Fr. Kim Chong-dae, SJ (coordinator of the Jesuit social apostolate in the Korea Province)
Korea became a mission of the American Wisconsin province of the Society of Jesus in 1955. Later in 2005, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Jesuit presence in Korea, it became an independent province of its own. Therefore, the history of the social apostolate of the Society in Korea is rather brief. In this article, I will explain how the social apostolate in Korea took root and developed within Korean civil society.
The First Jesuit Generation
The first social concern of the Society in Korea was the Labor and Management Institute in Sogang University in 1961. This Institute existed for 35 years until it was closed in February 2001. It provided evening educational courses in management and labor relations. This was the first base of our Jesuit social apostolate in Korea. Unfortunately, however, this apostolate was never categorized or officially considered a social apostolate of the Society of Jesus in Korea.
In fact, most Jesuits consider Fr Jung Il-woo (John V. Daly) to be the pioneer of social apostolate in Korea. He began his social involvement in solidarity with displaced poor urban families. He was finally able to establish and maintain a village with lay collaborators in the Kyeongky-Do suburbs of Shiheung City from the late 70s to the early 80s. He played a great role in initiating the urban poor ministry within the Church of Korea.
In 1990 the Jesuit Hanmom (“one body”) residence was established as a social apostolate community in Seoul, where Fr Jung Il-woo, Fr Park Mun-su and some Jesuit scholastics lived together. During the late 80s and early 90s many young candidates joined the Society.
They witnessed the Kwongju massacre (1980) directly and indirectly as well as dictatorship rule, and were deeply interested in social justice issues. They formed the second generation of social apostolate in Korea. Moreover, the experience of having lived together with the first generation of Jesuits involved in social apostolate influenced them strongly.
Second Jesuit Generation
The Nuruk (“leaven”) Jesuit community was started by Fr Jung Il-woo in rural areas, in 1994. Later, young Jesuits went there to live with farmers and got involved in organic farming. In 1998, the Hanmon residence moved to a different place in Seoul. In the same year, Fr Kim Yong-kun, one of the community members, opened the “New Fountain of Youth Community,” a center for the rehabilitation of young drug-addicts in Seoul. At the same time, in 1999, the Hanmon Residence also began to run the “Hannury Local Child Center” as a community apostolate. Meanwhile, Fr Park Mun-su started to devote himself more deeply to the urban poor ministry as a parish priest of the Muhak-Dong mission parish, a functional parish of the urban poor within the Seoul Archdiocese. He thus resigned as professor of the Sociology Department of Sogang University.
At the beginning of the new millennium two more social apostolate activities were initiated in the Inchon Diocese. One was the new Baonae (“rock”) House opened in 2004. There the “Cafe Window on Life” was opened the same year as a labor ministry where workers gathered to share their life stories while drinking beer together. The other ministry was the care of migrant workers. In 2005 a Jesuit Migrant Center, called Yiutsari (“living with neighbors”) was established in Gimpo City in the territory of the Inchon diocese.
As mentioned above, the second generation of Jesuits working in social apostolate in Korea has been running several centers from which young Jesuits became involved in various fields. The Society of Jesus in Korea was, at the time, present among the poor, was in touch with them and understood their needs. This was a characteristic of Jesuit social apostolate in our Korea Province.
However, two creative criticisms were raised among Jesuits. On one hand, Jesuits in Korea lacked intellectual activities. “The Characteristics of Jesuit Social Apostolate” emphasizes “Feet” and “Head.” Korean Jesuits inserted themselves among the poor, imitating the compassion of Jesus Christ.
That’s why young Jesuits have been running several centers. This activity of insertion is symbolized by the “Feet.” The other activity, symbolized as the “Head,” is analysis. Thus, a Jesuit research center was strongly recommended in the Province. Following this suggestion the Province launched the “Jesuit Research Center for Advocacy and Solidarity” in 2009.
Meanwhile, some Jesuits suggested the need for structural adjustment with regard to the social apostolate. This meant that the Society needed to select some centers and concentrate its efforts, manpower and finances more effectively. As a result, some apostolic fields were closed down.
Organization of the Social Apostolatee
Formerly, some charismatic person played an important role, but these days networking and collaboration are more important. Moreover, the world has been brought closer and globalized. Within these circumstances the Society of Jesus in Korea is searching for new ways to respond more effectively to social issues. The social apostolate centers are now organized under the Jesuit social apostolate committee, and the Province wants to establish an NGO umbrella, under which several action and research centers can be organized.