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Priests Concerned About Impact Of Industrial Pollution On Religious Communities


February 04 2008

Priests in Masan diocese have expressed concern about plans to build industrial plants near Religious communities, saying that Religious life would be adversely affected by noise and environmental pollution.

In a letter to Catholics on the occasion of the Feb. 2 World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life, the priests said shipyards that the local government and commercial companies plan to build pose a serious concern for the Church.

Their letter, issued on Jan. 29, was titled Serious Situation of Convents in the Diocese. In it they said: "Building factories for economic development is understandable. But the expected environmental damage is unimaginable."

Masan diocese is based 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Within its territory, the Olivetan Benedictine brothers in Goseong county have already been affected by industrial activity, while the Discalced Carmelite nuns, also in Goseong, are concerned about experiencing such a situation in the future.

The convent of Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, or Trappist, nuns in Masan is also objecting to plans to build a shipyard at a land reclamation site here.

Monsignor James Yoo Young-bong, vicar general of Masan told UCA News on Jan. 31 that the Korean shipbuilding industry is expanding. "Shipbuilders are increasing production capacity. However, the industry causes pollution from its welding, cutting and painting," he elaborated.

More ships are built in South Korea than anywhere else. According to the Korean Shipbuilders´ Association, shipbuilders here produced 40 percent of all ships built in the world last year. The five largest shipbuilders are all Korean companies and are concentrated on the country´s southeastern coast.

"The local government and shipbuilders are trying to build the factories for financial advantage and employment," Monsignor Yoo said. "However, they should be built far away from people to avoid pollution."

Sister Joanna Lee Myeong-sook, superior of the Discalced Carmelite convent, believes the effects will be severe. "The noise and dust from the factories will hurt both our body and spirit. We will suffer mentally and physically from the pollution," she told UCA News on Jan. 30.

According to her, seven shipbuilding-related factories are planned in the area, including one just 150 meters from her convent.

"It´s a serious problem to live here with the pollution. Also, it will disturb our Religious life," she complained.

Father Augustine Lee Young-geun, superior of the Benedictine monastery, already knows what the nuns might face. "Power-transmission towers and shipyards have already been built near our monastery. A golf course and an expressway are planned in the area," he said.

"We are already suffering from the bad smell and strong lighting from factories. Some of our brothers are coming down with sore throats and bronchial pains. ... We are seriously considering moving out," the priest told UCA News on Jan. 31.

Meanwhile, the Trappist nuns in Masan have demonstrated against the city government´s plan to allow a shipbuilding company to operate at a reclaimed land site. The city had originally planned to build apartments for poor people at that site.

Sister Josepha Chang Hye-kyung, superior of the convent, told UCA News on Jan. 31, "The city is pushing its plan forward in spite of objections from most residents." She added that the city government and shipbuilders criticized the nuns for protesting, saying they should "remain in the convent and pray."

Company officials and the local government had suggested the convent relocate to another place and even offered to pay their expenses for this, Sister Chang revealed. "However, we can´t accept that," she said.

"Now, with help from residents and environmentalists," the Trappist superior continued, "we are optimistic about the city shelving the plan."

According to a Goseong county official, the county cannot prohibit a company from setting up a factory unless this violates the law. "We can give them administrative directions on reducing noise and dust," he told UCA News on Jan. 30.

Monsignor Yoo is concerned for the nuns. "It´s a pity that cloistered nuns -- who should be in the convent -- must go out and demonstrate," he told UCA News. "Masan diocese will help them by speaking with local government and informing our faithful of their situation."