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Farmers Plead For Support During Farmers´ Sunday Masses


July 20 2007

South Korean farmers are using the pulpit to garner support for organic farming and farmlands affected by the influx of inexpensive, imported agricultural products.

"Although organic products at Woori-nong Saligi (save our farmland) markets are relatively expensive, please buy them," Angelus Seo Jung-hong pleaded during Mass July 15 at Okryundong Church in Incheon, 30 kilometers west of Seoul. Some 300 parishioners attended the Farmers´ Sunday Mass.

Seo, who cultivates rice, beans, corn and potatoes, explained that Korean bishops in 1995 designated the third Sunday of July as Farmers´ Sunday to help all Catholics appreciate their country´s rural heritage. This came a year after the bishops launched the Woori-nong Saligi movement to revive farming communities in rural parishes by fostering solidarity between them and urban communities that consume their agricultural products.

In his talk after the Gospel, the farmer highlighted the important role mothers can play in sustaining local farms. Mothers are the ones who buy food for their family, so the power to resuscitate local farms lies with them, he said.

"If mothers use organic farm products, then both their family and the farmland can be saved. If not, local farms will disappear and the family gets ill from all the farm products polluted by chemicals."

While Seo gave the same talk during three Masses that day, two farmers from Masan, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, sold about 300 pepper packs worth 900,000 won (US$970) in front of the church.

At Sonwondong Church in Gwangju (formerly spelled Kwangju), 295 kilometers south of Seoul, farmer Thomas Pae Sam-tae spoke to some 500 parishioners during two Masses the same day.

Pae, who heads the Korean Catholic Farmers´ Movement (KCFM) branch in Kwangju archdiocese, told UCA News on July 16 that Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and similar pacts between South Korea and various countries have adversely impacted farmers.

"Before it is too late, consumers and civic groups together should save the farmers and the land. We provide organic farm products as an alternative to preservatives in U.S. farm products," he stressed. "If our farming dies, our people die too."

South Korea and the United States reached a Free Trade Agreement in April allowing South Korea wider access to U.S. textile and automobile markets in exchange for similar concessions regarding U.S. agricultural products. South Korea lifted tariffs on 576 agricultural products including corn.

Mary Kim Chun-ja, manager of the Woori-nong Saligi store at Okryundong Church, told UCA News she and volunteers suggested the parish priest invite a farmer to give a talk on the occasion of Farmers´ Sunday.

"Even though I work for the store, the farmers´ hard life and their efforts to save our farmland made me think about the significance of what I am doing," she said. Her store is open six days a week, selling a monthly average of 12 million won worth of organic farm products.

KCFM secretary Benedict Chung Ki-hwan told UCA News that for the first six to seven years after the Korean Church designated Farmers´ Sunday, farmers spoke before the priest´s official homily during Farmers´ Sunday Mass. "But in some dioceses we could not see visible gains such as sales increases," he lamented.

Chung said the 64 stores and 129 weekend markets Woori-nong Saligi runs in 14 dioceses sell 10 percent of the farm produce from some 150 KCFM communities. The rest is sold in stores selling organic products, which some civic groups run, and in ordinary markets.

Another KCFM official told UCA News that this year eight parishes in Daejeon diocese, based 170 kilometers south of Seoul, one in Incheon diocese, just west of the capital, three in Masan and four in Kwangju invited farmers to give talks on Farmers´ Sunday.