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St. Elizabeth of Schoenau
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Marist Bulletin - Number 65


Brother John Vianney Kim, Superior of the Marist District of Korea

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Bro. Lluís Serra

Brother John Vianney, let me begin by asking you to introduce yourself.
I’m Kim Chang-woon, and my baptismal name is John Vianney. I’m 46 years old. Born in Seoul, South Korea. I earned a Masters degree in Social Welfare here in Korea, and also have one in Psychology from Marist College in New York. My ministry experience has been relatively brief. I worked with street kids for one year at the Marist Training Center that we run. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I went to Damien Hospital, which takes care of leprosy patients, and worked there for three and a half years. Then I returned to work at our Marist Training Center for a half year before going to the USA. When I was about to complete my studies at Marist College, I was asked to accept the role of District Superior. Since I wanted to work for our District in whatever way I could, I accepted. I have been District Superior since December 2001.

We saw on television the great spirit of Koreans cheering for their team during last year’s World Cup, co-hosted by Korea and Japan. You Koreans are really great fans! If you were asked to name three excellent characteristics of your country and its people, what would they be?
It is not easy for me to pick only three characteristics. The ones I would choose are: our Korean language and writing system – Hanguel – (please refer to Note* that follows); the natural beauty and cultural heritage of our country; and the diligence and warmhearted nature of our people. Having a common language and culture and being a people with deep-seated emotions, we feel a strong bond among ourselves whenever we come together.
Note* In 1446, King Sejong promulgated a writing system in which Korean could be easily set down, and this is now known as Hangeul. Hangeul is a phonemic alphabet with 14 consonants and 10 vowels. The shapes of the consonants resemble those of the speech organs when pronouncing them, while the vowels are modeled on heaven, earth, and man. Hangeul is one of the most logical and scientific writing systems in the world. It is also the only one now in use whose exact origin is known.

How do so many people (more than 45 million) manage to live and prosper in South Korea’s area of less than 100,000 square kilometers?
Koreans are a diligent, hardworking people. Since we are living in a relatively small area and the population density is very high, the competition among people is also very high. A competitive environment is everywhere – in entering university, getting a job, running one’s own business, etc. Such pressures stimulate people to work very hard and strive for a prosperous life. However, there are also quite a number of people who fail to succeed in this very competitive society.

How was Marist life born in Korea?
A bishop in Korea invited the Marist Brothers to educate the young people of the country in the early 20th century. However, at that time the Brothers were unable to honor that request. In 1971, four Brothers from the Province of Central Mexico came to Korea and started Marist life here.

The Marist Brothers run Yang-ob High School in Chong-Buk. Please tell us some of the things that make this school unique.
Actually, we withdrew from helping out at that school at the end of 1987. Since then, we have been running a training center for street children 12 to 18 years of age in Chung-ju. We have never run a regular school of our own.

What fascinates young Koreans about Christ and about Marcellin, leading some of them to choose our Marist life?
About Christ, young Koreans are very much influenced by the loving faith and devotion of their parents. However, there are not many young people going to church these days because in general the Church has not been actively developing new ministry skills to communicate with them.
About Marcellin, so far only a few people have come to know who he is because Marists in Korea have not been fully involved with work for young people and with the work characteristic of Marcellin.

What challenges posed by Korean society can our Marist charism meet and answer?
Recently, one of the biggest dioceses in Korea held a synod, which took as its aim for the whole diocese to concentrate on working with young people. There are so many young people in need throughout the country, not only in terms of material possessions, but mentally and spiritually. Because society is changing so rapidly, it is very hard for us to keep up with the interests that young people are pursuing these days. Therefore, I think the challenges we are facing here in Korea are coming mainly from within ourselves. We Marist Brothers need to become more effective in helping young people.

Our cultures, yours and mine, are alike in very few ways. You and your Brothers from Mexico live and work side by side – do you find it easy to get along? Do you believe in intercultural dialog?
Culturally there are some similarities between Mexico and Korea, for example, valuing family life more than individualism, eating spicy foods… Therefore it hasn’t been very difficult to live and work together with mutual understanding. However, inevitably, communication can be a problem at times.

What does the future hold for our Marist presence in Korea?
Being faithful to our charism as Marist Brothers will lead us to an ever brighter future. We will develop effective ministries for helping young people, share our family spirit with others more and more… Lay partnership will be very important for us as we continue to carry out our own charism.

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