Pak Chong Hwan (朴正煥) SJ
After priestly ordination, I started my first mission as a priest in Taiwan in 2010. It was youth ministry and vocation promotion. Frankly speaking, until then, I hadn’t had much experience of interaction with youth, so I had to learn many things and to adjust myself to the mission.
I worked for two and a half years. During that period, besides vocation promotion, I joined many activities, like the World Youth Day in Madrid, the Chinese Catholic Student Association Spiritual Camp (twice a year), the Taiwan Youth Ministers’ Meeting, the Taiwan Youth Day, etc. On weekdays, there were group gatherings, Bible sharing groups, CLC, and Catholic students’ groups.
Looking back on those days, I can say that I confronted many difficulties, but at the same time I think I acquired far more good memories and personal maturity. The main difficulty I confronted was understanding the young, because I had had little experience with youth before and also had a 20-year age gap. For a considerable time it was not so easy to understand the youth, their ways of acting, speaking, and thinking. I tried to enter into the joys and pains in their lives. Sometimes I couldn’t understand their behavior and got angry with them. I didn’t know how to make friends with them.
But by spending time with them and sharing daily life in small groups and activities, especially personal conversations, I slowly came to understand them. They also slowly revealed their worries, despairs, and family problems etc.
As time went on, I came to enjoy being with them, planning activities with them. The thing that made me most happy and gave greatest consolation was seeing them grow. Their hearts are like clay which can be easily molded by good and also bad experiences. I slowly but deeply accepted this work as my mission.
I enjoyed the liveliness of the youth and also made friends with them through sports, like basketball. One thing I cannot forget was cooperating with youth ministers in Taiwan. Taiwan is a small country and there are very few young Catholics. We can easily meet in camps and get to know one another. Dioceses and religious congregations cooperate joyfully. This is one characteristic of youth ministry in Taiwan.
In the beginning, as a new priest, I didn’t know clearly how to do priestly work, but the youth taught me how to be a priest. I learned. Treating me as friends, they were willing to reveal themselves. They gave me the chance and courage to share my own worries and problems as a new priest. They listened carefully, encouraged me and believed me. We shared our real lives with one another, sometimes with tears.
The mission has changed me in a good sense. The young people were my teachers and also my friends. Now I am studying Japanese in Tokyo. On my desk is a photo in which a cute Taiwanese girl student and I are smiling. Before I came to Japan, she gave it to me saying, “Don’t forget me. I think you are the most handsome man in the world.” That is surely a lie, but I feel I have been greatly loved by the young people. I love them and miss them.