It is a dream of many student-brothers to come to Korea, the land of Christian martyrs, powerhouse of technological giants and home to K-drama, as well as to enjoy fresh kimchi, original bulgogi, and refreshing soju! It was just a dream for me and my brothers until it was announced that the 9th Asia-Pacific Dominican Common Study would be held in Seoul, South Korea, and our group was due for this activity. Indeed, it is a great blessing!
The event was conducted from July 5, 2017 to July 31, 2017 and held at St. Dominic’s House at Suyu-dong in Gangbuk district, northern part of Seoul. The house itself was newly constructed and designed to accommodate small group of retreatants. For the Korean standard, it is a modest building, but for the participants coming from the developing countries, it is a home with five-star accommodation.
True to its name, the Common Study aims to gather young Dominicans (those who are about to be ordained, deacons and newly ordained priests) to study together about the traditions and the missions of the Order. Seventeen brothers from 4 provinces (the Holy Rosary Province, Vietnam, Philippines, India) and one vice- province (Pakistan) lived together as an international Dominican students’ community, sharing their lives, stories and aspirations. The common life hopes to ignite among Dominican brothers from different Provinces stronger collaborations in the region.
In this 9th Common Study, Br. Edmund Nantes, OP, of the Philippine Province who has been involved in the first event once again served as the Master of Students and companion to younger brothers. The program that focused on the theme “The Gift of Dominican Vocation” began with a recollection. Under the guidance of Br. Nantes, the brothers renewed their understanding as well as corrected the misconceptions on the Dominican identity, traditions and spirituality. The brothers also took the opportunity to share their Dominican vocation stories as a gift among us and to the Church.
Two Dominican brothers guided the second week. Br. Enrico Gonzales, OP, of the Philippine Province zeroed in on the basic philosophical and theological teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Br. Gonzales emphasized that metaphysics of St. Thomas is always “Being For” as God is for creations, so men, women and entire creatures are beings for God, while Br. Amirtha Raj, OP, of the Province of India shared his expertise on human psychological development. His discussions covered a wide range of topics like human relationship, sexuality and growth, and on how to deal with various issues and crises in religious life. He also gave us some tips on delivering the homilies. Both Br. Nantes and Br. Raj are faithful faces in the Common Study.
The third week of the Study made Justice and Peace as its highlight. Br. Mike Deeb, OP, of South African vice- province, who is the General Promoter of Justice and Peace of the Order as well as the Order’s Permanent Delegate to the United Nations, graced the event as our main resource person. He pointed to us that Jesus’ preaching is indeed preaching of Justice and Peace, and thus, Dominican preaching, patterned in the preaching of Jesus Christ cannot but make Justice and Peace its priority. He guided also in mapping various injustice issues that plague our own countries and how we in our own little ways can actively engage in this preaching of Justice and Peace. His talk was also intensified by the sharing of Fr. Patrick Cunningham, a Columban father who led the peace movement against the militarization of Jeju Island in Southern part South Korea. As part of this Justice and Peace Week, we attended and participated in one of the persistent demonstrations in the world, the so-called the Wednesday Demonstration. Every Wednesday for more than 20 years, many groups joined in to rally in front of the Japanese embassy, demanding the formal acknowledgement and apology from the Japanese government for abuses to the Korean “comfort women”.
The last week of the program was dedicated to the Interreligious Dialogue. The first thing we did was to experience a Buddhist monk’s life. Under the guidance of the two Buddhist nuns from Hwagye Temple, we learned to do the monk’s meal, to do sitting and walking meditation, and to drink tea while in dialogue. Taking the lead in the fourth week was Fr. Santiago Sanz Gonzales, OP, of the Holy Rosary Province who once was a missionary in South Korea and Japan and is now working in East Timor. He discussed some major religions that he himself personally encountered like Shintoism in Japan, Confucianism in Korea and animism unique to the people of East Timor. We talked further about some issues like the rise of new cults in many countries. To add to the discussion, Buddhist monk Sun Up was present to enlighten us about Buddhist meditation and how it may help us in answering the big question “Who am I?”
Visiting Korea would not be complete without encountering the people and going to the places. Br. John Kim, OP, the local coordinator of this Common Study made sure of this. He and other Korean brothers organized trips to various places like Changdeokgung Palace, Cheonggyechon stream, Seoul Tower, and affordable markets districts of Insa-dong and Namdaemun. Never forgetting Korean Catholic roots, we visited and prayed at Myeong-dong Cathedral, which was considered to be the birthplace of Catholicism in Korea; Joeldu-san, a memorial shrine of the Korean Catholic martyrs including the first priest, St. Andrew Kim-taegon, as well as the Dominican nun monastery in Baeron.
One of the greatest privileges of this Common Study was the presence of no less than Br. Bruno Cadoré, OP, the Master of the Order himself. The last days of the program were spent with him and his socius for the Asia Pacific, Br. Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP, as well as Dominican family in Korea. Br. Cadoré took his time in listening to each of us, our stories and aspirations. In turn, he gave his message on the importance of emotions in our religious life and the grace that becomes the source and inspiration for harmony in the Order despite differences. He also encouraged us to find new ways to preach that answers the needs of the time as St. Dominic did in his time.
Echoing the words of Br. Enrico Gonzales, OP, in his lectures that St. Thomas is a gift of God to the Order and he is the gift of the Order to the Church, so through this Common study we discover that we are gifts of God to the Order, and we continue to grow to become gifts of the Order to the Church.
By Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP