REFLECTION: Reflections from Jeju Island

laffinby Art Laffin

Today is my last full day on Jeju Island. It’s a sunny, windy and noticeably cooler today. Sunday’s are rather low key here. The daily Mass was held at 11 a.m. and it was very inspiring. Fr. Kim Song Hwan, S.J. was the celebrant on this All Souls Day. I joined several young students in blocking the main entrance to the base construction site. However because there are no trucks going in or out of the site today, the police do not move people who are blocking the entrance. Once the Mass and the rosary were completed, the police reopen the entrance. I only saw a few vehicles going in or out. There was also no human chain or dancing today. Tomorrow though, begins another full week of witness and resistance.

I had an opportunity to visit with Fr. Kim on the way to and during lunch at the community kitchen. He is a very humble and committed follower of Jesus. He has been a mainstay at the vigil site for the last three years. Each day since I’ve been here he has been blocking the main entrance during the Eucharist. He has actually been assigned by the Jesuits to support the vigil and has the full backing of his provincial. His provincial has joined him on several occasions in blocking the entrance. He was very interested to know about the Catholic Worker and about Jesuits where involved in nonviolent resistance work in the U.S. One unexpected fruit of our sharing is that he was able to contact a Jesuit friend in Seoul who will provide hospitality for me tomorrow night as my return flight home is on November 4. Fr. Kim’s generosity is one of many examples of God’s
amazing grace at work here.

This afternoon, I was able to to  spend some time at a beautiful area overlooking the S.China sea. This scenery is really spectacular as you can see the open sea along with several nearby islands. What is heartbreaking though is that, also in view, is the new base being constructed. As it is Sunday, no real work is going on. It’s the only time since I’ve been here when there has really been no noticeable activity inside the construction site. I savored the silence and drank in the beauty. On this All Souls Day, I also prayed for the souls of family and friends who have gone home to God. I prayed, too, for all victims of violence and war.

Later in the afternoon, I was invited by my friend, Jong Joo,  to accompany her and her friend, Lina, to a beautiful nearby natural reserve where there is an amazing underground water spring that feeds into the Gangjeong River. In the same area we saw an incredible 500 year old tree, indigenous to the region, that is greatly revered by villagers. As we made our way back into the village, we were walking by the house of a community member who invited us in for tea. We got to spend some precious time with a gorgeous seven month old baby girl. In the evening I did an interview with Lina, who is from Lebanon and is in a doctorate program focusing on social movements. At the Peace Book café, across the street from the village peace center, I enjoyed, once again, the most delicious tangerines I’ve ever eaten. Tangerines are everywhere here in Gangjeong, and are the main export to the S. Korean mainland this time of year.

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November 3

My friend Bruce Gagnon, long-time peacemaker and coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, was the first one to introduce me, as well as countless others, to the nonviolent struggle in Jeju Island to stop construction of a new U.S.-backed naval base. His inspiring peace work has not only included stopping construction of this new base, but has also involved working tirelessly to stop the militarization of space and for the closing of the nearly 1000 U.S. military bases worldwide. (I was informed by people here that there are some 50 U.S. military bases alone in S. Korea). When addressing the struggle on Jeju Island, Bruce makes an important point that bears repeating. This nonviolent campaign to stop the construction of the new naval base on Jeju island, he asserts, is an important symbol for the international peace movement. It brings together all the issues–militarization, disarmament, the environment and human rights. I couldn’t agree more with Bruce. Hopefully, before it’s too late, more people will join and help support the courageous people of Gangjeong village in the struggle to stop this base of death and destruction. I encouarge you, if you haven’t already done so, to see Regis Tremblay’s excellent documentary, The Ghosts of Jeju, which is the most important resource available about the nonviolent struggle on Jeju Island. See: www.theghostsofjeju.net. For current updates about the campaign and ways you can support it, see: www.savejejunow.org.

At today’s Mass I joined the blockade at main entrance to the construction site and was carried off four times. After the rosary, I was carried off even as I sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.” I later asked Fr. Kim about the history of having the Mass at the base construction site. He shared with me that in 2009 the Bishop of Jeju Island first celebrated the Mass on the site designated to be the base. In 2011 Fr. Mun initiated having the Mass outside the main entrance of the construction site for the base.

After lunch, I had a very good sharing time with Professor Yang, formerly a well known film critic, who has endured long-term imprisonment and hunger strikes for trying to stop the construction of the naval base. He is one of over 600 people who have been arrested for saying No to the naval base construction. There have also been 50 trials for resisters and over 22 people have served jail sentences for their courageous resistance.

As I leave Gangjeong village, my heart is filled with gratitude for the loving welcome I have received. I am especially grateful to Fr. Pat Cunningham who helped arrange my visit, and Jong, for all she did to assist me during my time here. I am also most thankful to Miryang, steadfast vigiler and great singer, for having me stay at her guesthouse. As I leave, I carry in my heart the love, commitment and resilience that I have experienced from all the people I have met on Jeju Island during these last five days.

Thank you so much for praying for me and for all who I’ve encountered during my time in the Asia-Pacific. I am deeply grateful. The journey of hope and peace continues.

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 included 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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