and children, labor, medical care, education, interpretation and translation services, and other emergency support.

Daejeon Diocese’s pastoral ministry for migrants covers five communities of Filipinos and Vietnamese and one community of Timor-Leste migrants. In addition, the services also reach out to migrants from Kenya, the US and Mongolia.

The communities can attend weekday and Sunday Masses in their local languages as well as in English.

The ministry runs through active cooperation from seven priests — two Koreans, two Filipinos, two Vietnamese and one Timorese priest. Five nuns — two Koreans, two Vietnamese and one from Myanmar — also play vital roles in helping migrants.

The name Moyse Cheonan resonates the life and works of Prophet Moses who led the Israelites from their exile in Egypt to the Promised Land. It started in August 2003 after Daejeon Diocese established the Pastoral Bureau for Migrant Workers in January and Foreign Ministry Center (Daejon Moyse) in March that year.

The Korean Church regards ministry to migrants as a pastoral priority as the country has many foreign migrant workers.

South Korea had about 2.5 million foreign migrant workers in 2019 in a population of more than 51 million, according to government data. About 56 percent of South Koreans have no religion, 20 percent are Protestant, 8 percent are Catholic and 15.5 percent are Buddhist.

About 5.6 million Catholics live in three archdioceses, 14 dioceses and a military ordinariate.

This article uses material from a report published by the Catholic Times of Korea on Sept. 19.

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