REFLECTION: Letter from Jeju Island

laffinby Art Laffin

Today was a rainy day in Gangjeong village. At 7 a.m. Fr. Pat Cunningham and I joined several other friends for the daily bowing ritual at the main entrance of the new naval base under construction. As a Buddhist meditation about peace and compassion is recited over a sound system, 100 full prostrate bows are done. I stood and bowed as my knees ain’t what they used to be. As the rain fell, my meditation brought me back some 37 years ago as I recalled the Thames River in New London/Groton being dredged so that the soon to be Trident submarines would not scrape the river bottom. Yesterday, I saw massive cranes dredging the port where this new naval base in under construction. God forgive this unpeakable desecration in which the U.S. is fully complicit!

After the ritual, Fr. Pat took me on a trail where I could see another side of the base being built. The trail stretched alongside a small stream that fed into the beautiful South China Sea. As I was told yesterday, and was reminded again today, the ancient Gureombi rock formation is now nonexistent, as it was blasted away two years ago. In the March 2014 issue of the Gangjeong Village Story newsletter, the lead article lamented the second anniversary of the destruction of this sacred formation: “For thousands of years, Gureombi has been a playground, a garden, and a mother’s arms, embracing and embraced by the people of Gangjeong. Thus it was perhaps the most painful and sorrowful moment of this eight year struggle to experience the partial destruction of the Gureombi Rock. Still, though we cannot see Gureombi anymore, it lives on in our memories.”

My friend, Fr. Pat, who has been an enormous help to me, departed for the mainland later in the morning. I then attended the daily 11 a.m. Eucharist at the main entrance of the construction site, where I  sat next to Fr. Mun, the renowned and revered peacemaker. The reign of God was truly at hand as rain came down for most of the Mass. Like yesterday, thosewere sitting directly in the path where vehicles enter and exit, were moved several times out of the way by police. Shortly afterwards, those who were moved went back to their blocking positions. Like yesterday, no arrest were made for this action. As the caravan of cement and supply trucks entered and exited the site, I pondered how the needs of countless poor could be met if the resources going into this site could be redirected.

Right before the sign of peace, Fr. Mun always sings a beautiful prayer for peace. He later commented to me that he often feels like crying when ever he sings the song. At the end of the Mass, Fr. Mun, conveyed to me what a beautul Mass it was. He said: “this is our church–in the streets.” Following the Mass the gathered community prayed the rosary. When the rosary was finished, a human chain was formed by about 30 people at the main entrance of the site. I was very honored to be asked to sing several songs during this time. When the human chain ended, all gathered broke out into a  syncronized dance that was most impressive. Even though there was a heavy rain, this did not dampen the spirits of those dancing. Rather, the people danced with even more spirit and swagger. It was tuly an amazing sight to behold!

Later in the afternoon, I was interviewed by a longtime activist and writer who is doing a story about the Catholic Worker for a progressive Catholic publication in South Korea called “Now and Here.” Part of the reason she was doing the story was that several Catholic Workers have previously come to Jeju and she was very interested to know why. She also wanted to know more about the Catholic Worker, my involvement in it, and why I had come to Jeju. We had a great two hour interview which incuded a translator.

The rain has stopped. I am so grateful to be here. I carry all of you who read this in my heart and prayers. Thank you for your loving support and prayers. Please pray for all those who are resisting the construction of the new naval base here. Thank you for all you are doing to help create Beloved Community.

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